For her 95th birthday, Faye Isbell Reed of Midlothian sat down and made a list of all the jobs she’s held over the years.
The list reads something like a survey of history seen through the motion of her hands: chopping cotton, gathering corn, cutting maize heads with a knife, cooking for a thresher crew, canning, teaching and sewing in a factory.
Her daughter, Nellafay Isom of Midlothian, remembers those hands all through her childhood, making homemade donuts and peanut brittle for the local kids, crocheting baby blankets, playing dominoes around the family table, sending Bibles to prisoners and money to missionaries.
Now, as Reed approaches her 100th birthday on Friday, those hands mostly take a well-deserved rest, tenderly turning the pages of her beloved Bible and reading poetry — she can still recite poems she memorized in her junior high days.
“I’m a very sentimental person,” she said, eyes wet after re-reading her favorite poem, ‘Looking Back.’
Over the years, through long conversations and letters with old friends, Reed’s family has gathered countless stories and memories, all painting the picture of a woman whose hands were always busy and who’s secret to longevity is laughter, games and children.
“She’s still an avid reader and game player,” Isom said. Reed and her late husband, Roy Evans Reed, were never too busy for a romp with their children.
“Granny always made the time to play games,” Isom’s daughter, Kristi Odell, said.
On occasion, though, the helping and fun would go awry, as Isom recalled with a smile. There was an instance where Reed decided to help her husband harvest the maize but she and her daughter forgot to close the hopper on the thresher.
“We were trying to help him and we were harvesting it, but it was coming out,” she said.
Another time, Reed found herself in a tricky situation while tending poultry.
“We had the turkeys together, and I was down looking at the turkeys, and there was a bull in the pasture,” she said. “I had to go up in the trees!”
Reed was born in the community of White near Midlothian, though she was delivered by a Venus doctor and her birth certificated is filed in Cleburne, she said. Her family has been in the Midlothian area since her grandfather, Elgin Kossuth Ward, a Mississippi native, purchased land there in 1874.
She vividly recalls the first plane she ever saw as she walked along the railroad tracks near Venus at the age of 5 — he flew so low she could see what he was wearing.
Reed moved to Maypearl at the age of 8 when her father sold his store and took up farming.
“The schoolhouse burned,” she recalled. “And before they got it back we moved to Maypearl.”
Reed graduated from Maypearl in the class of 1925, and attended college for one year to earn her teaching certificate. She taught at several tiny local schools, such as Bee Creek and Christian Chapel, and had to get creative to live on a $75 a month salary, $30 of which went to renting her one-room lodging, building shelves for the school out of apple boxes.
Per the customs of the time, Reed said, she had to give up teaching upon her marriage in 1931.
“That was the rule then, but then later on, during the war I guess, they let people teach,” she said.
Although no longer a school teacher, Reed continued to help her siblings and then her children, especially sharing her love of poetry and delight in their academic success.
“Education was always real important to Mom,” Isom said.
Three of Reed’s four children graduated as valedictorians of their class: Margaret Milton, of Hunstville, Ala., the late Laura Jeanne Dailey and late Kenneth Reed of Waxahachie. All four of the children went on to college, and Reed now has six grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
Reed and her husband, who died in 1962, returned to Midlothian after their marriage to farm a place south of town.
Despite facing the hardships of starting a family in the heart of the Great Depression and two house fires, Reed was always known for delicious, if messy, cooking and sense of fun.
Odell said throughout her childhood, she remembers Reed taking a special moment to thank God for what she had.
“She’d always say, ‘Oh, Thank you Lord I have a warm house to go home to,’” she recalled.
In 1951, Reed took a job sewing mattresses in a factory to help pay for her children’s tuition — at one time, she had three in college at once.
Reed held the factory job until she was 80 and the plant. Not content to rest yet, she took a job at another factory, though allergies to the dyes forced her to finally retire.
“The fumes from the material made me cry all the time, so I had to quit,” she said.
Now, Reed spends her time reading publications like Reader’s Digest, Guidepost, Texas Highways and the Midlothian Mirror, playing games with her family and “sitting down and resting” as she wrote as the last in her list of jobs five years ago.
Friday will mark a big birthday bash with barbecue an expected close to two hundred guests.
Those who know her have come to love her wealth of knowledge, sharp curiosity and fun wit.
“I always say that she’s a walking dictionary, a walking Bible, a walking history book and geography book,” Isom said. “She asks more questions than anybody you’ve ever known.”
And always her hands have helped, cooked, given, taught and reached out after the example of Christ, Isom said.
“That’s just the way she is,” she said.