`It's not over, yet': Centenarian gardener enjoys the last of summer's flora

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PITTSFIELD — Bernice Plantier is 102, but you'd never guess by looking at her yard.

A lush flower garden wraps around her North Street home, across from Reid Middle School. No petal nor blade of grass strays from its proper place.

Spring holds a lot of hard work, the centenarian said. The plants flourish with little maintenance during summer's peak, she said, and then in late August they begin to fade.

Plantier's daughter sat on their front porch and plucked a crispy, brown flower from a neighboring box.

"It's a sad time when they go," Plantier said.

Born in 1916, she grew up helping her father with their vegetable garden in Stamford, Vt. She was one of 11 children.

"We dug potatoes in our bare feet," she said. "We lived off the garden."

The family always kept a milk cow, she said, and they kept a second cow a season for slaughter. Her time in the garden planted in her a healthy appetite for vegetables, she said.

"That's where we got our food from," she said. "There was only one store in town."

Plantier moved in with her daughter in Pittsfield 14 years ago because her family didn't like her living alone in Stamford. That's when she stopped growing vegetables, she said, and switched to flowers.

Plantier said her daughter, Melissa Nicholson, 73, now helps with the weeding and all "the stuff I have to bend down for."

The Pittsfield move certainly wasn't her first glimpse of the Berkshires. She spent her second-grade year living with her grandmother in North Adams after her mother gave birth to one of her younger siblings. Her father worked for Hoosac Cotton Mills in North Adams.

Plantier herself also worked in manufacturing — she worked the assembly line for Sprague Electric Co. in North Adams for 43 years. She retired at age 70.

"I've used Social Security for quite a while," she said, smirking.

Of her siblings, she's so far the only one who's lived to 100, though the oldest of her four living siblings is 94. She's outlived all her friends, she said, and so now she hangs out with people her daughter's age.

Her husband died in 1962, and she gets teary-eyed at the mention.

When Plantier isn't gardening, she's watching television or reading historical narratives. In the afternoons, she enjoys watching the middle-schoolers "get out and horse around."

She loves spaghetti, and at night she watches "Jeopardy" and yells out the answers.

She gets up at 6:30 every morning.

"She doesn't even like to take a nap," Nicholson chimes in.

Plantier offers, smiling: "I'm afraid I won't wake up."

Nicholson said her mother never stops moving.

"She keeps busy all the time," she said. "She doesn't like to sit for a minute."

She's a loving and caring grandmother and great-grandmother, Nicholson said. She still gets her nails done regularly, and travels with the family every summer to Delaware.

Where does she get her longevity? Plantier said she's not sure, but she's grateful.

"I've had a good life," she said. And "it's not over yet."

Amanda Drane can be contacted at adrane@berkshireeagle.com, @amandadrane on Twitter, and 413-496-6296.

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