Particularly when told someone says she’s 97.
“Who told you that?” she asks and laughs. “I’m 70!”
She is nervous for other reasons. She is being interviewed by a reporter. Before it is over, she will be awed and amazed at one of the peculiar yet dependable aspects of journalism: a willingness, an almost compulsion to discuss private aspects of their life with a stranger.
Perhaps it’s because, for as long as she can remember—and her mind is tack sharp—she has helped others.
She was born in Hallettsville, the eldest of a dozen children to a father who worked in a feed mill and a mother who stayed at home.
By definition, the oldest child born in a poor, black family during World War II is expected to grow up quickly in order to help.
She lives in a comfortable home on Minneapolis Street. She leans back in her favorite chair that affords a view out the screen door.
“We were poor, OK? We were poor, but I didn’t realize it until I was grown. You get to talking with some of your kinfolks, and they tell you, ‘Well, you know, baby, there were a lot of people who were poorer than you!’”
But even remembering the dirt-floor and barefoot days, assisting others was salient. “I look back...the people got along with one another; they helped one another with the little bit that they had.”
Little wonder, then, that she began working at Warm Springs Rehabilitation Hospital in Gonzales as a nursing aide—taking blood pressure and temperature of patients, giving them baths, feeding them, helping them get ready for therapy.
She did that for 30 years, all told.
During that time she married and then “I lost my first husband.”
She was single for 18 years.
During her stay at the hospital, the Rev. Paul Green, Jr. occasionally would bring in a patient. “We just spoke and went on,” she smiles.
A couple of years later, while preparing dinner for her pastor and his wife, her guests called and asked if they could bring a friend.
Paul Green was that friend.
“When he walked in the door, we both just fell out. I said, ‘I know you from somewhere.’ He said, ‘Yes, I know you from somewhere, too.’”
They married in 1983. She moved to Beeville and earned her GED from A.C. Jones High School the next year.
She looks away, pausing in a conversation that suddenly allowed no alternative path. “We divorced,” she said, quietly. “I moved back to Gonzales and went back to work as a home health aide.”
She stayed with the company for almost a decade—helping others, but also changing.
In the late 1990s, the Rev. Paul Green telephoned and asked her to remarry.
“I said, ‘I don’t think so. Why now?’ But, I didn’t realize he was a sick man. He was reaching out for help.”
Again, that keystone word.
“I never will forget, the Lord spoke to me, saying ‘you are out there taking care of everybody else; why can’t you take care of him?’ And I looked straight up to the ceiling, straight out of the house, and said, ‘What?’
“I got up from my chair, walked down the hallway, but He was still speaking to me.”
She lets out a sigh, a mixture of nostalgia and exasperation. “I made up my mind to marry this man, not because of what had happened but because for the kind of man he was.”
Was it a good thing?
She whispers, “It was; it was. I am so grateful that I did what I did. It made him happy, and it made me happy knowing that I could take care of him, that I had the knowledge to do it. And I stood by his bedside until the end.”
He died in 2002.
“It hurts...it hurts.”
To stay busy, she served on the board of the Bee Community Action Agency for three years and is the secretary of the mission at the Bethlehem Baptist Church and the vice president of the choir. She sings soprano.
In her years in Beeville she has seen some changes, including growth. But she also is aware of a darker side.
She hesitates, choosing her words carefully. “There is racism here on the part of some people, although I think I have just become aware of it. But I still get along with everyone here,” saying that to the degree that people dislike others, they deprive themselves of potential strengths.
“We need to move forward, to put the past behind and get along with one another, because we’re all human beings. This is what life is all about, getting closer together, but it seems like we are growing farther and farther apart.”
A sober assessment of society but, as she will quickly assert, not beyond...help.
Bill Clough is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 122, or at beepic@mySouTex.com.