Last year, Texas Monthly readers were introduced to Carlene, a then-89-year-old Houston woman forced to wash her own hair for the first time in decades because of the pandemic. In December, Carlene returned with her harrowing tale of hunting a candy-loving mouse. On the occasion of Willie Nelson’s eighty-eighth birthday, Carlene—who turned ninety earlier this month—is back to share her tips for a long and happy life. (As told to her grandson, Michael Hardy.)

1. Stay positive.

I think I’ve had a good life. I’ve been happy. I accomplished most everything that I wanted to accomplish—getting a college education, marrying, having children. There have been some dips through the years, but I came out of them successfully. 

I’ve always tried to have a positive attitude toward things. I think that comes from my mother. She went through trials and tribulations all her life. Both of her husbands were murdered; my father was murdered when I was three. She had to support me somehow, so she started teaching piano lessons. We never had a lot of money, but she always seemed to find little things to make us happy. She never was negative about anything. 

I’ve had some challenges in my life as well. My first husband passed away with cancer. After that, I went through five years of being single, and then I met my second husband. We were both lonely people that got together, and it was fun, and I was married to him for 22 years before he passed away. We had a good life. And I’m still having a good life. I miss everybody, but I stay busy. I got colon cancer around 2002, but I was fortunate to have some very good doctors, and I fully recovered. It’s never come back. 

2. Be yourself.

I actually like living by myself now. I like being in control, and I’m my own best friend. At this age, I can pretty well do what I want. If I want to do it, I’ll do it, and if I don’t want to I won’t. I’ve gotten calls from people inviting me to do something, and if I’m not in the mood I’ll just say, “Sorry, I’m going to pass on that.” 

I live in a lovely home. It’s not fancy, but it’s comfortable. I like to do my needlepoint, I like shopping on QVC, I like decorating my home. I still have some of my Christmas decorations out. That’s one thing about living by yourself—if you want to keep your decorations up for six months, you can, and nobody comments.

3. Try to accomplish something every day.

I do enjoy cooking. I’ve been learning how to cook different foods. My second husband was a fantastic cook, and I learned a lot from him. So I’m always trying new recipes and sharing them with my family. 

One of my favorite quotes is from Muhammad Ali. He said, “Don’t count the days; make the days count.” So I get up in the morning and try to accomplish something every day. It could be trying a new recipe, or moving furniture around. I just try to accomplish something. Then there’s a quote from Rick Steves. About ten years ago, I was watching him on TV when he said, “One is not rich who comes home with money, one is rich who comes home with experiences.” I wrote that down. I’ve had a lot of good experiences with friends and family, and I like to look back on those good times.

4. Find your people.

I’ve been lucky to have a very good, supportive family. Everybody needs a family, and you need to keep in contact with your family. I have friends who are not even speaking to their families, and that is so sad. I don’t think you can get through life without family. 

I also like keeping friends around me. I have a lot of friends, and I work at being a friend. I always say that you have to be a friend to get a friend. I don’t like negative people. They make me terribly nervous. In fact, I’ve started to eliminate them from my list of friends. I’d much rather have positive people surrounding me—it just makes me feel better. I also say my prayers every night, and my prayers have been answered many times.

5. Learn to be resilient—and drink a glass of wine every now and then.

We just have one life, you know. Once you’re gone, you’re gone. I want to be here as long as I can; as long as my health holds up. The worst thing about getting old is that you don’t look young and pretty anymore. Your hair begins to get gray, or you gain weight here and there. But I’m lucky. I don’t feel any different than I did in high school. I don’t have any aches or pains; I’m able to drive my car, take care of the house, do pretty much anything I want to do. I enjoy a glass of wine in the evening, and I eat pretty much anything I want to eat. It seems to have worked out.

I was recently thinking about my high school yearbook. My senior year, everyone had a saying underneath their photo about what their future would be. Mine said, “She strives for the best, and won’t settle for less.” I like that. I have some other quotes that I like. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The major problem of life is learning how to handle the costly interruptions.” See, everybody’s going to have interruptions. My big ones were the deaths of my two husbands and my cancer diagnosis. But you’ve got to cope. You’re going to have some problems in your life, and you just have to learn how to live with them.

The only thing I could say to Willie Nelson is to do what he’s happy doing. If you’re unhappy with your profession, it’s just not going to work. You’re going to be a miserable person to be around, and you’re going to be miserable to yourself. If he’s happy doing what he’s doing, he needs to continue. And have friends and family supporting him. That’s what I’d say to anyone, not just Willie. 

Anyway, I hope he has a very happy eighty-eighth birthday—and that he has many more.