Jackie Kelsey sifted through a tray of dirt with her fingers, hoping to find something exciting.
“It’s part of reliving history,” she said with a smile. “I’ve always wanted to do it. I’m sure when you get to about my age, you’ll find something that you wish you’d done.”
The 86-year-old England-native has been around the world but never gotten the chance to get her hands dirty on foreign soil. She’s always found archeology interesting. On Monday, she got the opportunity to visit an active historical dig alongside some University of South Florida students on the grounds of the Gamble Plantation House in Ellenton.
“I’ve seen people digging and wished that I could do that,” she said.
Jackie was born in England, lived in Singapore for a year as a teenager, and honeymooned in Paris. She’s lost track of the countries she’s visited. She and her husband always loved to travel.
“Holland,” she said, when asked which place she visited first. “It was 1946. It was just after the war.”
Today’s dig site was the Gamble Plantation Historic State Park. Anthropology students dug up shards of glass, iron bits for horses’ mouths, and even empty bullet casings. Jackie unearthed a cracked medicine bottle, likely from the 19th century.
“Knowing the heritage and history of a place connects us to that place,” said Diane Wallman, a professor of anthropology at USF. “I’m amazed. She got right in there and got in the unit and dug.”
“I’ve always wanted to do it,” said Jackie. “I’m sure when you get to about my age you’ll find something you wish you’d have done.”
Her efforts impressed the students.
“She’s old-school,” said Nader Issa. “She wants to get out here and actually see what’s going on. I hope I’m like that when I’m 86.”
Jackie dusted off her hands as she finished digging for the day. She waited a long time to get her hands dirty. It was worth the wait.
“We all have dreams,” she said. “I’m going to be 87 in a couple of months. I think this is about it.”
Jackie lives at Freedom Village retirement home in Bradenton. The opportunity to dig came courtesy of the Wish Of A Lifetime program, which helps seniors accomplish lifelong goals. Over 1,000 wishes have been granted across all 50 states since 2008.