By Heidi Sutton
As far as birthdays go, this year’s was an extra special one for Eleanor Davis. The Port Jefferson resident celebrated her 100th birthday last Sunday surrounded by family and friends. A second birthday celebration on a grander scale is planned for May with a three-day trip to Cooperstown with her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and more.
Born in Philadelphia on Jan. 6, 1919, Eleanor lived in Mount Holly, New Jersey, until the age of 8 when her father, who was a physician, bought a practice in Floral Park. While visiting a friend in Port Jefferson during the summer of 1944 she met her future husband, Chester “Ritchie” Davis. They eventually settled in the village and raised their three children, Laurie, Patricia and Chester, in a charming historic home on Prospect Street.
In the days leading up to her milestone birthday, I had the privilege of spending some time with Eleanor as she reminisced about her long life and answered some questions for, as she likes to say, “her 15 minutes of fame.”
What do you want people to know about you?
I have three claims to fame: I took a parachute jump at the 1939 New York World’s Fair in Queens; I’ve been up in the original Goodyear Blimp; and I’m related to Buffalo Bill by marriage (my father’s cousin was married to Buffalo Bill).
Who is your favorite president so far?
Ronald Reagan. He was a very personable person.
What was one of most tragic events in history for you?
The most tragic event to me was the [Nazi] concentration camps but it was also upsetting when the U.S. government took the Japanese and put them in an encampment. They took away their businesses and everything which was a terrible thing to do. The assassination of JFK was sad and the bombing of Pearl Harbor was also a terrible thing. Those boys were all on their ships and they all went down and couldn’t get out.
Do you remember the Great Depression?
Vaguely, but it really didn’t affect my family that much — my husband suffered more with his family. Sometimes they didn’t have enough to eat. His father couldn’t work anymore because he had a very bad heart so his mother baked biscuits and cookies (cakes and pies on order) and the boys peddled it up and down the harbor as far as Poquott.
What technology are you most impressed about? Cell phones? Computers?
Oh, the ones I don’t like! I hate those iPad things and of course the fancy phones — you can do every but make coffee on them! My son is always finding out information for me on them … but I think it’s too bad that nobody talks to anybody anymore but that’s the way of the world these days, you know?
Who is your favorite historical figure?
I remember going to the library at the age of eight and getting hooked on Mary Queen of Scots — I’m still hooked on Mary Queen of Scots — she was a fascinating person.
Have you traveled?
I’ve camped in Ohio, explored caves down in Kentucky and visited Utah and New Orleans. I loved New Orleans. I’ve also been on the QE2 to Scotland twice, the second time to see the Edinburgh Tattoo at Edinburgh Castle.
What’s left on your bucket list?
I’ve always wanted to go to Venice.
Do you have a favorite movie?
My favorite is “Love With the Proper Stranger” with Steve McQueen and Natalie Wood. My daughter loves that film also.
Do you have a favorite actor?
I would have to say Jimmy Stewart. I had two albums (scrapbooks) as a kid. I collected everything I could get on him — every picture, every article that came out. I wish I still had that. I also liked Margaret Sullivan.
What has been your favorite decade so far?
The 1940s. The early ’40s when I was living in New Jersey was the best time of my life. I had a job I liked and I lived with six girls in a boarding house. We paid $12 a week with meals and refrigerator privileges; we could do laundry in the basement — whatever we wanted to do. [The landlady] didn’t care if we had parties or not. The girls were all different and I was always going to write a book about that time but I never did — that was my secret ambition.
What advice would you give to a young person starting out in life?
Well, my favorite expression is, “Go with the flow.” I suppose that’s the easy way out but I’m not much of an arguer. Also to not worry so much. Sometimes people worry about something that isn’t worth a hoot and a holler in the long run. And you have to find humor in things. Everything is funny if you look at it close enough.