Rebbeca & Obama
I had the pleasure of meeting someone who is 100 years old, Rebbeca Izard. Having worked in nursing homes for about 20 years of my nursing career, I have met a few centurions. However, I can only remember one other person I’ve met who was first, living in their own home, not a nursing facility and second, who was not plagued with some form of dementia. She was my next-door neighbor when I was 12 years old.
After I asked my friend Barbara Faison to tell me about segregation and racism growing up in the south, she sent me to her sister, Rebecca, to talk to her about it. Barbara asked Rebecca to tell me about her youth and called them, “slave days.”
When I got to Rebecca’s house, my first question was. “Rebecca, Barbara said you have stories about slavery. But, the Emancipation Proclamation began on January 1, 1865 and the Civil War ended April 9, 1865 thus ending slavery. How is it that you have stories of slavery? Did they still practice slavery when you were a little girl?”
Rebecca laughed and said, “No, not that I know of but, I do remember a lot of racism and segregation that went on. We, meaning us black folk, were treated very differently back then. A lot of white folk used to say hateful things to us,” she expressed shaking her head in sadness. “It is not at all like it is today.”
Rebecca became a centurion March 1, 2014. She showed me pictures of her 100th birthday bash, given in her honor. She had several photos taken with different people including the mayor, Jack Scoville. She even received a birthday card from the president and his wife wishing her a happy birthday.
Like her younger sister, Rebecca worked as a caregiver. She was a mid-wife for many years mostly doing after care. She helped many women after giving birth. She’d stay at their house for several days to a weeklong if needed. Although she had delivered a few babies, she preferred to work helping the new mothers instead.
Rebecca and her husband married on April 11 in 1937. They had six of their own babies, having lost one at two months of age. Rebecca talked about losing a daughter this past year, “she was 80 years old when she died.”
“What about your husband?”
“He was sick and in the hospital not long after our 57th anniversary,” she said of him. “They said he was fine and then the next day, he passed. That was on April 24, 1989.” Rebecca has never remarried.
As I was flipping through the photos, it just kind of hit me, one hundred years! She’s seen so much that we’ve only read about in history books. Mentally, I began sorting through historical events that she‘s witnessed; the roaring twenties, the Great Depression, World War II, Korean War, Viet Nam, Malcolm X, Dr. King, JFK & Bobby Kennedy’s assassinations, Cassius Clay becoming Mohammed Ali and fighting the draft board, Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, Miss Jane Pitman, Rosa Parks - I could go on all day. It was just amazing to me.
Was Rebecca really in her right mind? She seemed to be and to be sure, I started asking her about the past. “I remember when I was a little girl a TV special about a woman named Miss Jane Pitman came on one night. Do you remember anyone by that name?”
After repeating the name back to her, Rebecca said, “Oh yeah! She was the lady who was the first black person to drink from a white man’s water fountain. She walked up there with her stick (cane) and she took a sip and then walked away with her head held high.”
“That’s right,” I exclaimed. “She was almost 100 years old too when she did that! And what about Rosa Parks?”
“I remember a write-up about her too. They used to always make us black folk ride in the back of the bus and Rosa Parks didn’t do that. She was the first black person to ride up front with while people.”
Yeah, Rebecca had all of her animal crackers in one box. We talked about kids today, how they differ from when she was growing up. She expressed the children of today lack a lot of respect given to their elders. “But there’s a lot of differences between then and now.”
Another dawning came over me. I smiled and said, “Rebecca, how do you feel about having a black president?”
She giggled so sweetly and said, “I love it!”
“I bet you didn’t see that one coming?”
“I didn’t expect to see me living to be one hundred either,” she said with a laugh. “I’m so proud of President Obama; our first black president.”
“Do you think he’s doing a good job as president?” I asked.
“Yes, I do. I think he’s doing a wonderful job. But you know they give him such a hard time.”
I wasn’t going to mention the controversy surrounding his presidency but, she did. Still, I figured, at her age, she could say whatever she wanted - she‘s earned that right. I know many do not care for Obama, however, if she liked Charles Manson as a president, I wasn’t going to disagree with her. Rebecca can also like whomever she wanted - she’s earned that right too.
“The media always give the president a hard time though,” I offered diplomatically, “It doesn’t matter who the president is.”
“Not like this. They really give him the devil. Everything he says and does is under scrutiny. We all make mistakes but they seem to enjoy pointing his out more often.”
“You think so?” I asked considering what she was saying. Amazingly enough, I did agree with her to a point - Obama is forever in the media.
“Yes, I do,” Rebecca said thoughtfully.
“Well, I will say this about him; he is a nice looking man, you know.”
Rebecca giggled again, “He has all that gray hair now but yes, he is a handsome young man.”
We talked a little more about President Obama. Rebecca shared with me that she believes Michelle Obama has some family ties here in Georgetown. We talked about the President’s smoking habit. We even discussed how the media has been saying President Obama and his wife are having problems in their marriage. “If you could give marital advice to President Obama and Michelle what would it be?”
She thought a minute and then answered, “To do unto others as you would have done unto you and to trust God!”
And that, my friends, is the voice of 100 years' experience speaking to you.