Elizabeth Virginia Wallace was 5 when a 6-year-old boy named Harry Truman fell in love with her at Sunday School in 1890.
The former First Lady once was considered the best third baseman in Independence and the only girl in town who could whistle through her front teeth. She was a very good tennis player, an equestrienne, a champion fencer and an ice skater.
But age and arthritis have slowed her down.
"She still goes to the beauty parlor every week to get her hair done and she gets out once and a while when the weather is nice," says May Wallace, a sister-in-law and neighbor. "But she has a bad right knee that keeps her from being too active."
Mrs. Truman affectionately called "Boss" by Presidential Truman because she was the only person who could bawl him out and get away with it, spent 19 days in the hospital in July, 1976, for her athritis, a condition that necessitates a walking cane.
Ther arthritis also has forced her to surrender the upstairs sleeping quarters she shared with Truman for a ground-floor bedroom. Friends said she had seldom left the home this winter.
"She's really a very remarkable person, mentally, and tends to her own business," Mrs. Wallace said."My, she's just as alert as you or I and sometimes I think even more alert. She has a phone by her chair and keeps in touch with her friends and relatives."
Since Turman's death Dec. 26, 1972, Mrs. Truman has lived alone in the 17-room high-ceiling home which was built by her grandfather. Friends say she has always preferred 219 N. Delaware St. to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Mrs. Turman has an intense loyalty to her pre-White House friends and many refuse to comment on her current activities because of her well-known desire for privacy.
A Secret Service detail keeps a watchful eye on the former First Lady and sometimes drives her to and from her errands. The agents remain overnight in a cottage across the street. Two "girls" and a handyman carry out most of the household chores.
The white-haired widow of the 33d President has a penchant for whodunit novels and is one of the public library's best customers.
"The Secret Service agents come about every three weeks to pick up books for her," says a library employee. "Occasionally she'll call and asks about a certain book. But a lot of times many of the ladies here know what books she'd be interested in and put them aside for her."
For her birthday today the men who served under "Capt. Harry" in Battery D, 129th Field Artillery in World War I will send their traditional bouquet of red carnations. Daughter Margaret Truman Daniel also will follow tradition with a special birthday call.
On May 8, 1976, the anniversary of Truman's 92d birthday, then-President Gerald Ford and his wife visited Mrs. Turman. The Fords were in Independence to attend the dedication ceremonies of a 9-foot bronze statue of the late President on the Independence city square. His widow did not attend the dedication.
Highlighting the wave of "Trumania" for the late President's down-home honesty, the Truman Library north of the family home is more popular than ever. Last year's attendance of 352,000 set a record and this year's is expected to be even higher.
"Mrs. Truman is pleased and delighted with the popularity of the library," said Dr. Benedict Zobrist, library director. "We often talk over the phone about how it is doing. I always enjoy talking to her, she has a great sense of humor and a very bright outlook on life."
Intimates of the late President said that when Truman left the Oval Office at night he always took his problems home to Bess.
Although Mrs. Truman espoused no causes and made no waves as First Lady, she closely followed domestic and international events and often helped Truman with his speeches. She was not fond, however, of his salty language.
A widely circulated story that Truman liked to recount dealt with a speech he delivered at a Grange convention in Kansas City. Mrs. Truman and a friend were in the audience.
Truman told the Grangers, "I grew up on a farm and one thing I'm sure about - farming means manure, manure, manure and more manure."
Down in the auditorium Mrs. Turman's friend whispered to her, "Beess, why on earth can't you get Harry to say fertilizer?"
To which she replied, "Good Lord, Helen, it's taken me 30 years to get him to say manure."