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A chance to meet living history

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By Meaghan Downs

Ella Belle Overstreet Baxter graciously welcomed me into her home.
But what she didn’t know what was that I wanted her secret to long life.
Saving that, her portal to the past.
Ella has watched Anderson County evolve for about 100 years.
She’s been alive for both World Wars, minor and major military conflicts abroad.
She watched distilleries flourish, then wilt; lacking liquid courage they needed during the years of Prohibition.
The clicks of Morse Code transformed into the pings of incoming text messages.
If anyone could reveal the secret to humanity to me, Ella could.
Borrowing from the past to feed the progressive, we steal images and words and people from the annals of history with little understanding of why we’re resurrecting them.  
Look at fashion, politics and language.
Retro is “in,” and here to stay.
We wrench our arms into the back seat to dig out relics from the past, to dust them off, slap on new paint for freshness.
Perhaps I harp too much on history.
But my reason for it, I swear, has purpose.
We cannot avoid or ignore the fact that we repeat, repeat, repeat.
We can only try to understand why we commit the same sins, praise the same triumphs over and over again.
Why, inexplicably, jean overalls have come back into vogue.
I can only wonder how much Ella has seen human nature repeat cycles over the course of her lifetime.
That range of memory, from 1911 to 2011, is mind-boggling.
I can barely keep up with the memories of 22 years on this planet, let alone a century of revolutions, changing technologies and daily living.
Part of my job as a reporter is to recognize patterns, to connect past behavior with future behavior, correlate past statistics with future findings.
I’m part researcher, part cultural observer, part mad woman.
Curiosity also comes with the journalism territory, so I had to know what Ella knew.
I asked the question: “What are the biggest changes you’ve seen? Why are they important?”
Ella just laughed.
“There’s been a lot of changes,” she said.  
Wisdom doesn’t necessarily come with age, though that’s the saying taught to us.
It’s the willingness to admit you just don’t know why.  
Even on the cusp of your 100th birthday.