When you get to be 109 years old, you tell it like it is.
Barnetta Williams sure does.
She's extremely hard of hearing, but is in her right mind, as they say, and has a whole lot to say about her late husband (he was a womanizer); the benefits of apple cider vinegar (she suggests mixing it with a little honey and water); and also, doing all things in moderation (she's a teetotaler).
"I never smoked, dipped snuff, or drank beer, wine or whiskey, and I never danced, never wanted to dance, and never did try," she told me Tuesday evening. "And I never drank coffee, not until the later years."
She only started that after reading an article suggesting that a cup of joe might improve brain activity.
"I don't know if I'm in my right mind or not," Williams joked.
It isn't often that you meet a supercentenarian or someone on the verge of entering that exclusive club of seniors ages 110 or older. Williams' birthday is in October, and it looks as if she may be around to celebrate the milestone.
"She's very rare, and even though she's not quite 110, I would say that if she's cognitively intact and vibrant like you say, it's very likely she will go on to be 110," added Perls, who's also a geriatrician at the Boston Medical Center. "These people who live beyond 106 or so are really quite special."
Williams was likely to be the oldest person in attendance at Thursday's annual gathering of local seniors ages 100 and over. More than 100 centenarians or those close to it were scheduled to attend the luncheon in their honor at SugarHouse Casino. City officials believe Williams, who moved to Mayfair last year to live with her great-granddaughter, is Philly's oldest resident.
Before moving in with her great-granddaughter last year, Williams had been living on her own in an apartment in Atmore, Ala., a small town on the border of Florida, where she'd resided since the age of 9. Her parents were farmers and grew sweet potatoes, peas, butter beans, and corn. They also raised hogs, chickens, and goats. Williams was educated in a one-room schoolhouse attended only by black children. She made it as far as the sixth grade.
"There were nine of us children," Williams recalled. "I had three sisters older than me. And one sister and a brother under me. And three brothers older than me. I'm the only one living."
For a time, she worked as a cook making peach pies and other things for the Swift Mill Boarding House, which her sister ran in Alabama. It was there that Williams met her future husband, whom she married after having only known him for a month. I asked, "Was it a good marriage?"
"No," she said. "I didn't want another one. "
She nonetheless stayed in the marriage and also worked as a beautician. The couple had one son, David, who died in his 60s from bone cancer. Darlene Callands, Williams' great-granddaughter, keeps mementos around their rowhome from her days in Alabama -- a kerosene lamp that used to light dark country roads on Williams' way from church; an antique pitcher and wash basin; a matching cup and saucer from a store Williams' father used to own; and framed family photos.
"They'd kill us just the same as killing a dog. They used to do the Indians bad too, the white folks did," Williams recalled of growing up during a particularly dark chapter in American history.
She marveled at having lived long enough to see a black man elected president and enjoys watching Steve Harvey on Family Feud. Williams still dresses and bathes herself. A home health aide is with her while Callands works.
What advice does she have for the rest of us? "Just try to live right and treat people right. If you can help anybody, try to do that."