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City Beat: What’s life like at the age of 108? Her answer is simple

Virginia Davis of Santa Monica turns 108 on Oct. 16. "I can't believe it. I can't believe it,” she says.

Virginia Davis of Santa Monica turns 108 on Oct. 16. “I can’t believe it. I can’t believe it,” she says.

(Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)

Forgive Virginia Davis if she wants no fuss on Friday, even though it’s the day of her birth.

She’s never been one for birthday parties. Her last big one was her sweet 16.

“A whole bunch of us went to the moving pictures,” she says. Her mother served cake and ice cream.

That was 92 years before Friday — when Davis turns 108.

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“I can’t believe it. I can’t believe it,” she says, then adds, “It doesn’t pay to live too long.”

Her husband died many years ago, her son more recently — in his 80s.

Her daughter Frances, 76, lives in Agoura Hills. Frances’ number is taped on the big-button phone beside the recliner in which Davis now spends her days.

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It is a large chair, and in it, she looks very small. Her world used to be wide. In recent years, it has closed in.

Outside on her Santa Monica street, cars zoom by. People walk past her window, talking loudly.

But Davis, who was born in New Castle, Del., faces inward into her living room and kitchen.

At the kitchen table, the caregiver who has been with her since she fell a few years ago hunches silently over her cellphone.

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A river of memories flows through Davis’ mind — though some details glide by, uncatchable, just out of reach.

She still remembers coming to Los Angeles “well over 70 years ago” on a bus — she and her husband, heading west, carrying just one suitcase between them.

She can summon up Yellow Cars and Red Cars and Grand Central Market eons before it went gourmet. She would walk over to the market to save the 5-cent trolley fare and pick up three bunches of beets for a dime.

She recalls working as a waitress, earning 25 cents an hour — and the Great Depression when 25 cents was more than some people had.

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Milkshakes cost a nickel in those days, she says. They were large and filled you right up. When she and her husband were new in town, they would each get one for lunch and then take long walks trying to learn the city.

They never made much money. He was a laborer for the studios. He had to call in every day to see if there was work for him.

Once he suggested they take the Red Car to see Hollywood. She told him she wasn’t interested. In downtown L.A., she says, “in those days, I saw a lot of parades — and the movie stars were in them, so I saw them that way.”

Which stars did she see? Names elude her. “They’re the ones from way, way back.”

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One day, she joined friends on one of the gambling ships in Santa Monica Bay. When she and her husband came home, an earthquake rattled the walls.

“I thought I was being punished, because my mother was not a gambler,” she says.

Was it the Long Beach earthquake of 1933? “Oh my.” She can’t say for sure.

Davis’ days don’t vary much, she says, 108th birthday or not.

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She gets up around 8 a.m. She sits in her chair. She listens to the radio. She watches news shows.

“Old people just sit, you know, and go to sleep and sit,” she says.

She’ll have soup for dinner as always. She doesn’t expect birthday cake.

But she will enjoy a bowl of Neapolitan ice cream, as she does every night before bed.

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nita.lelyveld@latimes.com

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