At nearly 110, Carol Stream woman is working on a book — her 12th

When the ideas clatter and claw inside Merle Phillips’ head in the dark of night, there’s no point trying to get back to sleep.

So she eases out of bed and shuffles over to her desk, with its “giant-print” Bible and a magnifying glass within easy reach. She bends her 4-foot-10-inch frame toward her spiral notebook and begins to write.

The source of her inspiration? Sitting in her recliner, which looks a couple of sizes too big for her, she shrugs. Maybe an interest from her past, she says — beyond that, she really doesn’t know.

“If I have something to write about, I write,” says Phillips, who lives at Belmont Village, an assisted-living facility in Carol Stream. “If I don’t, I don’t — and not every day because I don’t have the time.”

Phillips says she knows she’s not an exceptional writer. She’s “not smart enough” to write fiction, she says. Sometimes, she rambles. Her tangents about the people who’ve taken advantage of her through the years can run several pages.

But her stories offer a remarkable window into a time almost no one living today remembers — a life of hardship, perseverance, occasional heartbreak and unquenchable curiosity. They conjure a time of horse-and-buggy rides, houses without running water, electricity and bedrooms so cold “water would freeze in your drinking glass.”

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