Clovis resident celebrates 104 years of life

Bill Chapman, left, visits with longtime friend Nina Luckett on Saturday at The Retirement Ranch in Clovis. Luckett turns 104 years old today. Chapman said he has been friends with Luckett since meeting her in the 1970s.

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

She wears her years like a cloak. Her eyes are rimmed with pink. Her face is a topographic map. Her nose bears a deep scar, carved out years ago by a doctor after cancer took root.
Yet, Nina Lolita Luckett’s spirit shines through. In the course pigtails that trail down her curved back. In the lace fedora perched on her head. In subtle movements.

In the nursing home where she lives, Luckett swore Saturday afternoon it was her 106th birthday. Her friends and relatives firmly reminded her of true age. She is not 106, they told her. She’s 104 (today).

To Luckett, the distinction appears trivial.

“This is longest anybody ever lived,” Luckett said playfully, her blue eyes slowly scanning the mixed crowd of nursing home friends and family who gathered in the lobby of the Retirement Ranch to celebrate her feat — four years of living beyond the centennial mark.

With friend and fellow Retirement Ranch resident Thelma Coffey at her side, Luckett summed up her life in an almost conspiratorial whisper, “I’ve been learning all this time.”
Of that, she is proud.

She was born in Fort Scott, Kan., the daughter of a dryland farmer who moved to New Mexico when Luckett was 3 years old. “We were out on the prairie,” she said. “It was fun. We was so glad to move out of Kansas and come out to the farm.”

She was the sixth child born in a family of 12. Her father and mother had many mouths to feed, and the family often resorted to eating rabbits and other animals their sons trapped. And aside from food, there were many other needs to meet. So young Luckett had to learn anyway she could, she said.

“I had a trick,” she said. “They (her siblings) all had to go to school and there was no one to take care of me. So they put me by the teacher’s desk. When the students came in, I got my education.”

Later, Luckett built an arsenal of knowledge by peering over their shoulders as they studied their college textbooks, she said.

She never did make it to college herself, her son Vaughn, 79, said. She left steady work as a telephone operator to enroll, but all her possessions were stolen from her brother’s car, and she chose to return to the job, he said. Soon after, she married and moved to Clovis in 1925, where she raised four children and ran a grocery store.

“I was a good cook,” Luckett said.

She was also many other things, her son said. She was a strict disciplinarian, as most were in those days, he said. To punish bad behavior, she made her children drink castor oil, he said. But she treated them often, sometimes with ice cream, which she made from milk she purchased from Portales dairy farmers, he said. She also played the piano.

“I sat her next to one, and she said, ‘I’m blank. I don’t know what to do.’ That is something that happens with age,” her son said.

Her love of music, however, isn’t gone. When her friends sang her a birthday song, Luckett swung her hands up and down, and suggested, mischievously, that they all dance.

Later she quietly ate a piece of chocolate birthday cake, and others sang Karaoke tunes. All the while her wheelchair inched back and forth, and her sock-clad feet, unable to touch the ground, bobbed to the music.

Above all, it is her strong faith, her son and friends said, which guides her through life.

“She always says she is here because God isn’t through with her yet,” Coffey said, rubbing her frail friend softly on the back.