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THURSDAY, AUGUST 2, 2007
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Ronnie Thomas
rthomas@decaturdaily.com

Edith “Tootsie” Sanders, with her daughter Marsha, will turn 86 on Friday, but that doesn’t stop her from painting bowls and making dolls.
Daily photo by Jonathan Palmer
Edith “Tootsie” Sanders, with her daughter Marsha, will turn 86 on Friday, but that doesn’t stop her from painting bowls and making dolls.

Keeping up
with ‘Tootsie’

Local woman approaches life with humor, always on the go

If Edith “Tootsie” Sanders is up to her trickery, one thing you’ll take from a visit is an icy stare from piercing blue eyes.

It recalls a game you might have played as a child, seeing how long you and a friend could gaze into each other’s eyes without cracking a smile. Don’t try that with Sanders.

How long can she shoot darts while you grow more nervous? How long do you have? At about the time you think she’s in a trance or angry with you, you find she is only joking.

“I just want to have fun,” said Sanders, who celebrates her 86th birthday Friday. “And I don’t keep my mouth shut.”

It’s her way of retaining vigor and sharing pep and vitality with those around her, regardless of their ages.

Sanders, who lives with her daughter Marsha Sanders in Southwest Decatur, has a knack for turning a stark situation into something humorous. Friday night at home, she reached to pick up a tissue, lost her balance and went headfirst into an empty bathtub.

“We had just come home from the beauty shop,” her daughter said. “The paramedics came and put her on a gurney and in a neck brace for the trip to the hospital. As they went out the door, she said, ‘There goes my $17 hairdo.’ ”

Fortunately, she had no injuries and no fear.

“I didn’t have time to get scared,” she said. “It happened too quickly. But I later wondered if I was going to live or die.”

She was soon ready to work — and play — again.

“When she gets up, she dresses immediately, and then she picks up her purse, puts it in her walker and says, ‘I’m ready to go. Let’s hit the road, anywhere,’ ” said Marsha Sanders. “And we have something to do somewhere, just about every day.”

China painting in Athens

On Mondays, it’s a china painting class in Athens. On Wednesdays, it’s exercise and lunch with other seniors at her church, Central United Methodist. On Fridays, it’s Bible study class at Java Jaay.

“And I go to Birmingham about once a week to see friends,” Edith Sanders said. “I also enjoy going to the movies, and when I’m at home, I like making dolls, painting their faces and sewing their outfits, which I’ve done for about 15 years.”

She and her daughter also paint Christmas ornaments. For the past four Christmases they’ve opened their home to friends with all the ornaments displayed.

Last Christmas, only two days out of the hospital, Edith Sanders greeted guests dressed up as Santa Claus. She decks out in various costumes at Halloween. On July 14, for “Cow Appreciation Day” at Chick-fil-A, she wore a purple cow suit.

“All the kids loved it,” she said. “I did, too. I got a free meal. I’m always up for free food.”

One of 11 children

She was one of 11 children growing up and picking cotton on a farm at Maysville in Madison County. She got her nickname, Tootsie, early in life from her brothers. Nine children reached adulthood. She is the lone survivor.

“I was a big guy,” she said. “I said, ‘Ya’ll do what you want to do, but I’m going to live.’ ”

She spent most of her life in Huntsville while her husband, Marshall, worked at Redstone Arsenal. She worked there, too, for nine months before delivering the first of their four children, two boys and two girls. Marshall died in 1983.

She has seven grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren with two more on the way.

Sanders did not take medicine or make trips to a doctor until she was 73.

When she got sick, she drove her car from her former home in Killen to Birmingham to see a specialist for a biopsy. She had cancer of the bladder. Two weeks later, she returned to Birmingham for surgery, again driving herself.

“When I got out, I wanted to have my car,” she said. “I can’t let sickness stand in the way of having fun. If I did, I’d die.”

As for her faith, she said, “I have all the faith in the world in God, if I’m good. I’m good enough.”

She advises others who are sick, “Have the faith and go on as best you can. Take one day at a time.”

And rather than shy away from birthdays, she embraces them, always expecting something spectacular to happen. For her 82nd birthday, her party was on a Huntsville train ride.

Last year at Rhodes Ferry Park, the Alabama Blues Brothers, who have just about adopted her, performed.

And how will she celebrate Friday?

“I’m thinking about rolling a yard,” she said.

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Ronnie Thomas Ronnie Thomas
DAILY Staff Writer

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