City Confidential

Friday, October 24, 2003 at 1:00am

Ardie Freeman

What will be will be

How many 99-year-olds do you know that model the latest clothing couture in fashion shows, bowl and play Bingo once a week, cook all their own meals, and act as caregiver to folks almost 30 years younger? Well, meet Ardie Freeman: the exception to every rule in your book lumping anyone with a little high mileage on their lives into the one-size-fits-all category of over-the-hill.

Born in Henry County Feb. 20, 1904, as one of nine children, Freeman is a walking list of adjectives. She's spry. She's spunky. She's a real pistol. She may have a little trouble remembering her three husbands - on purpose - and she may not be exactly sure of which of her brothers and sisters she has outlived, but this human history lesson can tell you grand stories of her travels around Europe, impress you with her remembrances of watching astronaut John Glen launch in to space, and arouse a chuckle or two when she jokes about her love life. She's an 89-year old in a 99-year-old's body.

In her almost century-long life, Freeman has done a little of everything. From nursing and teaching to sewing and performing, this Golden Ager still hasn't lost her love of learning or her desire to fill every hour of every day with her most treasured past-times: visiting with friends, speaking to groups, or being the life of any party. In her words, "They just say go, and I say where."

INSIDE INFO

What's your secret for living so long?

Well, I've always wanted to help people and be of service, so that's what I've lived my life trying to do.

What are some of your favorite memories from childhood?

My greatest memory was of my grandmother, who was a slave born on a plantation in Canada. She took care of the lady of the house. We would go on visits to Canada to see her and she always taught us about real life. Most of my raisin' came from my grandmother.

And what kinds of things did she teach you?

That you do things the right way and that you treat people right. She taught us how to hold ourselves together, to be kind and nice, and to just treat people the way we wanted to be treated.

What else do you remember about her?

She could take an empty pot, put anything in it, and it would come out tasting so good.

Any other memories?

My family used to always say prayer before breakfast and each of the children would have to recite a verse we had memorized. And I remember that every night before we went to bed, we had to wash our feet.

What's the biggest change you've noticed in the world in the past century?

The hardest thing is that things are always changing. You just can't get used to anything anymore. It's hard to keep up with everything that's happening.

Did you have a nickname as a child?

Yes, they called me "Dump" because I was so short. And sometimes my daddy would call me "Chuffy."

Do you have any wishes?

Things you still want to do? I have done so much of everything, I don't think I've missed too much. Travel was always my thing. I love to travel.

You seem to have been unlucky in love?

What happened? Well, I've been married three times, but I don't remember too much about any of them. The first one was a concrete finisher who was working on a building in New York. He got blowed up and they never found no sign of him. Husband No. 2 thought he was a woman's man and that carried him out of sight. And No. 3 just went away one day and stayed away. Those marriages didn't mean too much to me so I don't remember them much.

How did those experiences change you?

Well, it was OK with me. I made it. Don't ever think a woman can't do things on her own and never say a woman can't because I did everything I needed to do myself.

How's your love life nowadays?

I'm not lookin', but if I were, he would have to be just a regular person, somebody interested in some good companionship. I guess having a man would be better than looking at the wall and talkin' to myself.

What have you learned about life?

Life is great, and I've learned how to make it even better. I take life as it is. What will be, will be. I just go on livin'.

What advice do you have for others trying to find happiness?

Best thing you can do is learn all you can and be whoever you want to be. Listen so you can learn. If you don't listen, you won't know. You just got to kind of feel your your way through life. Don't worry about things. What will be, will be.

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