If one were to sketch a picture of the quintessential grandmother, it might look a lot like Nona Lee Bliss. With her crown of curly white hair and sweet face, Bliss looks like the storybook grandmother.
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- Mountain Democrat
She looks like a wonderful grandmother, but she doesn’t look 100 years old.
Born Nona Walker in Oklahoma on Jan. 1, 1911, Bliss reached the 100 year mark on New Year’s Day, which of course, called for a celebration. People came from far and wide to honor the centenarian. The huge crowd that gathered to celebrate Bliss was obviously not just obligatory — the love in the room was palpable.
Bliss’ “baby” brother, Harold Walker, came all the way from Orlando, Fla. He is 89.
“I grew up in a very loving home,” Bliss said serenely. “There wasn’t much money but there was lots of love. I had three younger brothers, Boots, Vernon and Harold. Boots passed away in 2008, but three of us are still living.”
Other folks came from Arizona, Oregon, Seattle, Bakersfield and all over, but family and friends are not the only ones blessed by Bliss’s vibrant demeanor. Bliss has lived in Placerville for some 23 years, and can still be seen driving her car, doing her own marketing and going to “her home away from home” — the library.
“Whenever she goes out, she greets strangers and acquaintances alike … and everyone smiles,” said Bliss’ daughter, Mary Bliss of Cameron Park. “That’s just the way she is. Everyone loves Nona.”
That optimistic attitude and precious personality seem to be a harbinger for longevity, at least in Bliss’ case.
“I’ve had a good, good life,” said the widow whose husband, USN Lt. Cmdr. Marlin Bliss died in 1991. His 30 year Navy career took Bliss all over the country and Europe, where she had many enriching and interesting experiences.
In the plan
According to the family, Bliss planned to make it to 100. She had longevity already in the family. With the exception of her mother, who died in her 60s, all the aunts and grandmothers lived to impressive ages, especially for the time. Mary Bliss said that her mother’s doctor has no doubt that Bliss will live to be at least 110, but Bliss is shooting for 105 … for now.
Michael Foisy, 43, of El Dorado Hills never doubted that his grandma would live to be 100.
“I remember sitting in grandma’s living room in Oxnard when I was 10 years old,” recalled Foisy, who has a landscaping business. “She was about 65 then, and she said, ‘you know, I’m going to live to be 100,’ … but she claims she doesn’t remember saying that.”
Foisy attended Oak Ridge High School and graduated from Ponderosa High School in 1986. One summer he wrote sports stories as a stringer for the Mountain Democrat. He and his wife have the distinction of having provided Bliss with her only great grandchild so far.
Nona Bliss has two children, two grandchildren and one great grandchild, Michael Foisy III (the third), who is 3 years old.
“I had real good self-esteem,” Bliss said. “I thought everyone loved me … and they did.”
In Arizona, Bliss and her family (the Walkers) lived near her mother’s folks, who had been Oklahoma pioneers. Those grandparents helped shape Bliss’ feeling of security as well as molding the importance of food to a family’s heart and traditions.
“I called my grandmother Mamaw. I’d come to the back door and she would say ‘come in sweetie’ and there would always be some delicious cookies or something on the stove. She’d say ‘come in and have some corn pone,’ then go back to her cooking. Pappy liked mustard greens,” Bliss said of her grandfather. “Nowadays you don’t see mustard greens as much, but I’ve cooked a lot of spinach,” remembered Bliss, who became a fabulous cook herself.
Things were different back in those days.
“When I was young we could invite anyone over to eat and there was always enough food for everyone. We could invite friends, and whoever showed up would join us for supper,” Bliss said.
Bliss says that she buys cookbooks, which she reads like books. Bliss really likes to bake, and she made a four layer cake when she was just 9 years old.
“I’ve always liked to cook and bake … I used to make a lot of pies and cobblers,” said Bliss, who is petite and slender, despite being a fantastic cook. “I was used to cooking for 10 or more, but now I cut a lot of recipes in half. But I’ve always enjoyed leftovers. Sometimes we call them ‘leaveovers’ … or ‘planned overs’ because it is still delicious later.”
Bliss is the matriarch and inspiration for the family cookbook that is being compiled by her daughter Mary Bliss, who hopes to encompass the wonderful dishes that graced the tables of the Walker/Bliss family and friends over the years.
Called “Family and Friends Cookbook” of best-loved recipes, the book includes Nona’s delicious meatloaf and Swiss Steak recipes, among others. Among Mary’s favorites are a Mexican casserole and the spicy Oaxacan nuts that Nona makes for the family each Christmas.
In 1918, the Walker family moved to Arizona, a journey Bliss will never forget. The Walker family was stranded in Willard, New Mexico, where they were snowbound for several days. They slept on a friend’s garage floor until they could get going again. “It was cold,” Bliss remembered.
In contrast, Scottsdale was hot.
