The body is slowing down, but the rest is still sharp. The mind, the humor, the art, the spirit, and the heart are still in prime condition in Joe Pruitt, who turned 100 years old on November 12. As he hits the century mark, he’s not afraid to look back on a life well-lived.
Joe just celebrated the milestone birthday with dozens of family and friends, but it doesn’t feel much different so far.
“I can’t tell no difference,” he says. “Ninety-nine and 100 are about the same.”
As with most things, he punctuates it with a chuckle. Whether he’s recalling fond memories of sneaking off to go swimming on a hot summer day with his brother or talking about how much San Francisco changed between the time he left the Army after World War II and moving to Georgia in the early 1990s, there’s that telling twinkle in the his eye as he spins a yarn and caps it with a laugh. When you’ve seen so much in your lifetime, it must be easy to find humor in life’s little quirks.
From humble beginnings, born in Athens, Texas, and growing up a sharecropper’s son, he learned the value of hard work early on.
“You bet your life,” he said. “You had to work from sun up to sun down.”
He was married to the love of his life, Betty, for 70 years. They had seven children, six boys and one girl. That brought them too many grandchildren to count, and Joe even has a few great-great-grandchildren to beam about.
They’re growing up in a world so different than Joe did.
“It’s no comparison because then we had to make what we played with,” he said with a smile, harkening back to spending hours hunting and fishing. “Now, they’ve got these cellphones, good Lord. We didn’t have electric light or running water in the house. We had to carry the water in the house and cut the wood for the stove because we didnt have gas.”
He still remembers the first time he ever saw a television. He was married by then, and he had heard about them, but it was still a shocking moment.
“I couldn’t hardly believe it, seeing a picture.”
Transportation has been revolutionized several times over since he was a little boy.
“I’ve seen it go from a horse and buggy to jet air plane.”
He appreciates the modern conveniences, but there’s still something special about the good ol’ days. It’s given him a fond appreciation for the smaller miracles.
“It sure does because I can remember when at times we didn’t have hardly anything,” he said. “Now we’ve got a nice house to live in, and we don’t have to (fill up) the cracks in the walls to keep the wind out.”
Change seems to follow him around. Going from Texas farms to oil fields, Joe went into the Army during WWII, though he did not have to go overseas. After being stationed in San Francisco, he stayed in the Golden State until the early 1990s.
“There used to be a lot of good farming country out there. Now they raise nothing.”
When the living just got too expensive, they relocated to Georgia in 1992 to be closer to their oldest son in Peachtree City. The county has exploded right before his eyes.
“It’s grown so much, and it’s still growing,” he said. “It beats all I’ve ever seen.”
His mind is still as sharp as a pocket knife, just like the one in a poem he wrote about his father’s knife a few years back and can recite word for word from memory. In the last four or five years, he’s tapped into his creativity, writing and art. It’s just another way for him to tell a great story.
“It just dawned on me one day,” he said, searching for why he started branching out. “I just always liked poems and songs about the birds and the trees.”
He’s encouraged to pursue his passions by his wife, Penny. After Betty passed, Penny, who had looked after the Pruitts for several years, became an inseparable companion of Joe’s, and they’ve now been married four years. Penny’s love for both Pruitts remains strong.
“I cleaned their house, and that’s how I got to know them. I just fell in love with them as soon as I met them,” said Penny. “When (Betty) died, he was so lonely.”
Together, they took care of each other, and keep each other strong.
Want to know Joe’s key to longevity? Keep it simple.
“The only advice I can give is to live today for today, and tomorrow is going to take care of itself,” he said. “That’s the way I’ve lived my whole life.”
And what a life he’s lived so far.