Having the time of her 101-year life
Siggie Cardinalli worries she’s “kind of losing it.”
Sometimes she struggles to remember things. Or the frequent naps she takes interfere with her adventurous nature.
But that’s the extent of her perceived dullness.
If ever a person defined “sharp as a tack,” it would be this retired schoolteacher, skilled artisan, beloved mother and avid dancer.
She is the sharpest tool in the shed. The brightest bulb in the box. She is, quite frankly, amazing.
“Sometimes I can’t believe how old I am,” she said Tuesday, three months after her 101st birthday. “I think being very active helps and I’ve always been very active.”
Born in Canada to Icelandic parents on July 20, 1908, Siggie moved with her family to North Dakota as a young girl and spent her childhood on the family’s farm there.
One of 10 children – five girls and five boys – Siggie pitched in when she had to, tended to babies when it was necessary, and got an education at the teacher’s college there before taking a job in Eureka, Nev.
In 1932, at the age of 24, a brother and cousin accompanied Siggie on the 1,500-mile jaunt from Hallson, N.D., to the little town outside Ely in Siggie’s Model A Ford “with horns sticking out the front.”
There she met the dashing John Cardinalli, 19 years her senior.
The following year they were married.
In 1934 they had son Jack. Two years later, along came David.
And with the retelling of her life story, Siggie easily recalls the names, the feelings, the emotions of the moments.
She said her first memory is of feeding a goat, and feeling its whiskers on her hand. She laughs as she tells the story. She doesn’t remember how old she was – not because she’s too old to remember, but because she was too young to remember.
There’s no cobwebs to her mind, it seems, and she quickly replies to any question asked.
As she chats with a guest in an upstairs windowed room at Sierra Place Assisted Living Center, Siggie spots a friend down the dimly lit hallway.
Without missing a word in her story, Siggie smiles and waves to her neighbor.
There are no glasses on the bridge of her nose, nor hearing aides in her ears. She walks briskly without a walker, and easily reaches down to pull up the edges of a handmade braided carpet to show how it’s done.
Even her son is impressed with her.
“Really, she seems to be getting sharper in the last three years,” said Jack Cardinalli of Carson City. “I’m amazed. Yes, indeed.”
Ten years ago she had a cancer scare. But after surgery to remove part of her esophagus and colon, Siggie came out on top.
The cancer is gone and she’s still here, showing no signs of slowing down.
And every other week, in the place she’s called home since giving up her house in Washington in 2005 and moving here to be closer to family, Siggie dances.
“I love to dance,” she said. “I’ve always danced. Whenever there’s some events here, I go to all of them.”
Two weeks ago she square danced with her friends at the center. She said it reminded her of the country dances she went to as a girl in North Dakota.
“I have people here 20 years younger who don’t have nearly the level of awareness she does, nor her physical capacity,” said Emily Headley, executive director of the Sierra Place. “She comes to every dance and she keeps right up for an hour and a half. She doesn’t get tired. She moves right along with us. It’s just fabulous. She is just an inspiration to us all, both at my age of 53 and everybody from 53 to 101.”
Siggie said she doesn’t mind when people are interested in how old she is.
“But I’m always interested in them, I think, more than they are of me,” she said.
Never a drinker or a smoker, she lived a charmed life, married 27 years to John, who died in 1969. That same year she moved away from Eureka and hasn’t been back since.
“I don’t want to go back again. I want them to remember me more like I was then,” she said.
But if she could relive her time in Eureka, she said, she would.
“The time when I was raising my boys, that was the happiest time, I think.”
Now, she keeps tabs on six grandchildren, 16 great-grandchildren and one great-great-granddaughter.
“I’ve been very lucky. I think the luckiest part of all is having my children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, they’re healthy and they are all of above-average intelligence,” she said.
“I have no complaints. It’s been a good life.”