“Hard work never hurt anyone” Bartley celebrates a century of life

Playing in a band, weed-eating around your house, driving wherever you want to go, doing your own errands, teaching Sunday School every week — sounds like most of our to-do lists, but it’s probably not on the list of most 100 year-olds.
However, those of us that know Iris Ellen (Combs) Bartley — know that’s just the start of her lists.
Bartley, a petite woman with perfectly-styled beautiful white hair, flawless make-up and the style and grace of a true lady, celebrated a special day — her 100th birthday —on Saturday, Dec. 2 with a party filling the fellowship hall of the First Baptist Church in Tompkinsville.
Hitting this milestone, she can remember when airplanes finally took to the skies, when running water was first installed in homes and businesses and when regular telephones — and cell phones — came to be.
With just a hint of laughter and an abundance of love in her speech,  Bartley is a wealth of knowledge that most people will never know.
And not a single person would ever guess her age if they attempted to follow her for a single day, as she  does not appear to be a day over 70 in her appearance or manner.
She exudes warmth and a quiet strength, this legacy of the Bartley family.
A mother of four, a grandmother of 14, a great-grandmother of 30, and the great-great-grandmother of seven, she also counts among her children, an exchange student from Germany ( who grew very close to the family and continues to keep in touch to this day). Bartley shares her pride in the fact that she raised a close family, just as she and her siblings were years ago.
She still lives in the immaculate home on the farm where she raised her children. She smiles at her visiting son and daughter, saying, “I had good kids. They did fuss every once in a while, but when they did, I would set them down.” Continuing, Bartley added, “That is how I was raised. Everyone had a chore and if they fussed, I found something for them to do. They knew when I said no, I meant it.”
Her daughter Barbara laughed. “We still do,” she said.
Bartley noted that Barbara had surprised her the morning of this interview. “I had just finished under the dryer when she came in. She finished combing out my hair.”
Yes, Bartley was styling her own hair that morning in her former beauty shop in her home’s basement, as she has done for many others over the years.
She explained that she was a hairstylist until just eight years ago when she retired from the profession at age 92.
“That is when I decided to quit…”
Her son, Darrell, interrupted, “She didn’t quit, all her regulars died out on her.”
Bartley graduated from Tompkinsville High School in 1939 and then took a beauty school course.
“A lot of workers wanted to have perms when they got off work. Most girls didn’t want to stay after school for that, but I would. That is how I got my 1,800 required hours in for certification.”
She next worked for Grace Crowe, who was a school teacher, and was only in the shop on Saturdays.
“She had heard I wanted to make a beautician, so she came and spoke with my parents and I went to work with her as an apprentice for one year,” Bartley added.
After marrying her husband, Morris, in 1942 and living with his parents for three years, she opened up her own shop in a bedroom of the house, where they settled in after World War II.
She notes that Morris was a farmer and, at that time, the military needed things that farmers were raising.
Due to this fact and need, he did not have to go into the Army. After moving into their own home on Phillipi Church Road, he continued to farm while she helped him when needed, raised the children and styled hair for ladies who drove out to the country to sit in her chair.
Farming was nothing new to Bartley as she was raised on a farm. She was a bit of a tomboy, she said, and with her parents having two sons, (one who passed away at only three months old) and five daughters, a lot of the outside work fell on her.
While her sisters stayed inside helping their mother with housework and cooking, she joined her father and brother, working the farm.
“We worked hard back then. Everyone had a job and we did it,” she continued, “We didn’t grow up with toys. Daddy would go out into the woods and find sticks and he would make us stilts from them,” She smiled, lost in a memory, “We would find an old wheel and push it around…or we would slide down banks.”
She shared some of those cherished memories of her siblings, noting that she is the last living one of them.
“Unfortunately, I have lost a lot of family and friends over the years,” noting that her four sisters all died in their 70s, of cancer and Alzheimers, with her brother living to the age of 95.
She and her siblings, the children of Josh and Ada Combs, grew up in a very close family, known for their musical abilities and for entertaining the neighbors with their talents.
She noted they all played musical instruments, but she had the most interest in it.
“Dad played the banjo, mom the violin — and me — I played the guitar,” she remembered.
“Back then, people played music and traveled. I was in high school when King Bradley, a one-legged man who performed in all the little towns, came to an assembly and asked if anyone could play. I went home and got my guitar and played for him.”
She continued, “He didn’t expect me to play so well, he went easy on me at first, but quickly realized, I didn’t miss a lick.”
She passed that love of music onto her own children, raising them up on the farm and in and out of her beauty shop.
Bartley opened her shop in 1950, just two weeks after the birth of her youngest child, Darrell. She raised her children while she worked, with the help of a hired hand, who did the cooking and cleaning while she worked hours upon hours each day in her shop and on the farm.
Neither the home, nor the shop had electricity or running water at first. Back then, they collected rain water for their use and during particularly dry years, Darrell shared that he would go down to the spring to get water.
This did not stop customers from visiting what Bartley noted was the first rural beauty shop in the area.
“Customers didn’t make appointments, they just showed up. Some days we were out hanging ‘baccer’ and would turn around and there they would be ready to get their hair done.”
She said other times — after a rain–the roads (which were dirt back then) would be too muddy for anyone to pass.
“Morris would have to go out on the tractor and bring them in if they got stuck,”  she laughed.
