Living Long, Living Well & Me
Posted March 13, 2010on:
As I near the end of my breast cancer treatment, I heard about the death this week of 100-year-old Granny D. It got me thinking about not just living long but living well. If I am fortunate to live long, she will be a role model as will a few other women I write about in this post
Granny D – AKA Doris Haddock – walked from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., in her 90th year to bring attention to the need for campaign finance reform. When she arrived at the Capitol steps, Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold, a staunch advocate of campaign reform, was among those greeting her. She even ran for the U.S. Senate in New Hampshire at age 94.
The story of that 14-month, 3,400-mile journey through blizzards and desert heat, became a book entitled, You’re never too old to raise hell. You gotta love the title of that book and all that it says.
“So I am happy for how my walk has turned out and for how my life has turned out. I am thankful for the troubles that have shaped me,” Granny D wrote. “If you and I were having a cup of tea and you were telling me your stories, as I have told you mine, I would see that it was your hard times that made you so interesting, so wise and able to laugh at life.”
Granny D is not the only older woman to impress me. I first learned of the Delaney Sisters, who each lived past age 100, on CBS 60 Minutes and then read their 1993 book, Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters First 100 Years. Their book was written with Amy Hill Hearth when Bessie was 101 and Sadie 103.
Born in North Carolina to a father who was a slave as a child and a mother born free but of mixed races, these sisters became highly successful. Bessie became only the second black woman licensed as a dentist in New York, while Sadie was the first African American woman teaching high school domestic science in New York Public Schools.
“You know what I’ve been thinking lately?” Bessie wrote. “All those people who were mean to me in my life – all those rebby boys – they have turned to dust, and this old gal is still here, along with sister Sadie. We’ve out lived those old rebby boys! That’s one way to beat them! That’s justice!”
The two sisters did not always agree and their approaches were very different, with Bessie never mincing words while Sadie was less direct. “Truth is, I never thought I’d see the day when people would be interested in hearing what two old Negro women have to say,” Bessie wrote. “Life still surprises me. So maybe the last laugh is on me.”
Closer to home, I have been impressed with June Kjome, just a kid at 89. Gayda Hollnagel and I wrote a book about June, who describes herself as an “old lady activist.” A former nurse missionary in Africa, she has worked for human rights of every stripe, for social justice and fair housing for all. She even protested her beloved church at national conventions for not allowing non-celibate gay clergy.
“I just feel that I am living in a different time where love and acceptance of everybody is important. I will not be judging them on their sexuality any more than I would feel it appropriate to judge on the color of their skin,” she said.
Back to Granny D, she could have been speaking for me when she wrote, “Well, I am finished with this book, but I am not finished with my life or with my passion for campaign finance reform. There is almost always time to find another victory, another happy ending. I hope that is your feeling about life, too.”
It is Granny D. It is.