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Florence Vieira turns 104 today
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Aunt Doris Kooyman and daughter Beatriz Luis show their love for Florence Vieira who celebrated her 104th birthday today, Sept. 28, in her rural Manteca home. - photo by GLENN KAHL

Florence Vieira is a spunky 104 today, and says she’s glad she’s healthy and retains many exciting memories of her childhood including those of coming to the Central Valley in a horse and wagon and her dad’s newly purchased Reo Motor Car.

She said it had one seat in the front and one in the back that folded up for the kids.  It was a time right after she started to school and she was in about the second grade.  

“They wouldn’t take me in school (in San Jose) until I was six years old, but my mother thought she would start me earlier, but they wouldn’t take me,” she said

While she lives next door to her daughter Beatriz Luis in rural Manteca now, she grew up in Tracy after her family moved from their farm in San Jose when she was still in grade school.  She said she didn’t want to move from San Jose because she knew all the kids in her class.

The oldest of eight children, she had to drop out of school in the seventh  grade when her mother died.  It was her duty to raise her six siblings and keep house for her dad and the rest of the family.  One of her biggest challenges was getting acquainted with the kids in her new school,  she said.

“I was ready to be promoted.  The teacher had already told me I was going to the seventh  grade.  My mother died and I had to stay home – I didn’t even go to the eighth grade,” she said.  

She said her mother didn’t teach her too much about keeping house because the family had a helper on their farm in San Jose and on their newly purchased farm in Tracy.  She remembered her dad moved his fruit orchards to the valley because the land was cheap.

“My brother was only about a year old – the youngest,” she remembers.  “I cried so much because I lost my mother.”  She is the oldest of the children and the only survivor of her family today.

She said her dad bought a big ranch in the small valley town and built a three bedroom house – “one for the girls, one for the boys and one for my mother and father in the middle.”

She said her dad farmed prunes and a lot of apricots.  

“When I moved to Tracy there was one store – that was it – that’s all they had.  If my mother had to buy clothes she would go to Stockton.  I know most of my school clothes were bought in Stockton.”

That one store – a Purity Market – was across the street from St. Bernard’s Catholic Church, she added.

She married at 18 to Joe Vieira who was from the old country – from the Azores – but she was very proud of him for being able to speak wonderful English rather than relying on his native Portuguese.    

“But I’ll tell you, when he died a lot of people thought he was born here because he talked so good American,” she said.  “When he left the old country he was 14.  He reached New York on his birthday when he was 15.”

‘Why do you talk
to me in Portuguese?’

She added, “When I married him – you know what he said, I never forgot it – he looks at me and stares saying, ‘why do you talk to me in Portuguese?  I am in America and I want to learn American; I already know Portuguese, I want to be an American!’”

The day she got married she was 18 and her new husband started working for her uncle, her mother’s brother.   She said her uncle would come over with his brothers and they would stop at the farm house to see the family and that is how she met her husband-to-be.  

“My dad wanted me to get married so he could go back East knowing  there would be someone to watch out for the rest of the children,” she said.
Her dad did go back East after their wedding and married a former girl friend from the old country, but  she couldn’t talk American.  “I learned Portuguese – I can still talk it,” she said.

She remembered her stepmother  worked in the factories with a lot of Portuguese women who continued to use their native language and felt they had no need to learn the English of their new country.

Florence Vieira  and her husband Joe had three girls and one boy – that’s all, she quipped.

 “Even my grandmother – my mother’s mother – she had 14 kids.  And, I want to tell you they all went to school.  I even had an uncle who went to high school in Tracy after his dad moved to Tracy.”

Crocheted doll dresses
until she was 100 years old

She has a collection of dolls that family members have bought for her at garage sales – washing their hair and cleaning them up, before crocheting their dresses.  It was a hobby that would last until she was 100 years old when her sight began to decline.

As for the possibility of remarrying after her husband’s death, she said there was no way.  She said that she was married to a good man and she didn’t want to take the chance of not finding another good partner.  When you go out with men, she said, they act nice, but after you get married things can be very different.

Now she lives next door to one of her daughters and son-in-law in Manteca – having lived in the community for some 25 years.