CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Ninety-seven years. That's a lot to look back on. From kerosene lamps on the farm of his boyhood to the computer on his desk and the cellphone clipped to his belt, Mort Talbott has witnessed a world of change.
Through it all, he tried his best to live a decent and dignified life, what some might call an ordinary life, the special kind of life that built the backbone of America.
He knows about farm work. Doing repairs around his mother's boardinghouse led to his vocation as a master electrician. He served his country in World War II. He reared two children in the home he bought in Kanawha City in 1947, his residence to this day.
As a hobby, he grew orchids. For more than two decades, up into his 90s, he worked as a hospice volunteer.
St. Peter surely waits up there with a bright star for Morton Talbott's crown.
"I was born in Clarksburg. When I was 2 or 3, my mother bought a 16-acre farm. We burned coal in the kitchen stove and in the fireplace for heat. Laundry was done in a washtub with a washboard. We got water from a hand-dug well and heated it on the stove.
"There was a smokehouse in the backyard to salt and smoke meat to preserve it for winter. We preserved potatoes in a mound of earth lined with straw and covered with tarpaper. In the summer, we put food in a bucket and lowered it in the well just above the water to keep it cool.
"My parents divorced when I was 7. My mother usually worked as a cook for workers in logging camps and sawmills, so we moved around.
"My mother came down here when I was 14 because business was better here. In Clarksburg there was no work, nothing going on. It was in the Depression.
"My mother bought a rooming house here on the corner of State Street and Laidley. State is Lee now. Workers who wanted a place to sleep rented rooms there. The back part was an apartment, and that's where we lived.
"We didn't have a car, but I could walk about anywhere I wanted to go. We were only two blocks from Capitol Street. And they had streetcars.
"My brother and I would gather up discarded soft drink bottles and return them for the 1-cent deposit. Fifteen bottles would get us a dime to go to the Lyric Theater. I saw a lot of westerns at the Lyric.
"I wanted to be an electrician. I did all the chores and electrical work around the boardinghouse. I would read and experiment to learn about electrical things until I finally took a course.
"I'd been going to a country school where they had eight grades in one room. In Charleston, I went to Thomas Jefferson Junior High, then to Charleston High. It was over on Washington Street then. I graduated in 1935. My senior year, I would get up at 4 a.m. and pass papers, The Charleston Gazette.
"Right after high school, I worked at the Rose City Cafeteria. I started out washing dishes for $10 a week and meals. The baker showed me how to prepare his work, so when he went on vacation, I'd be the baker. The short order cook wanted to go on vacation, so he showed me around and I did a little short order cooking. I was there maybe three years.
"I went to night school to be an electrician and then went to Fort Bragg, N.C., to work. A construction company was building barracks there and needed electricians. We found that all the unemployed people had rushed in and were hired as craftsmen. They hired us as helpers for less pay. I worked with two 'electricians' who didn't know how to connect three-way switches. We did it for them and we all kept our jobs.
"I came back and worked for Western Electric at night installing telephone equipment.