Lenora Brown looks at life as a series of stages. And, as she prepares to celebrate her 100th birthday Monday, there are a lot of them to look at.
She grew up in the Land Between the Lakes area, the daughter of Samuel and Rosa Duncan. She later settled in Princeton, where her husband, Richard, operated a furniture store for many years after his military service ended, and worked as a bookkeeper until retiring at the age of 75.
She has lived in Paducah since 1986.
Brown has seen all the wars since World War II, survived the great flood of 1937, and is now learning to deal with what she describes as “one of the worst things I’ve ever lived through,” the COVID-19 global pandemic.
“All my life, I’ve never smoked, I’ve never drank, and I guess, maybe good food,” said Brown, when asked about her longevity.
“I was raised mostly in the country. We had all kinds of good food, never had a doctor, we were always healthy. All of us lived a long life, and a simple life,” she said, noting her twin sister, Dora, lived to be 96, and her brother, Jim, 92.
Her birthday celebration will also be a “simple” affair, dinner with family at her granddaughter’s house in Murray, although her daughter Janet Shepherd, of Paducah, promises there are a few surprises planned.
“When we get together, we don’t watch TV or just ‘yak’ much, we play cards,” said Brown, of a passion that may date back to playing Old Maid as a child with cards her mother made.
She attended a one-room schoolhouse where she had her father as a teacher.
Later, due to the difficulty of crossing the river daily by ferry boat to get from their home to attend high school, Brown and sister were separated from their parents for four years, renting space in different homes with cooking privileges so they could prepare their own food.
Brown and her sister faced another challenge related to the rising river and separation from their parents — the 1937 flood.
“It rained — kind of like the Bible talks about — every day,” she said. “That water on the Cumberland River there at Eddyville started rising, coming up more and more.”
“Mother and daddy were over at Land Between the Lakes, no radio, no telephone ... they didn’t know where we were, or if we had anything to eat,” said Brown. “My dad said mother cried every day, ‘What are we going to do about the twins?’ ”
The sisters learned the government was providing a boat to take anyone who needed to go to the Land Between the Lakes area. Once on land, they still had to walk about six miles to reach their parents for a tearful reunion.
The next stage involved a young soldier, the nephew of her boss at the time. After he was introduced at the office, Richard Brown later showed up on the Duncan’s doorstep asking if Lenora would accompany him to a basketball game between Princeton and Kuttawa.
“I couldn’t refuse him, my goodness, he was a good-looking guy,” she said.
The two married after Richard left military service at the end of World War II. He served in the South Pacific on Tinian Island, where the Enola Gay was stationed.
They settled in Princeton “where everybody new Richard” and operated a furniture store, according to Brown. Her husband died in 1975 of a brain tumor at the age of 53. She remained in Princeton for another 11 years before moving to Paducah.
In the current stage of her life, Brown enjoys time with friends and family.
“I feel very well. I live here by myself, do my own cooking, a little bit of house work and I love to play bridge,” she said, while noting the current coronavirus has impacted her hobby.
“As far as my life is concerned, the Lord’s been good to me. I’m happy and I have a good time.”