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On her 108th birthday, Earls aint worried about nothing
Earls had 5 sons and 2 daughters
Clifford Earls talks about her long life Wednesday inside her apartment in Dahlonega. Earls celebrated her 108th birthday Wednesday. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Making it 108 years on this earth took a lot of hard work.

And the junk food didn't hurt as bad as they said it would.

So on her 108th birthday, Clifford Earls spent most of the day in her recliner, wearing a light blue housecoat and booties meant for interior walking.

She got a few calls from family members.

She ate a Little Debbie cake and she planned to be in bed before the 5 o'clock news.

"I don't know how long I'll be here, but I'm here," Earls said.

Her husband died more than 60 years ago. Most of her own children, too, are gone.

Clifford Earls can't tell you what made her be the one to live so long. What she talks about most is the work she did.

She was born a sharecropper's daughter in Banks County.

She was Clifford Holland then.

Her name changed at 21 when she married Wilton Earls.

They met at church, she thinks, but it's been so long.

Together as Earls, they farmed "like everybody else" as sharecroppers, growing cotton and corn on five or six acres in Lumpkin County. For themselves, they tended a few cows and hogs and had seven children: five boys, two girls.

She's outlived four of those children. The lone son that remains, Wilton Earls Jr., recalls how his mother kept him and his brothers in line.

"She kept us straight the old way — with a peach limb," the 78-year-old said, noting that he and his siblings were always charged with picking the tool for their punishment.

The living son remembers a time he broke the radio's antennae and feared his mother's ire so bad he ran outside, fell to his knees and implored God to save his hide.

God must have heard. Wilton Earls Jr. remembered his mother came home that day "so jolly she fixed it herself." He said it was the only way he could have been spared the peach limb — a harsh punishment even he admits was effective.

"We done what she said," he said.

Clifford Earls is confident of the hold she had on her house, despite her husband's death in 1947, which left her alone with a house full of teenagers.

"I had five boys and I didn't have no trouble with them," she said, repeatedly.

She handled the farm, too, on her own, the chickens, the cotton, the kids — all of it. She later took care of other Lumpkin County families doing what she called "women's work" — tending to the children and cooking — in their homes.

"I love people, and I worked for people, and people will tell you: I worked," Earls said. "I didn't play."

Clifford Earls also took care of herself, living alone and cooking her meals, until she was 103.

Now, her daughters, Fannie Stephens and Willie Cook, take turns staying with her for weeks at a time. Stephens, 77, takes Amtrak from her home in New Jersey to take care of her mother, coming and going in three-week increments.

"We are thankful for having her this long," Stephens said.

Much has changed since Clifford Earls entered this world.

She remembers a Lumpkin County with moonshine stills on the creeksides. She had grandchildren who then had grandchildren of their own.

And Clifford Earls admits she is surprised to have lived so long. She didn't try to do it. At one point in her life, she either smoked, dipped snuff or chewed tobacco.

Today, her children attest to her love for junk food.

"All the stuff they say will kill you, she eats," said Wilton Earls Jr.

And Stephens adds that what food her diminutive mother eats isn't "a little bit, either."

After 108 years, Clifford Earls was still alive and kicking Wednesday, nibbling on a Little Debbie Strawberry Shortcake roll.

But she said that a few years ago when she was in the hospital, the Lord showed her where she will go one day.

It was a pretty place. Her daughter and a friend were walking toward it. They seemed happy.

And Clifford Earls is OK with going there.

"I ain't worried about nothing," she said.

As she celebrated her 108th birthday, Clifford Earls joked about not having another one. She said she guessed God was keeping her on this side of the line between life and death for a reason, though she hadn't quite figured out what it was.

But when her "sister's boy," Roy, in Atlanta called to wish Clifford Earls a happy birthday, she decided what the reason might be.

The call brought to mind a picture Roy had been promising to send her — but hadn't — for more than a year.

She jokingly threatened to commission his sons to "whoop" him for making her wait so long.

"(God's) holding me here to whoop you," she said, bare gums exposed as she laughed. "Whenever I whoop you, then I'm going home."