Jul 16, 2007

When Edith Lightner woke up Thursday morning at her house in Immokalee, she said she didn't have much on her mind. She knew it was her birthday, and that she was now 100 years old, but that didn't seem like a big deal.

"I thought, 'Boy, that's a long time to live,'" she said. "And then I thought, 'Well, at least I'm still around to make my famous fruitcake.''"

Every fall for years, too many to count, Lightner said she's looked forward to making the special cake, which have evolved over time. With a little experimentation, she said she finally has the perfect recipe.

For her family, some of whom were with her Thursday to celebrate, they also are glad Edith is still around to talk about and look forward to her annual baking ritual.

"I can't really believe it's her birthday because of all she has been through. She is really an amazing lady to be here at 100," said Marval Bennett, 67, one of Edith's children.

Marval said her mom has always been the caretaker in the family and suspects she's fought to stay around so long because she still wants to help.

"She was always good natured about her work and she always took good care of us," she said. "I think she has a very strong will."

And a good sense of humor. As she sat in front of her birthday cake Thursday, Edith couldn't help but flash a toothy smile every once in a while, her upper teeth clenched over her lower lip, and a sly but playful look in her eyes. It was the same smile that had been caught in pictures throughout her life.

In one of those pictures, which Marval recently dug up and pasted in a special birthday scrap book, Edith is standing next to her soon-to-be husband Cecil back in July, 1932. The two have their arms around each other. Cecil looks confident and proud. Edith, with her grin, looks like she couldn't be happier.

The pair were married in November of the following year, and were together for the next 71 years, until Cecil passes away in 2005. In between, they had seven children, who in turn gave Edith 18 grandchildren. There are now 22 great grandchildren and 10 great, great grandchildren. Today, the family ranges in age from 100 to two years old, and lives across the country, from Florida to Pennsylvania, and Ohio to California.

Steven Coburn, 13, one of Edith's great grandchildren who lives in Las Vegas, was in Immokalee on Thursday to celebrate.

"I just think it is cool that she has lived this long and has experienced more than most people can even think about," he said.

But for Edith, after all this time, it's still the simple things that matter. This year she is especially excited because she was able to get a special secret ingredient for her fruitcakes; black walnuts. Marval picked a bunch of the nuts from a tree near her house in Indiana and brought them with her when she came down.

"It's a little early now, but I'll be getting ready to make some fruitcake in the fall," she said, smiling.

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