Ula Margusheva resides in the Kabardino-Balkar Autonomous Republic of the Russian Federation, in Northern Caucasus. She recently turned 123. Margusheva is not only one of the long-lived persons in the world; she is probably the only woman on Earth who gave birth to a child at grand age of 79.
Margusheva says she has never kept count of her years nor has she ever thought about death. She lost interest in life soon after Akhmed, her only son, passed away two years ago. Akhmed was in his early forties when he died.
Even the gray-haired old timers in the mountainous village of Kamenomostskoye, where Margusheva lives with her next of kin, are confident that the old lady has not changed much for decades. “She always looked pretty old yet sturdy,” said one of the local old men.
Margusheva’s son succumbed to a sudden illness in 2005. Akhmed was his mother’s only pride and joy. Neighbors still believe the story of his birth was something akin to a miracle.
“Ula was pushing eighty when she gave birth to Akhmed. Other women would be old and weak at such an age. But not Ula. She didn’t look her age at 45,” said one of the locals.
Ula married her first husband when she was 30. However, her husband died a couple of years later. It was a childless marriage. Ula was in her eighties when she got married once again. Tatym Margushev, a widower, became her second husband. Soon Ula bore him a child. Tatym passed away at 83 shortly after his son turned mere 4 years old. Ula had to raise Akhmed on her own.
“Perhaps the secret of her longevity has to do with Akhmed,” said Fatima, Margusheva’s daughter-in-law. “She’d loved him very much. She knew for sure that he wouldn’t have made it by himself in case she’d departed this life,” Fatima added.
Margusheva was 100 years old when her first granddaughter was born. These days she has five grandsons and two great-grandsons.
“I just can’t imagine how on earth we could have brought up our children if my mother-in-law hadn’t helped us out. Ula has sewed all the clothes for our children,” Fatima said.
Akhmed was the only breadwinner in the household. Now the whole family depends on Ula’s pension, which has become the only source of income for the Marhushevs. A lively argument usually ensues every time the grandmother and her relatives start talking about food prices.
“No way can they charge you 180 rubles for a kilo of meat! You’ve been stupid enough to pay through the nose for that meat, as far as I’m concerned,” Margusheva would comment on the results of a trip to the market. She simply refuses to comprehend that one ruble cannot buy you a thing these days.
She is not a fastidious eater. At times her daily diet comprises a mug of tea and a piece of homemade bread. Margusheva worked at a collective farm while she was able to do hard work. She quietly admits that her life was not a bed of roses: “There is nothing you can do if happiness passes you over. That’s the way things happened in my case.”
Tears fill the old lady’s eyes as she recalls the hardships she had to endure in childhood. She still remembers walking barefoot in the snow. Margusheva also remembers how the villagers had to eat earthworms during famine.
For many years, Ula Margusheva had kept an improvised diary. She put down the most memorable events of her life, using the reverse side of her kitchen cabinet’s door. The last entry dates from 2005. She was devastated at the loss of her son. “The daddy is dead,” reads the last entry, which was scribbled by Margusheva’s youngest granddaughter on that horrible day.
The old lady’s possessions are few in number – an old cupboard and a dresser full of hand-sewn dresses. But Ula Margusheva does not look disappointed or disheartened. She takes great pride in her grandchildren. “They’re the only reason why I carry on with my life,” said she.
Translated by Guerman Grachev