March 23, 2017

If I Knew at 60 What I Know Now (2)

I recently attended a Black History Month celebration honoring nine octogenarians, five of whom were African American females. It took some effort tracking the ladies down as their schedules left little time for them to talk to me. But eventually, I was able to speak with three of them about their journeys and to ask them the perennial question, “What do you wish you had known at 60 years of age that you know now?”

 “Learn to depend on the Lord and have faith to believe in what He promised in His word.

Every time you come out of something, you will be stronger.”

Sarah, age 82, is a Deacon, the Superintendent of the Sunday School, and a member of the Sanctuary Choir. She explained she always believed in the Lord but not with the fervor she has now. Born in Arkansas, Sarah’s mother died when Sarah was very young and she lived with relatives for a while. However, when she was 10 years old she became the housekeeper and cook for her dad and two brothers who picked cotton and “everything they could pick to earn a living.” When she married, she relocated to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where she worked as a housekeeper and had six children. Sarah says she was blessed to live in Christian homes and the Lord blessed her to “choose His side.” She has always found the church to be a supportive community, especially when she was raising her children. “They helped me too much,” she laughingly quipped. The women in the kitchen always made sure Sarah had more than enough food to take home for her children. “They looked out for us!” For much of her young life, Sarah said she felt alone because she was extremely bashful. She wishes she had been able to express herself more to people then like she can now. However, she is grateful the Lord never let her be out there in the “wild world.” “The church crowd is the only kind of crowd I can stand to be around,” she said. Sarah worked full time up until five years ago. Recently, she took her first flight to Florida where she went on a Caribbean cruise.

 “Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do something because God can make that happen.”

Martha, 85, is often seen elegantly dressed; most recently in a camel colored cloche hat atop a neatly tied head scarf, coordinated with a velvet-collared brown tweed blazer and skirt ensemble.  So, it was no surprise for me to learn that she had worked in retail for many years at Kaufmann’s Department Store and Mellon Bank. Most recently, she was a volunteer for the Dress for Success program which helps low-income women find suits and shoes for job interviews. She found the work “inspiring” and keeps in touch with the program. Hailing from the bucolic vistas of Beaver Valley, Martha relocated to Pittsburgh at an early age with a dream of taking voice lessons and modern dance. Instead, she married and had four children, all of whom she brought up in the church. Her children and grandchildren love her and are forever by her side. One other word of experience Martha offers is,  “When young people come to me and talk to me I’m very straight  with them. You have to be true or they’ll know it.” 

“Thank God first in the morning before you put your foot on the floor. And, enjoy your life.”

This is the advice of Lillian who is 81 years young. “God will take care of it all for you. He brought me through many times,” she says. Lillian is vibrant, enthusiastic, and full of life. She is very active in zoomba dancing and other activities at a senior citizens center. There is no indication that she had been very sick with pneumonia and a blood clot last year. Lillian worked in home health care for 38 years and was a nanny for “three sets of kids.” She volunteered with Meals on Wheels for three days a week until last year. She says every day when she wakes up, she thanks God for a day she has never seen before and prays for traveling mercy. When she became ill, she said, “God you got me and He said, I’m not ready for you yet.”

These heroines are a testament to the resilience and steadfastness of African American women. They are beautiful, intelligent, and lovers of life.  They continue to realize their goals and dreams even as octogenarians and serve as examples to all of us of what faith in God can do.