Love, labor and no memories lost - Coeur d'Alene Press: Local News

104 candles this year Love, labor and no memories lost

Ila Aiken has chronicled her 104 years in her poetry

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Posted: Saturday, March 30, 2013 12:00 am

POST FALLS - When Ila Aiken turns 104 on April 8, it won't matter if she can't summon every memory from the harsh years of labor, or the years of romance with the three men who stole her affection.

That's because when people ask about Aiken's century of experiences, she hands them a copy of her poetry book that chronicles it all.

The stanzas offer a peek into her history: Aiken living with her four children in a school bus during the Depression, the persistent faith that fueled her. There's even an ode to someone who inspired amorous feelings, though it doesn't specify if it's directed to one of her husbands, or her final companion of 25 years.

"I just had an urge to do it," Aiken said on Thursday of inking her thoughts and trials.

For someone who has witnessed most of the evolution of automobiles, Aiken is still enjoying life.

She's the first in line for bus rides around town, said one of her daughters, Phyllis Manley.

Aiken also welcomes visits from family, which now includes three children, 11 grandchildren and 28 great-grandkids.

"Somebody up there likes me," Aiken said of her longevity, as she sat in a wheelchair at Guardian Angel Homes in Post Falls.

That's not to say it has all been easy going.

Aiken was born on April 8, 1909, in North Dakota. The fifth of nine children, she helped bring in money at 16 by working in a tailor shop, where she helped make men's suits.

"Tailoring was exact. Perfect. It had to be," Aiken remembered.

"What did the tailor man tell you?" prompted Manley, sitting by her mother with a smile.

"A poor tailor never rips," Aiken said.

Constant work shaped Aiken's life. After she married Jim Fagan in Grand Forks, N.D., they struggled to get by. When the Depression struck, they converted an old school bus into a mobile home, so the whole family could follow Fagan to whatever construction jobs he could find.

Manley remembers the four bunk beds in the bus, each child given one drawer for their personal possessions.

Sometimes the kids changed schools up to three times in one school year, she said.

"We'd go from job to job," Manley said, adding that her mother helped bring in cash by working as a truck driver. "We'd just have to get in there and leave."

The couple divorced shortly after purchasing a grocery store in Drummond, Mont.

Manley and her mother both rue the years slaving over the store, which the kids helped operate.

"Our family life ended there," Manley said, recalling how she cooked for the family and worked at the store while in high school. "It was working Monday through Saturday in the store all day long. We used to go in the mountains on picnics, fishing, enjoying life on weekends. But it ended there."

Her mother agreed the life was hard.

"It all seems like a nightmare, now that I think of it," she said.

Aiken fell in love twice more. She married Arthur Aiken in 1954. After he passed away roughly 30 years later, she eventually moved to Spokane and developed a close relationship with Steve Moore.

Aiken eventually became his caregiver.

"Just human nature," she said of how she fell into romance again.

She also lost one child, Loren Fagan.

Aiken ruminates over much of this in her prose in "A Treasury of Memories Captured in Poem," which she published in 1993.

"It just came natural," Manley said of her mother's writing. "Every (poem) is from the heart."

The poems reveal a woman who often pondered her faith, and also soldiered through tough times.

In the poem "Fort Peck Dam," she describes birthing her fourth child, Jimmy, in a cabana in Fort Peck, Mont. during the Depression.

"Living conditions were hectic/But nobody seemed to mind/At last we were getting a paycheck/And fate was very kind," the poem reads. "When we went there we had three/And we left, we had four/Loren, Dorla, Phyllis and Jimmy/And peace of mind, how could we ask for more?"

Aiken said her greatest accomplishment is raising children who stood by her.

Her advice for living a long life is clearly some she followed herself.

"Keep your nose to the grindstone," she said.

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