Not only did he have to do this with customers, but years before, he had done this when their first child, Donald, was born.
Bartley explained that it had been a rainy season when she went into labor and the doctor could not make it to help with the delivery.
Luckily a local midwife, Carrie Ferguson, lived nearby and accompanied Morris, following the tractor on a mule.
Back then, no one thought anything of climbing on a tractor to go deliver a baby or have their hair styled.  This was better than having to go into town, she explained.
However, Bartley noted that traveling to town for a hair appointment did have its advantages, such as being able to do all one’s shopping while there.
“But I kept my prices low as incentive for coming to my shop,” she grinned.
“I remember the area hairstylists having a meeting about me raising my prices and I refused. I had to give them my customers a good reason to come to my shop.”
And those prices? A whopping .50 cents for a shampoo and a set and $5 for a permanent or “cold wave.”
These business practices continued until the early ’60s, when indoor plumbing, a bathroom and phone lines were added to the home. Bartley says she remembers when telephones and electricity first came to her area. She laughs, “A man was driving down the road and had noticed my son, David, running and playing, but then he missed him. Turns out he had fallen in one of the holes that had been dug for the poles. Luckily, the man stopped and got him out.”
“Telephones were a lot different back then. We didn’t have cellular phones, we had party lines.”
Party lines meant that the phone lines were shared with all your neighbors, so you never knew when you picked up your receiver who would be on the other end.
Bartley noted that she does have a cell phone, but that she keeps it in her purse and only turns it on if she needs it. She prefers her home landline, but is particular about that, too. “I still have my original number, but sometimes I think I would like to change it,” she laughs.
“I have a list of numbers and caller ID and if they’re not on my list, I just don’t answer.”
Times have changed a lot and her children grew older, the family moved from their house on the back of the property to the home where Bartley currently resides. The house was built in 1968, with a basement which houses the beauty shop.
She continued to work as a beautician, and eventually her daughter Barbara joined her.
The two worked alongside each other at stations in the basement for many years, and eventually Barbara’s daughter also became a beautician.
Bartley said she is proud of her children and grandchildren and the legacy created by her and her husband, Morris.
She smiles tenderly speaking his name, “I lost him in ‘92 after 50 years of marriage. We celebrated in January and he passed the following November.”
After retiring from the business of hair-styling, Bartley kept herself busy with several hobbies. She says that she still knits dishrags, gardens and loves to visit friends and family, attends church, teaches Sunday school and performs musically.
“We all love music and we (she and her family) play mostly for church.”
She attends First Baptist Church in Tompkinsville, where she and her family (including children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, perform at many church related events.
“Our family’s musical abilities, passed down from my parents, are a God-given talent. We never had lessons and we believe that we should use it for His good.”
Bartley announced that she will be retiring from teaching Sunday School, which she has done since 2003, in the next few weeks, as she has decided to stop once she has reached the age of 100.
“I have an obligation to the church right now and I would like to be able to visit Darrell’s church more often.”
Darrell preaches at Marrowbone Baptist and Bartley plans to continue to drive herself to his church. He noted, “She drives herself wherever she wants to go.”
On that note Bartley reminisces on trips taken over the years, including a 10-day trip with her husband and their young children to Texas.
That trip, including gas, food and lodging (staying with friends and family across the country) cost approximately $350, she said.
Another treasured memory was when she and her husband went on two separate trips to Germany to visit their exchange student “daughter.” Those trips, they traveled by air.
Airplanes! Of all the inventions and innovations of her 100 years, the most remarkable to her, she said, would be airplanes.
“I remember when we first started seeing them. I don’t see how they could even run them.”
Speaking in awe, she continued, “They flew fairly low and we would all take off running when we would see one. You didn’t see a lot around here.”
She ranks the flying machines at the top of her favorite things, along with people.
“I just love people, she smiled, “If I hug anyone, I tell them, I hold onto them as long as they let me. I don’t like to be at home too much, I just love to go. I like to visit—people just don’t visit anymore like they used to.”
She noted that the younger generation, which is what most of her neighbors are now, “still have a lot of good in them, but the times seem to be getting worse. The Bible speaks of that though.”
Over the past 100 years, Bartley has seen many good and bad times, she said, and she hopes to have a few more good years in her.
At her 95th birthday celebration she said she joked that they would have to do it again in five years.
“I never thought I would still be here, but here I am.”
Darrell added, “I had to practically use a cattle prod to get her to speak, but once she was up there, we didn’t think she would ever sit down.”
She is still here five years later, celebrating her 100th year and she shared that she doesn’t really have a secret to her longevity.
“I always said work didn’t hurt nobody. You need to know your limits and rest when needed, but I just keep going—doing what I can do. When I do rest, I knit.”
And when she has rested, what are her plans for the future…
“Well I am hoping it warms up for a little bit, so I can rake my leaves,” she said.
Bartley lives in Tompkinsville and is the mother of three sons, Donald (and his wife, Brenda); David (and his wife, also named Brenda); Darrell (and his wife, also named Brenda); and a daughter, Barbara (Bartley) Rich.

1 Comment

  1. Drenda L Hockley on December 12, 2019 at 4:25 am

    one of the most sweetest ladies i have ever met i can hardly brlieve you are a 100 years old HAPPY BIRTHDAY

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