FARMINGTON — Hyla Friedman started driving at age 12 so she could take her grandmother around the Pennsylvania countryside.

“I’d be out on the road, and the chief of police — he was a friend — he would say, ‘Did you get your license yet, Hyla?’ ‘You know I’m not old enough!’ He said, ‘Stay on the back roads, honey,'” Friedman, 98, remembers him telling her.

She drove for a career in her early 20s, on a naval base. It’s how she met her husband, giving his baseball team a lift. It’s also how she got a front-row seat to a super-secret drone flight.

She’s lived in amazing times, as she’ll happily tell you.

Friedman was christened in a church where George Washington used to worship. On her way home from school as a child, she’d stop to talk to Mr. Evans, a chatty Civil War veteran.

“When I talk to people my age, we all say the same thing: We lived in the best of times,” she said. “We really did.”

Friedman was raised in part by her grandmother, Margaret Brett, whom she called her inspiration.

“She had seven children. She said, ‘Actually, I have eight’ — she had me,” Friedman said. “Our house was full of missionaries, priests, nuns, everything you could think of, and they always had a cup of tea and something to eat.”

As a teen, she raised dogs for the U.S. Coast Guard, keeping them for a year as pups. The dogs were used during World War II to sweep beaches.

“You were supposed to love them and make them big babies,” Friedman said. “Then they’d just train them the opposite way.”

As a young woman in the 1940s, she took a job at a naval base in Johnsville, Pa. She’d be handed a set of keys and tasked to drive a mail truck, a tractor-trailer, bus or “the biggest dump truck you’ve ever seen in your life.”

“(One day) the dispatcher gave me the job to take a busload of midshipmen out to the tarmac and park,” she said. “Nobody knew what was going to happen. It was so hush-hush.”

She and the men stood and watched a fighter plane fly up, circle, land.

“A man walked over and he said, ‘You’ve just witnessed the first plane flown without a pilot,'” Friedman said.

During another, more personally fateful assignment, she was asked to drive a bus for a naval baseball team. That’s how she met Albert Friedman.

“I picked them up,” Friedman said. “He said, ‘You want to go out tonight?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ It’s funny; I just knew. He was the most wonderful man and father and companion and partner.”

They married in 1947. The couple had two sons and moved to Maine when he was assigned to the Brunswick Naval Air Station. They eventually settled in Jay in 1977 when they bought and remodeled their daughter-in-law’s family home.

“My husband and I danced every Saturday of our life,” she said. “He was a jitterbug champ on the West Coast when he was in the service.”

He died one week shy of their 52nd wedding anniversary. Their oldest son died five years ago, which was devastating, Friedman said.

She lived in their Jay home until two years ago.

She loves the area. There’s a small-town feel, like how she grew up, she said. She’s been active in several town projects involving veterans

A Republican, Friedman said she’s never missed a vote in her life. She’s followed the upcoming election with passionate interest: “I’m so disgusted with government now.” 

Last fall, she moved into Pinewood Terrace, an assisted living facility. She reads a lot and spends time with her friend, Harry McDowell, a World War II veteran two weeks older than Friedman.

They talk about the news and watch reruns of “The Lawrence Welk Show” on Saturday nights. She reads stories aloud to him and she’ll tease him about the 102-year-old who has a crush on him.

“Hyla does all my flavoring for me — salt, pepper,” McDowell said.

Friedman exercises everyday and watches what she eats. She doesn’t look a day over 80.

“Harry, we’re going to hang on, aren’t we?” Friedman said to him.

When her driver’s license came up for renewal last year, she decided to give it up at age 97. Too many bad drivers out there. 

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