When Otis Selmon was born 102 years ago in 1909, the life expectancy for males was 46.3 years.
When asked last week what made him live so long, he replied with a twinkle in his lively blue eyes: "Age! And, do what you want to do! If you want a bite to eat, get it, even if sometimes your mother gets on you."
Selmon was born in Calhoun County on March 31, 1909. He moved to Pendleton County when he was about 12 years old and lived in a small house near Cherry Grove with six siblings. They went to bed at dark, got up at dawn to finish their farm chores of feeding cows, chickens and horses or "get a whipping." They usually had a big breakfast.
Otis Selmon and soon-to-be wife Alice had their portrait taken in 1955 just before they were married. Selmon was born in 1909 and lived with his wife in Cherry Grove in Pendleton County until her death in February.
"Mom was No. 1! But Dad always said, 'You eat what's set before you,'" Selmon said.
The kids walked about a mile to a two-room schoolhouse, manned by Mr. Spencer.
"When we were born, we didn't always have shoes. When we walked barefoot to school, we'd go pretty fast once we got started," he recalled.
His dad, who worked as a logger, was a strict disciplinarian.
"The boys were mean - I was, too. I guarantee Dad whipped us."
Selmon liked to peel the bark off Beech trees to make whistles. But, Selmon's mother made tea with the bark.
"One time I peeled some bark. Someone told on me, and Dad got mad and gave me a whipping. Next time he almost caught me, so I nailed the bark back on the tree. He threatened 'to hang me up against the wall' if he ever caught me peeling bark again," he said.
Selmon finished high school and worked a wide variety of jobs. He cut firewood, worked in lumber camps, hauled logs on a truck and worked for the state highway department. He was paid about $3 a day and sometime that was hard to get. "There wasn't much work around," he said.
Town Council minutes indicated Selmon was appointed the policeman for the town of Franklin on Nov. 15, 1954, "to serve as long as his services prove to be satisfactory."
His town cop duties likely included walking the streets to maintain security, keeping local kids in line and arresting any drunks who might cause a disturbance, according to current Magistrate Leland Propst, who was a high school student at the time Selmon served in law enforcement. He recalls Selmon being a very tall, impressive person.
A 1955 Pendleton Times front page story indicated Selmon retired on Sept. 12 and was replaced by H.R. Shepherd in October.
On Nov. 10, 1956, Selmon married, Alice, who was his "partner" for 54 years until her death on Feb. 12, 2011. In recalling their days of courtship, Selmon said there was a path worn to Alice's house.
"It was about 20 miles from my house, but I would outrun a horse to get to see her. I wanted to hurry up and get there. Her parents did not always want me to see her, but we would slip away. ...When we got married, we ran off. I didn't ask her dad," Selmon said.
After that, they lived with Alice's mom.
"We had no house of our own for a long time. I worked in the woods and came home on weekends."
Their marriage was described as a partnership. Selmon hauled logs in the lumber camps, while Alice worked at home. One of her chores was preparing the hay for Otis to bale when he returned for the weekend.
The couple eventually bought a small house on a farm in Cherry Grove and raised Alice's son, and their son, Mason.
Selmon liked to hunt and fish. He caught trout and suckers about a foot long which Alice would fix to eat. "They were really good," he recalled.
The couple later moved to the Pendleton Manor and were featured in the facility's newsletter Highlights.
"You have to get along the best you can. Sometimes you might get aggravated, but you have to work it out," Alice said in a 2010 edition of Highlights.
"We quarreled once in a while, but everybody does," Selmon added.
The couple was happy at Pendleton Manor, and Selmon says he still expects to see Alice when he turns his wheelchair around the next corner.
Selmon celebrated his 102nd birthday at Pendleton Manor on March 31.
"Everything is good now. People have been good to me," Selmon added.