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GAIL WHITE Proof of woman's knowledge hangs in hearts



Published: Wed, June 6, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



At 102 years old, Marie Christian has one regret. "If I had my life to live over, I would have gone into medicine," she said. "I would have liked to have been a nurse or a doctor for children."

She sits in her chair at Carrington South Health Care Center in Youngstown, her silver hair curled around her face and a bright fuchsia sweat shirt brightening her ever-present smile.

Marie lived alone until last November. "I miss open country spaces and rose bushes -- especially the rose bushes," she said, still smiling.

As I listen to 102 years of history, I hear a story of a woman who may not have a medical title, but her life has been spent prescribing happiness to others.

Marie was born in Illinois, the oldest of five children. Her desire to practice medicine began at home, taking care of younger siblings.

She went to grade school but never attended high school. Instead, she moved to Pittsburgh and became a nanny. There, as a young teen-ager, she took care of two small children for a woman who had been widowed. A few years later, she did the same for a Pittsburgh banker.

"As young as I was," she said, remembering. "Nothing ever happened to those children. I did a good job taking care of them."

At 18, Marie found herself in Youngstown living with a relative fostering a young girl, Mildred Cihon.

Mildred and Marie became very close. When Mildred married Tom Cernoch and had children, Marie came to live with them.

Always there: "I always remember 'Diddy' [Marie] being there," said Bernice Cernoch of Bay Village, one of Mildred and Tom's three children. "When I was sick, she would make me tea and cover me with a special blanket," Bernice recalled.

"I remember her killing spiders in my bedroom -- making everything better. I usually went into her room anyway, just to make sure no more came," she said, laughing.

"She has a way of making everything better," Bernice said with a soft, wistful voice. "Even now, when I have a problem, I call, and just talking to her makes it go away."

Marie recognizes this as one of her gifts. "I don't know how I do it, but I can lift people out of depression. I have a knack."

Her knack includes a mixture of laughter and encouragement.

"Laughter is medicine. I read that in a medical book once," she said, matter-of-factly. "Have you ever seen anybody walking around with a frown on their face all the time?" She shakes her head. "I laugh all the time," she added. "But I can be serious if there is need for it."

Bernice attributes her love of painting to Marie's encouragement.

"When my brothers and I were little, Marie would buy us little paint sets," she said.

Before her time: "No matter how awful the picture was, she always made a big deal about it, putting it on the refrigerator and framing it," Bernice fondly recalled. "She was practicing positive reinforcement techniques way before it became popular."

Marie spent 30 years working for Ohio Bell as an operator. "I passed a test to get that job that a high school graduate failed," she proudly explained.

It is as if she holds this as proof in her mind that she had what it takes to reach her coveted professional title.

Marie never married. "I was too independent. No man would put up with me," she explained with no regret. "I had my chances. I am an old maid by choice."

When Marie turned 100, she told her doctor she was going to take up medicine. "We could use the help!" was his response.

At 102, she still reads medical journals every chance she gets. "You never know when you can help someone," she said.

Well, Marie, you may not have a professional diploma to frame and hang on a wall as proof of your accomplishments. Your proof hangs in the hearts of every life you have touched in your 102-year journey.

gwhite@vindy.com




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