Back then, cars were scarce in Ephrata, the Eastern Washington town where Sue Heinke-Paylor was born -- 104 years ago.
"My dad had a wheat ranch over there," she said Tuesday. "Other kids had bicycles. We had ponies."
Heinke-Paylor lives at Everett's Cascadian Place. The retirement community isn't far from where she ran her own Mode O'Day dress shop on Colby Avenue. On Tuesday, the Cascadian's executive chef, Alejandro Alcazar, prepared her favorite treat.
There wasn't room for 104 candles on a slice of chocolate cream pie. After serving dessert, Alcazar led residents in singing "Happy Birthday."
"You kept this all a secret," Heinke-Paylor said. Friends, some decades younger than she, lingered at her table to share birthday wishes. The Cascadian dining room was decked out with pink balloons.
Meeting someone who is 104, I asked what anyone would: What's her longevity secret?
"I have no idea," said Heinke-Paylor, who outlived two husbands and never had children.
Her first husband, Al Heinke, died in 1982. In 1986, she married Frank Paylor. He died in 1999, said Heinke-Paylor, who lived much of her life in Everett's Claremont area.
When she remarried, she became a stepmother, step-grandmother and step-great-grandmother. "That has been very, very nice," she said.
"She's truly remarkable, a wonderful matriarch for our family," said Laura Caster, Heinke-Paylor's niece. The Mill Creek woman's mother, the late Rosalie Caster, was Heinke-Paylor's youngest sister.
Caster said her aunt has always been independent, and has a big support group of family and friends. A member of Everett's First Baptist Church, Heinke-Paylor now attends Sunday services at the Cascadian. Most afternoons, she plays cards, including an old game called skipple.
"Sue worked into her 70s. She truly has a sense of purpose," Caster said.
Heinke-Palyor -- her maiden name was Sue Proud -- was the second of eight siblings. One brother survives. Harry Proud is in his late 90s, lives independently in Everett area, and still goes fishing, Caster said.
Before she started high school, Sue's family moved to Granite Falls from Eastern Washington. She graduated from Granite Falls High School in 1926, and soon began her retail career. She took a job at Sears Roebuck & Co. in downtown Everett, and later sold dresses at Montgomery Ward.
With an interest in fashion, she became the owner of a Mode O'Day franchise dress shop in Everett. Heinke-Paylor recalled the address -- "2727-and-a-half Colby" -- and said she ran the store from 1952 until the mid-1980s.
Told that one Cascadian staff member said she was one of the best-dressed residents, Heinke-Paylor said "I do enjoy fashion. I always will."
Heinke-Paylor does "sitter-cize," exercising in a chair, but said "I've never dieted a day in my life."
She'll share one health complaint, hearing problems. "When I started losing my hearing in my 90s, I figured that my mother and dad had lived to be 86," Heinke-Paylor said. She didn't expect to live into her late 90s, so she never bought a hearing aid. If she can't hear, she makes do, asking people to repeat what they've said.
Her memories stretch way back. One uncle fought in World War I. During the Second World War, her first husband served in the Marine Corps.
Her century-plus life has taken her from the start of the automobile age to the digital age. She leaves computers and cellphones to younger people. "They are so beyond my imagining," she said.
Heinke-Paylor doesn't dwell on the past. "Truly, she lives today, and looking forward to the future," Caster said.
"I have a happy disposition," Heinke-Paylor said. "As a rule, I take things as they go and stay happy."
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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