Alma Booker can't explain how her grandmother, Pearlie Young, has lived to be 108 years old.
She drank bourbon. She dipped snuff. She didn't follow a healthy diet.
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And yet, on Wednesday afternoon, Young sat at a festively decorated table in the dining area at the Hillcrest Nursing Center in Round Lake Beach, the numerical candles in a nearby birthday cake revealing her age.
Booker smiled as Lake County's oldest resident was greeted by nursing home staffers, Mayor Rich Hill and other visitors.
"She's feisty and wants to live," said Booker, also of Round Lake Beach. "She's afraid of dying, is what it is."
Born on Sept. 2, 1904, in Durant, MS., Young has outlived seven siblings, two children, two husbands and all but two of her grandchildren.
She spent most of her life as a farmer, raising pigs and growing pecans. Booker can recall visiting the farm as a child and riding horses there.
"They're wonderful memories," Booker said.
Booker remembers how competitive her grandmother once was, even as she entered what most people would consider old age.
"When we were kids going to the grocery store, she would race us to the grocery store and race us back home," she said.
Young stopped drinking, using tobacco and eating pork 28 years ago, Booker said, following a recommendation from a doctor. She doesn't take any medications regularly, only the occasional painkiller.
Young was honored during a recent village board meeting with a proclamation commemorating her birthday.
She was mostly quiet during her party Wednesday, sitting in a wheelchair at the table with the cake. Other nursing home residents with September birthdays sat nearby, but the event really belonged to Young.
Her great-granddaughter, Kathryn Ellis of Des Plaines, stood nearby with Booker, her aunt.
"It's amazing," Ellis said. "It gives me an opportunity to look forward to my old age."