Many people Bernadette Vaz’s age would be content to sit back and take it easy, but the eighty-eight-year-old Spring Hill resident loves to get her hands dirty and tend her garden. Benedita (Bernadette) spends at least an hour-and-a-half every day from 7:30 a.m. until almost 10:00 a.m. pruning, planting, watering and fertilizing the more than sixty species of plants, shrubs and trees in her yard. She even cuts her own grass on her riding mower.
Bernadette’s father was from Portugal and her mother was from Brazil. She was born in Brazil in 1930, the eldest of seventeen children.
“I wanted to go to school to become a nurse, but when I was fourteen I had to quit school and work in a factory to help support the family,” she says.
At the age of nineteen Bernadette emigrated to the United States and went to live with her aunt and uncle in Providence, Rhode Island. She met her husband and together they raised their six children in Connecticut. After the children were grown, they moved to Spring Hill in 1993. Bernadette’s husband passed away in 2002, but she faced this new phase of her life with a positive attitude. “Never look behind, always look ahead” is her philosophy.
Bernadette has the proverbial “green thumb.” She takes cuttings, roots them and transplants them to propagate her plants. Anything that she sees growing that’s beautiful- she plants. The large tree in her front yard started as a small plant she got from her son-in-law. One particularly interesting plant she has is called a water plant. It resembles a red pine cone. The plant grows in the desert and is used by animals and humans to quench their thirst. Bernadette reveals the secret to her gardening success.
“Some people think I’m crazy, but I talk to my plants. I tell them ‘How beautiful you are!’ and when new plants sprout I say to them, ‘Oh, I’m a grandmother.’ ”
Her love of nature extends to birds and other creatures also. She has several bird houses, as well as hummingbird and butterfly feeders.
Besides her gardening, Bernadette volunteers at St. Vincent De Paul charity. She has children, grandchildren and great grandchildren in Spring Hill and Connecticut that she enjoys spending time with. She is still able to drive which gives her a lot of independence.
Bernadette also enjoys socializing and would like to see more activities for people in her age range. She envisions carpools for people who don’t drive to be able to have regular meetups for breakfast, lunch or dinner, dances, trips to the casino, etc. She believes that enjoying life and staying active is important.
I’m sure the secret to Bernadette’s long and healthy life, besides the usual diet, good genes and exercise, is her outlook.
“When I go to bed I don’t pray for myself; I pray for everybody in the world that needs help. Please dear Lord, give me my health. If I have my health, I don’t need anything else.”