The Wisdom of Our Elders: My Interview with My 104-year old Great-Grandaunt

I have never been a person to turn down the opportunity to speak with an elder. There is so much valuable wisdom to gain from their experiences, which can serve as a guide on our journey. Many elders are able to deliver wisdom through simplicity and calmness and none exemplified this more than my graceful, wise, and bold 104-year old Great-Grandaunt Nellie.

While visiting my Father, he presented me with the opportunity to meet my 104-year old Great-Grandaunt Nellie. I was stunned for two reasons: first, that we had someone in our family that age and second, that I never knew about it until that day. As a person who never shies away from “picking my elders’ brains”, I jumped at the opportunity and we made our way to her home. We took a narrow gravel road to reach her house and as we inched closer to her home, I mentally prepared myself for what questions I would ask her.

After being greeted by a distant cousin, we entered her room bringing our smiles and excitement along with us. She immediately greeted us with “Hey! There he is!” and she told my Father to come over to her for a hug and kiss. It’s amazing to think that this is the same woman that remembered the birth of my Grandfather (her brother), my Father, and all of my twenty plus Aunts and Uncles! My Father introduced me to her and while extending her hand, she instructed me to come closer to “get a good look at me.” I remember her hands so vividly. They were large, wrinkled, and her handshake was very firm. Another thing that stood out to me about her hands were her elegant, freshly-painted nails. I was told by my distant cousin that even in her old age, she never slacked on her appearance.

Though she was bed stricken, her positive energy radiated throughout the room and confidence filled her eyes. She was born in 1914 in Montross, Virginia and is the second out of thirteen children of my Great-Grandparents. Growing up as the second to the oldest child, she fulfilled various responsibilities to support her family such as babysitting, taking on various jobs, helping her siblings with homework, and more. She was almost another mother to her siblings and she loved all of them, even if her siblings got on her nerves at times (like the time when my Grandfather whacked her leg with a rake when they were young — nope, after eighty years later she still hasn’t forgotten this moment).

After sharing a few laughs, I went into my mental Rolodex of questions and after selecting some questions, I was all set to learn as much information I could from my great elder.


Importance of Having A Good Woman, Friendship, and More

As a woman who has gone through 104 years of life, what advice could you provide to a 24-year-old like myself?

Take your time finding a good woman and be wary of calling everyone your friend as everyone does not deserve your trust and friendship. Save your money as one cannot get anything if one does not save anything.

As a devout Christian, she instructed me to always persevere through the hard times and “always stay close to God.” Throughout her life, she buried her husband, many of her siblings, and her infant child. All of these events were significant challenges in her life, but she told me that God kept her grounded.


Devotion to God  & Listening to Your Elders

As a devout Christian, what are your favorite books of the Bible? 

My favorite books of the Bible are Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. These were some of the first books she read when she was young and many years later, she still reads them on a daily basis.

She has a gift of saying the simplest things while simultaneously conveying profound messages such as “Always read the Bible because when you get to heaven, you’ll know what you’re looking at. Some people get to heaven and don’t even know they are there and that’s because they don’t know God.” I interpreted this as one should always have an appreciation for the positive things God has presented us in life.

Since she was a young child, she always attended church and found comfort in interacting with the elders in the different church committees. As a young child, she always listened to and conversed with the older women of the church, because she noticed that “their wisdom saved her from making the mistakes the young people her age were making.” She recommended to continue talking to older people and learn from them.

God, The Bible, and the supportive elders of her church served as a guide while growing up in the small community of Montross, Virginia.


Sharpness of Mind 

My Aunt Nellie has a sharp mind, is an avid reader, and a news watcher. At 104, she could tell you what happened on the news from a few days ago! Admiring her active mind, I asked her, How do you maintain your sharpness even at 104?

I like to do crossword puzzles as it helps me remember certain words and keeps me focused and alert. I also like watching the news and know what’s going on in the world like that crazy Trump-man they got in office (we exchanged a high-five after she made this statement). While looking at me, she pointed to her heavily annotated Bible and said: “This keeps me sharp too.” 

The brain is a muscle that has to be flexed constantly and even at 104, her thought processes and memory are as strong as steel.


Knowing God’s Purpose For Your Life 

For much of our conversation, I intensely hung on every word she said and tried my best to store it in my mental drive. I made an effort to listen more, talk less, and wait patiently as she explained herself. I was enthralled by her wisdom and I was definitely sharing time with one of God’s treasures.

Afterward, she grabbed and kissed my hand, kissed my forehead, told me she loved me and to visit her again soon. I returned the love and promised I would and before I exited her room, she said: “Jordon, always be prepared for your purpose. God has a purpose for you.” Her words struck me because I knew at that moment in time, God empowered her to think and say those words. I really needed to hear that and I knew that God was talking to me through her. Our eyes locked, we smiled at each other, I nodded in affirmation and responded with a simple “Yes Maam.”



Photo Credit: Chic African Culture. 2017.

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