November 17, 2007 in HandleX

Centenarian’s life has been ‘an interesting one’

Sherry Ramsey Correspondent
 
Jesse Tinsley photo

Berthie Cristie, left, chats with Coeur d’Alene Charter School student Chelsia McNee at her assisted-living home in Coeur d’Alene. The Charter School sixth-grader was part of a penpal group that has been corresponding with the residents of the assisted-living center where Christie lives.
(Full-size photo)

Few people expect to see 100 years in their lifetime, and most will never step into the privileged, upper-crust circles of society. Not like Berthie Christie, 100, of Coeur d’Alene. Christie was born a twin, Nov. 17, 1907 in the fishing port of Gloucester, Mass.

“My twin was born dead and they thought I was dead, too,” she said. “They put me in a shoe box on the back of the kitchen stove. The nurse was a friend of our family, and she was taking care of my mother when she thought she heard something. She opened up the shoe box and saw I was whimpering.”

Christie comes from a musical family and played the piano and violin beautifully.

“I played the violin with Arthur Fiedler in the Boston Pops,” she said. “He was a friend of our family’s, and so was Lawrence Welk who wanted me to play in his band, but my husband said no because he’s a womanizer. I’ve danced with Lawrence many times.”

Christie also speaks five languages: English, French, Italian, German and Swedish.

“Because I could sing in Italian, I got to sing children’s parts at the Metropolitan Opera House.”

At 15, Christie trained as a nurse, following in the footsteps of many family members with careers in the medical field. “I was a surgical nurse on the Missouri when they signed the treaty with the Japanese,” said Christie, referring to World War II.

Her late husband was Bill Christie. His father was first cousin to Agatha Christie. “Of course she was born in England,” said Christie. “Bill’s Aunt Elizabeth never married and she did the typing for Agatha.”

Christie’s father owned five fishing vessels off the Grand Banks of New Foundland. He died of diabetes when she was only 10. Her mother never worked outside the home, never needing to because her mother’s family was quite well off.

“I always thought everybody had plenty of money,” Christie said. “Our mother brought us up to be very frugal. If we were good, she’d give us a penny a day, and if we saved up 10 pennies, we could go to the cinema. But if we did something we shouldn’t do, Mother would take a penny away.” Her mother died in 1951.

Christie was used to servants, and by the age of 65 had only ever cooked one thing – fudge. “We always had household help and we weren’t allowed in the kitchen,” said Christie. “My mother would go dancing on Saturday night and she’d say, ‘You are not to make any fudge,’ but when she came home she’d see we’d made fudge. We’d say, ‘But Mom, we saved some for you.’ ”

It was many years before Christie learned to cook. “I moved to San Diego 35 years ago and I’d never cooked a meal in my life. When I got there, they had Swanson TV dinners, so I learned how to make mashed potatoes and chicken.”

With a mechanical engineering degree from MIT, Christie started her own plumbing, heating and electrical business. “I made the plans and blueprints,” said Christie. “I worked with architects and engineers, contractors and subcontractors. No one could understand how a girl as small as me could do that.” She also managed to get her real estate license in Massachusetts and California. Christie is proud of the fact that she once had a permit to carry a handgun, and belonged to the marksman’s club.

“I could shoot the target right in the middle,” she said. “More so than the police.”

Christie witnessed first-hand the things most of us read about in our world history books or view on the History Channel. She lived through seven wars, a presidential assassination and four attempts. She was around for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

Christie remembers the invention of the radio, television and microwaves. She watched along with the rest of the world when man first walked on the moon and followed the crime spree of Bonnie and Clyde. Christie watched automobile styles change from Model Ts, to Thunderbirds to Hummers. She watched flight begin with the Wright brother’s planes flying at 40 mph, and evolve into stealth fighters with subsonic speeds of more than 1,400 mph. Berthie Christie is proof of how much one person can cram into a century of living.

“I’ve been around,” she said with a satisfied smile. “I’ve had an interesting life.”


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