ORANGE BEACH, Ala. – Ruby Holt spent most of her 100 years on a farm in rural Tennessee, picking cotton and raising four children. She never had the time or money to go to a beach.
That changed this month, just a few weeks shy of Holt's 101st birthday.
Thanks to a partnership between the assisted living center where Holt lives and an organization that grants wishes to the elderly, Holt got to see the ocean for the first time during an all-expenses-paid trip to the Gulf of Mexico.
Holt laughed and grinned as cool Gulf waters hit her feet for the first time, and she walked across the white sand with the help of aides from the home.
She said she'd never seen anything as big as the ocean. But in the November chill she kept saying over and over: "It's cold."
"I've heard people talk about it and how wonderful it was and wanted to see it, but I never had the opportunity to do so," Holt said.
The trip was made possible by Brookdale Senior Living Solutions, where Holt lives in Columbia, Tennessee, and the Wish of a Lifetime organization.
Mark Davis, executive director of Brookdale's Sterling House, said two workers filled out the application for Holt after learning she'd never seen the ocean and wanted to go.
"They did a water gun fight out in the courtyard during the summer and water got brought up, the beach, and that's what she told the girls, that she had never been," he said.
Debbie Surgeon and Tracy Marcy helped fill out the application, and Holt's wish was granted in early November. The trip was planned as soon as possible because Holt turns 101 on Dec. 13.
"When we got to the room yesterday she was just pointing out the ocean and, you know, her facial expressions and ... she was just speechless," Davis said.
Holt said her farming family never was able to afford a trip to the coast, and she's left Tennessee only once before. Holt said she was always too busy on the farm or working in a shirt factory to travel.
The trip to the Alabama coast was her farthest venture ever from her native Giles County, about 400 miles north of the Gulf.
Using a donated motorized wheelchair, which had fat tires to roll over sand, Holt stood up at the edge of the water with the help of Surgeon and Marcy.
"We got you, hon," Surgeon said. "We're not going to let you fall."
Holt cackled when she stood in the water but tired quickly. And with the temperature around 50 degrees, she was ready to wrap up in a blanket and head back inside.
"We don't have nothing like this in Giles County," Holt said.