I have sung "Happy Birthday" to Grandma Sylvetta Wright many times and when I get to the last verse, "...and many more." She laughs, moves her head back and forth and says, "There can't be many more."
Grandma gave up driving when she turned 94, but was still living on her own.
At her 96th birthday party, I asked, "Well, Grandma how ya doing today?" She leaned into me and smiled, "Well, I'll tell ya, I woke up this morning, looked around me and said, 'Damn, I'm still here.'"
When she fell at age 98 and broke her hip, she knew she could no longer live by herself. We moved her into the Lincoln Hills Nursing home in New Albany, Indiana where she would spend her remaining time crocheting, doing "Seek & Find" word puzzles and cashing in at Bingo.
While packing up her belongings, I came across her life's journals, she smiled and said, "Keep 'em". I was honored to accept such a priceless gift.
That evening I snuggled up on the couch and begin reading her life's stories. I was extremely blessed to have this privilege, for Grandma was a soft spoken woman, who never shared her personal thoughts. I had to admit it took me a couple of years of evenings to read them all, but I wanted to know more before God called her home.
On her 100th birthday I spent the afternoon at Grandma's bedside asking her questions about her life and what it was like to have lived through a century of history.
"If there is one thing you could tell anyone about living for 100 years what would it be?"
She answered me quickly and was straight to the point,
"You're not as smart as you think you are, no matter how old you get."
Very wise words coming from a woman that had lived through the earliest years of flight to man walking on the moon and the birth of cyberspace. From the1930's Great Depression to the economic boom of the 50's; from the assassination of President Kennedy (1963) to the election of our first African American president (2008); and from World War I (1917) to the current day conflicts (2011) plus everything in between.
When asked about things from the past like what did you think when you saw your first airplane or take a ride in a car, she said, "Well, my memory isn't as good as it used to be." But when I asked her, "What did you think of man landing on the moon?" She sternly replied, "I don't believe we went to the moon and neither did my dad, but I guess anything is possible."
Sylvetta's memory may have not been like it used to be, but we are still able to step back in time with her through her personal journals of the past.
And maybe, just maybe we can all take a lesson and learn some wisdom from a humbled woman who had lived over 100 years believing you get out of life what you put into it.
Here are a few excerpts from Sylvetta's journals written between 1950 and 1996, that I would like to share with you.
"I will try to write on paper some of these treasured thoughts of mine. Perhaps some lonely soul will read them; a little pleasure in them find."
"I have come to that time in my life where my days are not hurried. (70 + years.) Before I arise I thank God for the night past and the dawning of a new day. "Guideposts" is on my stand and I can read today's lesson. It's a real inspiration to me.
Today's reading somehow caused me to think of my grandmother. A dear, little, dumpy lady whose ancestors came from Wales. So often I remember, as she went about her work, she would be talking to herself, not out loud, but her lips were moving. One day I asked her, "Why are you talking to yourself?" "What are you saying?" She smiled in her sweet way and said she had thought of something she wanted to talk to God about. I wonder how many times that something was me?
Grandma had very little education by today's standards, but she was so wise.
One day I came home from school and began to say bad things about my friend, Edith, that walked to school with me each day, and grandma, without really scolding me said, "Wouldn't be nice if we just told all the nice things we know about our friends?" That stayed with me through all of my years when I was tempted to gossip.
One summer Sunday afternoon, I, my sister and cousin were sitting out under the apple tree playing with our dolls and sewing doll clothes. My great Aunt Leana came to visit grandma. When she saw we were sewing, she said, "Oh, Susan, don't you know it is a sin to sew on Sunday?" Grandma, in her understanding way, very softly said, "Busy hands never get into mischief." And you know I think this is so true. If our hands our busy sewing or making something pretty, we will be thinking of what we are doing and our thoughts are good not evil.
When grandma went to her garden, she would invite the grandchild that was handy to go with her. And whatever she was doing, picking beans or maybe pulling weeds from the beet rows, she turned it into a pleasant thing to do. Somehow it always turned into a wise little lesson to be never forgotten. Like the weeds were the evil things to be destroyed and the beans were the good things to nourish for our pleasure and how life was like that with good and evil."
Did you ever try to painting sunshine among the clouds of grey?
For there seems to be a few clouds almost every day.
Clouds of doubt and fear
Clouds of pain and woe.
If you look around you, you will find them everywhere you go.
So paint some golden sunshine against a sky of blue
And here and there tuck a flower
And then a smile or two.
Just a thought...I don't know where it came from.
When I was a little girl, walking in the snow
I followed in the bigger steps where ever I would go.
The footprints were so big and plain enough to see
But the stride of the other steps were much too wide for me
And now that I have grown up big, I surely must look back
To see if there are tiny feet, walking in my tracks.
One last question I asked Grandma, "Tell me about your husband and family."
"I was married in 1931 to Porter Taft Wright. He was a good man, a poor man.
He didn’t' have any more education than I did, but he was intelligent. He could compete with most anybody, and he could do most anything he wanted to do. He believed in doing what was right. He was a family man and took good care of us. We had 3 children, two girls, Wanda Joan & Helen Lois and a son, Harold David, but my son didn't live, he died at infancy. Porter died when he was 52 years old in 1962 of cancer.
To this day, my daughters, Joan, age 78 and Helen, age 72 come to visit me or call every day.
"The happiest time of my life was after I married, when I had my children, when I had my two girls and we were poor, we lived very simply, but we were very happy. We had enough. We did have a car and we could go riding on Sunday afternoon or things like that and it was just an enjoyable time of my life. We would drive around the countryside, just sightseeing. We'd fix a picnic lunch, go to church on Sunday and then we'd go for a drive, stop some place and have a picnic. It was a lot of fun.
"I think one of the best things I can leave my family is the love of simple things. Maybe this is the reason why I can look back on my early years with pleasure.
We had little money or wealth, but we were rich in God-given riches."
As Grandma reached out for my hand from her bedside, I knew our visit was over. Tears of heartfelt love came to my eyes as I looked deeply at her well worn face, wondering what thoughts must be going through her mind now. She squeezed my hand and smiled, "Well, is that it? I got bingo to go to."
As I look back at this precious moment in my life, spending that afternoon with her, I noticed she didn't quote anything particular to what was going on
around her in the news as history was being made. No mention of the Great Depression, man walking on the moon or President Kennedy being shot.
Her words then, just like the ones from the time-worn, yellowed pages of her journals would jump loud and clear.
"Do good and good will follow do bad and well, it will come back to you and let it be known that the heart of God guides our every step."
Sylvetta Ellen Lewis Wright (1911-2012) was an inspiration to all in knowing that life is a true gift and living your life with firm convictions intertwined with simple pleasures is the key to inner peace, longevity and pure happiness.
She attributed her long life to having faith, believing in God, doing unto others as you would have then do unto you, and keeping her mind and hands occupied.
And that's the lesson we need to learn from a lovely, kind woman who always had a smile on her face and greeted everyone with a cheery, "Hello, come on in."
Sylvetta lived through 100+ years of history, letting it pass her by.
Her family and the simple things in life were the most important things to her and taking the time out to write about these precious gifts to pass down through the generations instead of the latest "history-making news" is simply priceless.