The first lesson was to work hard.
From the time Bessie Miller was a small girl, she was taught that she needed to put in her share of chores on her family’s small farm.
She and her eight siblings had to carry in wood for the three stoves in the house, and stack it in the wood shed. When the plants were big enough in their garden, they hoed in between rows of plants to get rid of the weeds.
That dedication to hard work stuck with Miller all her life. It contributed to her long lifespan, she said. The Bargersville resident celebrated her 100th birthday on March 15, taking time to look back on her dedication with a sense of pride.
“I worked hard all my life, and I think that helped. Work never killed anybody,” she said.
Old age runs in Miller’s family.
Her father lived to be 105. Four of her siblings are still alive, ranging in age from 93 to 79.
“We’re an old bunch,” Miller said.
Miller was born on March 15, 1914, in a log cabin south of Franklin. When she was a child, the family moved to a 131-acre farm in Trafalgar.
That’s where she learned about doing chores.
“We had to work. My dad was a hard worker, and he worked his kids. But it was OK,” Miller said. “There was no sleeping in.”
Other lessons stuck with her from childhood. Miller tells the story of when she was 2 years old and came down with a high fever that refused to break.
The local doctor came to tend to her, but she wasn’t getting any better.
On a whim, her father suggested giving her some gravy to drink. Young Miller sucked it down, and it proved to be the magic elixir to make her well.
“I started eating again, and got better,” she said. “I still love gravy.”
Her childhood was also sprinkled with memories of fun. Her father raised sorghum, and she would make taffy out of it.
He made a sled for his kids, and a teeter-totter for the yard. They set up a horseshoes pit, and Miller became skilled at ringing the shoes around the post for five points.
“We had time to play,” she said.
Miller lived in the community even after she married Wayne Miller, and they had three children — Danny, Lenny and Larry.
Over her life, she earned money by cleaning houses for families in Morgantown. Her salary was $7 per week, a good wage 60 years ago, she said.
Again, she found time to indulge her hobbies when the work was done.
One of her favorite pastimes was golf.
She started playing when her husband, who was a caddy in Bloomington, introduced her to the game. Miller became a regular at Indian Springs Golf Course, playing in tournaments and leagues throughout her life.
She played until she was 94.
“I wasn’t very good, but I got better. I won several trophies, and scored an eagle one time,” she said.
Miller was also a skilled wood worker. All over her home are examples of her crafts, including wall hangings with intricate carvings.
She wrote a book about her family, to teach future generations about history and heritage of Johnson County, where she has lived her entire life. Her hope is to pass on some of what she’s seen over the course of a century.
“I just wanted to tell people about how we lived. These kids wouldn’t believe it now, they wouldn’t believe that we did clothes on the washboard and things like that,” Miller said.