In those days, there was no air conditioning, nor were there many fans. Bliss recalls days that were 118 degrees in the shade. In March, she said, she and her brothers moved outside with cots, where they would sleep in the fresh, cooler air. When Bliss graduated from Scottsdale High School in 1928, it was so hot that her dress stuck to her chair, an embarrassing moment. The girl whose dress adhered to the chair, however, has become Scottdale High School’s oldest living graduate.
There were only three in her graduating class, an indication of how much Scottsdale has grown over the years. In 1928, Scottdale had 180 people, one gas pump, a drug store, two grocery stores and a pool parlor.
When the Walker family arrived in Scottsdale in 1918, they lived in a little house behind the pool hall. Her father, a barber, had set up shop there, with a barber stool in the back of the hall.
“We’d go from Sunday school to the pool hall,” Bliss recalled delightfully. She took piano lessons and remembers playing piano at the Baptist Church. A piano still graces her living room, but she says she doesn’t play it much anymore.
Another big difference in those days, according to Bliss, was that they never locked their doors. “I don’t remember there ever having been any keys,” she said.
The oldest ensign
It seems that Bliss had a fairly typical childhood for the time and place she was raised.
What seems unusual, though, is that she graduated from high school at a time when educational opportunties for women were limited. Also, she did not marry until she was 28 years old, which was late in those days.
But in 1939, Marlin Bliss and Nona Walker got married.
“I was the only one left,” Bliss quipped modestly.
By the time she and Marlin got together, all their mutual friends were already married.
“I was 28, he was 32. I had known Marlin for seven years. His folks had moved to Arizona from Kansas, and he used to hang out at my house with my brothers … I remember when Marlin went to Navy aviation boot camp in Pensacola, Fla. in 1928. I’ll never forget his car pulling into the yard all those years later. We started dating,” Bliss recalled, noting that in the past, they both had been dating other people, so this was the first time they were both free.
Marlin’s 32nd year was pretty eventful. Not only did he marry Nona, he became the oldest ensign in the Navy.
His 30 year Navy career didn’t end there — Marlin retired as a leiutenant commander.
As an officer’s wife, Nona’s pert personality helped her to get along with officers and wives, as well as with people on both sides of the Atlantic. The Blisses traveled extensively with the Navy, and they lived in several places, including Alameda, Penascola FLA, South Hadley Mass., Oxnard and other cities before coming to El Dorado County in 1985.
Motherhood becomes her
Another unusual event for someone of Bliss’ generation was that Nona did not become a mother until she was about 38 years old, quite late for the times. In fact, she and Marlin adopted their children, Mary Bliss, 61, of Cameron Park and James Bliss, 60 of Lakeside, AZ. Mary Bliss provided Nona with her two grandchildren, Micheal and Tiffany. Jim is married to Liv, who is from England and works as a Russian translator.
“I was lucky to have kids at all,” Bliss said. Indeed, it does appear that adopting their children became another blessing in this world. An involved parent, Nona Bliss became a room mother in the children’s school and was also a Brownie mother when Mary joined the Girl Scouts.
Mary Bliss and her mother are very close and loving. Like her mother, Mary is graced with a bubbly, friendly attitude and kind, sparkling eyes. Her wonderful manner is apparently a legacy from her mother and the result of growing up in a loving home.
Nona and Marlin Bliss came to the area in 1985, where they rented a house in Cameron Park. In 1987, they bought their beautiful Placerville home on a hill with a 360 degree view. Big picture windows look over a panorama of blissful beauty, just partially blocked by trees that were planted by a neighbor years ago.
Nona stays busy with her family and her books. Reading has been one of the most pleasurable things in her life, and she has remained very active over the years. Besides travel, books have been her window to the world. She always liked school, especially math, English, literature and Spanish, and she earned good grades.
Nona would like to attend “The Oldtimer’s Reunion” in Scottsdale, which were always held the week before Easter. The Scottsdale reunion encompassed all high school graduates before 1930. A big family reunion also used to take place in Scottsdale at around the same time. Nona recalls that the area known as Carefree/Cave Creek originally sold for $100 an acre, and now has billion dollar homes, many designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
If a human life increased in value like real estate, Bliss would be worth her weight in gold . As it is, Nona seems to be a serene and happy woman, a woman who is comfortable in the world she has experienced for 100 years. For all intents and purposes, Nona’s 100th birthday was like a family reunion, with friends and relatives happy to see Nona as vivacious as always. In case she got tired, though, they brought a special comfortable chair for her to sit in.
Nona’s beautiful home reflects a life of love, books, travel and varied interests. The exquisite turquiose jewelry she wears for the photograph belie her Arizona roots.
The big picture
Through the windows, an expansive view overlooks hill and dale, town and country with the Sierra Nevada mountains in the distance. To the west, rolling hills lead to the ocean, a landscape a bit different from the Scottsdale desert that was Nona’s home in her formative years. Somehow the vista reflects the expansiveness of Nona’s personality, a sweet character that has touched the lives of many, a wonderful spirit that carries on through her progeny.