Martha Earnest’s extraordinary life

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By Pamela Brownstein

Martha Earnest has never driven a car.

She’s been to the Canadian side of Niagra Falls, but that was the only time she traveled outside of the United States.

She loves football — she cheers for the Carolina Panthers and the Cleveland Browns — and she wears the team jerseys on game days.

Martha Earnest, 103, lives with her granddaughter on Cat Island, Beaufort.

She likes to watch “Jeopardy,” and her family has nicknamed her Smart Mart.

While these facts about her life might sound somewhat ordinary, consider her birth date: February 14, 1909.

This 103-year-old woman lived on her own in Cleveland, Ohio, until she was 100. She never took medicine, and she said she never saw a doctor for about 45 years.

Born Martha Chytzer, she grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It was there that she met her husband at baseball camp when she was on her church team. He was six years older, so when she was 17, she said, “Well, I’ll tell you, we ran off to get married.”

The two took a train from Pittsburgh to Youngstown, Ohio, but they couldn’t get married because of her age.

“We eloped, but they wouldn’t let us get married,” she said with a laugh.

On the train ride back, her husband proposed. “I had a wedding ring and an engagement band all at the same time,” Martha remembers.

When they arrived home, she had to tell her parents about her trip, but she said they were understanding. They gave their consent and the lovebirds got married properly in a minister’s parsonage the next week.

For their first 10 years, the couple enjoyed their time together. Martha recalls that was during the flapper age, and they even went to speakeasies.

At age 30, she gave birth to her daughter, Julie. Martha has been living with Julie’s daughter, her granddaughter Sydney Lubkin, on Cat Island since last December.

She has a mother-in-law suite that is attached to the back porch, and Sydney calls it the Penthouse because it is big and cozy and set up with a bathroom, small kitchen area and all of Martha’s pictures and knickknacks.

Sydney said her husband and two kids marvel at Martha’s intelligence and sense of humor, and that’s why they nicknamed her Smart Mart.

Although she’s still sharp mentally, she has lost most of her eyesight, so she can’t do the things she most loved, such as baking pies or embroidering tablecloths.

Not being able to read has been difficult too. “I have read for as long as I can remember,” Martha said.

But she is a big fan of the Beaufort library and listens to at least one book a week on CD.  “I like the romances,” she said and cites Nicholas Sparks and Pat Conroy as favorite authors.

When asked about the secret to her longevity, Martha said with a chuckle, “I don’t have any secrets. If I did, I forgot them long ago.”

It could be said that age is just a number, but Martha’s warm spirit, sweet personality and long life are certainly something to be admired.