Clara Deas, who has lived in Rock Hill every day of her long life, told the world in wicked-grin verse she is getting old.
She didn't say how old in a letter and poem to Dr. Gott, the medical advice syndicated columnist whose responses to reader letters are read by millions every day in The Herald and hundreds of other newspapers. She wouldn't tell me how old she is, either.
Nobody's business, I was told, including mine.
"Plenty old," she said.
Deas wrote a funny, self-deprecating poem that began: "I'm growing old, but what the heck. My face is wrinkled, but so is my neck."
Don't buy it. Clara Deas, ageless, looks like a million dollars.
Unlike the poem, she doesn't take medications, so she doesn't have to worry if she forgot to take them. She has a head full of her own hair that she never once forgot to rinse.
But she knows that growing old can either be a laughing joy or her worrying over something she can't control.
"I'm a giggler," she said. "Always have been."
Deas started writing poems in the eighth grade and never stopped. She won $1,000 with one in a newspaper contest 11 years ago. A poetry anthology printed another. One about a girl, a daughter, being like an angel is on her bathroom wall. Words so beautiful a plumber in there one time asked for a copy while wiping the tears so he could finish fixing the sink.
I bet the plumber ate that day, too. Deas had me in her living room five minutes then asked -- more like demanded -- if I would like a piece of homemade coconut cake. The one with that white frosting that is a legal requirement for all Southern grandmothers. It was the best cake I ever ate. I picked the crumbs off the plate with my fingers.
I sat there and hoped she would ask if I wanted more.
I remembered I was there to ask about the poem. Deas dashed the Gott poem off a year ago in about 20 minutes. It was written longhand on a sheet of white paper, in a beautiful cursive from an era long-gone.
Dr. Gott, who retired last year after 40 years of practicing medicine, has had advice from over 23 years appear in as many as 675 papers. He gets more than 70,000 letters every year from readers, so he does not publish the names of who is lucky enough to have letters chosen and printed. But after hearing from a reader named Susan that her mother -- Clara Deas has two children and five grandchildren, she is quick to point out -- had written that letter and poem, I called and asked the Gott people if it was Clara Deas of Rock Hill, S.C.
It was, they said.
But Deas heard nothing until Thursday when she read her own lines in the paper.
I asked who she told that morning.
"Only everybody I know," Deas said.
Her husband, Ray, who runs a furniture store in York, said he had the chance to tell two or three people his wife may have missed.
"She's a talented lady," Deas said of his wife.
Friday, Clara Deas was at the beauty parlor -- women of Deas's generation go to the beauty parlor, not the hairdresser -- and she asked two ladies waiting to get their hair done if they read Gott the day before.
"Oh yes, he had the funniest poem in there about growing old," one lady said.
"I laughed myself silly," said the other lady.
"Well, I wrote it," said Clara Deas, who did.
It turns out Dr. Gott himself decides what letters are picked out of thousands he receives. Gott chose her poem because he "enjoyed it."
"It added humor to the very real aging process that it described," the Gott people told me the doctor said.
Clara Deas had the guts to poke a little fun at getting old. She is a wonderful lady who I will swear on a stack of coconut cakes might be 29 years old, tops.
Now everybody knows it was her who wrote the immortal line: "I need a tub bath, there's no doubt. I finally got in, but can't get out."
Here is the poem and letter from Rock Hill's Clara Deas that ran in The Herald and in newspapers all over the country Aug. 30.
DEAR DR. GOTT: Perhaps you and your readers might enjoy my attempt at humor.
I'm growing old, but what the heck.
My face is wrinkled, and so's my neck.
My legs are stiff, and I can't run.
Going to bed is my old fun.
I love to talk, but it makes no sense.
I washed my hair and forgot to rinse.
I can't remember to take my pill.
I watch a movie and think it's real.
I need a tub bath, there's no doubt.
I finally got in but can't get out.
Today's the day I hang my head.
Will I stay up or go to bed?
I locked myself out, I can't seem to win.
Was I going out or was I coming in?
Life is going, my friends are dear.
Thank you, God, that I'm still here.
DEAR READER: As I'm discovering, old age really needs humor to get through it.