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105 and counting: Lehigh’s Palm Lemme celebrates

May 2, 2013
By MEL TOADVINE ( , Lehigh Acres Citizen

What does Palm E. Lemme, a resident of Sterling House on Business Way in Lehigh Acres share with such notables as Lyndon B. Johnson, Jimmy Stewart, Thurgood Marshall and Baby Face Nelson?

Lemme was born the same year - 1908. While the ones listed here have passed away, Lemme is still alive at age 105 and doing remarkably well.

She uses a walker to get around in the assisted living complex and she takes care of her personal needs such as bathing, dressing and even washing her beautiful snow-white natural colored hair.

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A big banner is being held up by Palm Lemme who just turned 105.

"Oh, this hair I just don't mess with it," she said. Weighing about 119 pounds or so, the only malady is a sore little finger that she thinks she may have hurt recently when she accidently hit it against a wall.

Palm Lemme's 105 years were celebrated just a week or so ago with a birthday party and a birthday cake after a meal in the dining room of Sterling House. But even while the party was a week or so ago, she has little memory of it. But yet, her memory of years ago is not bad. It comes and goes.

"I can't remember names and things sometimes," she said. "I know I was born on Palm Sunday and that my mother was in the hospital and that she had a wonderful smile, but I can't remember what she looked like," she said, rubbing her head.

"My mother died when I was a young child and I can't remember her face, but I remember her love," she said. Palm , as she is called by everyone at Sterling House, said there were three sisters and a brother and she remembers that her father, who was a hat maker, was unable to raise them and for a short while, they were put into an orphan's home in Orange, N.J., following her mother's death. She believes she was there with her siblings for a few years when her father was remarried and retrieved his children.

She believes her father had two more sons or else, his second wife came into the marriage with two sons.

"That was so long ago," she said waiving her hand in the air and smiling. But one thing she does remember, she says, is that when she was a young woman over the age of 18, she came to know a teenaged boy who was "eight or 19" and that they were "close friends."

Was he a boyfriend?

"Well," she said, "I think he was. He died when he was very young around 19 and I never had another boyfriend so I never married - that I know of."

While in the orphan's home, she recalls being the oldest child in the family and said she "looked out for the others," until her father was able to bring his family back together.

Being 105, she is not sure where she was born but more than likely it was in Connecticut. She believes her father moved to E. Orange, N.J., and later on her own, she and a sister moved to California, that, she remember for sure, she said.

"Los Angeles?" she was asked.

"Yes that's it. Los Angles, near where all the famous stars lived," she said. "As she tried to recall those early days, Palm, said she and her sister knew the famous actress, Doris Day, who is still living.

"She had beautiful dogs and she was so pretty and she was such a wonderful person to be around. Everyone loved her. She was a good friend.

"My sister was one of her regular dress makers and I helped to sew for her, too," she said.

And how and why was she named Palm?

"Oh, now I remember, it was Palm Sunday when I was born and they named me Palm," she laughed.

Palm Sunday in 1908 was on Sunday, April 12. Likely after her birth, her mother and dad talked about the infamous fire that occurred in Massachusetts on Palm Sunday. Not that far away from Connecticut, 492 acres of Chelsea, Mass., close to Boston, burned. All together, the five-hour fire burned 13 churches, nine schools, three businesses, two hospitals and a total of 2,922 buildings, according to historical accounts of the day.

While her father had asked an orphanage to care for his children after he lost his wife, Palm Lemme said she remembers that he was a "pretty good hat maker, and was "the top hat maker in Danbury, Conn."

She said she used to be interested in politics and news but not today, not anymore and she really doesn't care who the President of the United States is today.

"God is all that is important. God is all powerful and we belong to God and we need to always look to God for guidance," she said.

A member of Christian Scientist faith, she said that God will take care of his people. She said she has never been to a doctor that she remembers. She also said that she has never taken any medications either.

"Oh, but doctors are good people and those who believe in them should go, but my doctor is God and it is he who guides me and will take me when he is ready," she laughed.

She enjoys dressing in shorts and often goes outside at Sterling House "to get some sun," but she doesn't stay out long enough to burn. Her skin in light tan and soft, although she pointed to raised veins in her arms and age spots.

"I love to take my shoes off outside and let the sun warm them," she laughed.

"You know I just can't remember like I used to. But I don't worry. God is taking care of me and he has my memory," she said smiling.

"I loved California, reminds me of Lehigh a little," she mused.

Ask her how long and why she moved to Lehigh, and she doesn't remember, she will tell you.

Then her mind drifts back to California.

"It was beautiful and we knew so many stars. My sister liked to party more than I did; we saw them and they were happy people," she said.

"And yes I was a seamstress and helped my sister there," she said, "but that was a very long time ago and I don't remember any more, but it was very pretty there," she said.

No secret to her longevity. When asked, she gave all the credit to God who she said created us all and "we all are equal under his eyes."

"When we leave here, we can't take our material things because we won't need them. God has all that we need," she said. "Maybe I'll see you next year, too," she smiled. "How old will I be?"

"Ah, 106, are you sure?" she laughed. "Well I'll probably see you then."

The birthday party was planned by Nelson Ramirez, the center's activities director and resident program specialist. It was held on Saturday, April 20.

"We had a nice cake for her, but we didn't have 105 candles on that cake," he laughed. "We did one."

"She seemed to enjoy it, too. We think a lot of her here at Sterling House." She is the assisted living home's oldest resident.



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