A Century of WisdomFeb 04, 2021
100 years ago, the world was recovering from one of the greatest pandemics it has ever known. An H1N1 virus given the name "The Spanish Flu" had infected about 27% of the world's population. It is estimated to have killed 50 million people. As America and the world struggle to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, the parallels between 1921 and 2021 are eerie.
108-year-old Moore resident Pauline Meier Smith was one of the survivors of the Spanish Flu. Pauline credits her sister, Emily, with saving her life.
"Emily and I shared a bed, and when the fever had taken over, my movements woke Emily up," said Pauline. "She woke up my parents, who slept on a fold-out bed in the kitchen by the stove. They quickly took me over to the doctor's house. Dr. Dance predicted that I wouldn't make it through the night."
Pauline did survive the night and the Spanish Flu, as did her older sister Marguerite. She also survived a battle with COVID-19 in 2020 and shared some of the wisdom acquired from living for over 100 years. While COVID-19 hasn't been as deadly as the Spanish Flu, the stories of Moore area centenarians like Pauline offer valuable insight for our day as we seek to understand the more significant questions of life.
Billie Hanan celebrated her 102nd birthday in January. Billie, who lives with her children in Moore, has vivid and personal memories of historical moments that current generations view from a largely unemotional distance, like the Dust Bowl in the 1930s.
"I remember sometimes the dust was so bad we'd have to cover our faces with big handkerchiefs," said Billie. "It seemed to be colder back then, too. I remember one year the snow was so bad my father carried me to school. Of course, no one else came, but I kept my perfect attendance record."
Moore resident Maggie Lane will turn 100 in September of this year. Maggie was the youngest of 10 children, the daughter of an oilfield worker and his loving wife. Her parents and older siblings always enjoy reminding her how her birth brought a welcome pause to their nomadic lifestyle as their father worked hard to support his family.
"Dad worked in the oilfield, and we were just kind of migrating across Oklahoma," said Maggie. "My mom was pregnant with me and so stopped off in Collinsville so that she could give birth to me. And then we went right back to traveling."
101-year-old Leeta Lankford's life included a friendship with President Harry Truman, marked by letters she received from Truman over the years. Leeta has a treasure trove of memories but says her life's most vivid memory was from a high school dance.
"That was when I met my husband for the first time," said Leeta. "I can still see him walking across the floor to ask me to dance. It was love at first sight. We were married for 76 years!"
The Great Depression also looms large in Leeta's memories, especially how difficult it was for families to survive on such small amounts of income. She says Franklin D. Roosevelt has always been her favorite president because of his leadership in bringing the country through those tough times.
"The times were so harsh," said Leeta. "I remember people would work all day for just one dollar."
Despite how difficult the times were, Maggie's memories of the Depression are mostly happy ones.
"I was a child back during that time, and we grew up pretty poor," said Maggie. "So, as long as I had some beans and cornbread, I was content. We never went hungry, even though we barely made it by. We were just happy to have some beans and taters."
Madeline Ellsworth is another Moore centenarian who has vivid memories of World War II. The 100-year-old had lost her first husband, along with her father-in-law, to a train accident when she was 23 years old and supporting a two-year-old daughter. She remarried before World War II.
"My second husband was in the submarine service," said Madeline. "During the war, his boat got hit, and the newspaper reported him as missing in action. He was missing for six weeks before they were found."
Billie's husband was also in the Navy during World War II.
"We were living in California when the attack on Pearl Harbor happened," said Billie. "I remember his ship leaving almost immediately after we were bombed."
By the 1940s, Pauline's journey through life had taken her to California. She worked for Oklahoma Gas & Electric right after graduating high school, but as prolonged droughts and dust storms plagued Oklahoma, she joined the great migration west to California.
"I landed a great job with Clyde Woods Construction in San Francisco," said Pauline. "His business was one of the five major builders of the Shasta Dam in northern California."
Pauline also remembers the celebration in San Francisco on the day victory was declared in World War II.
'It was an amazing celebration," said Pauline. "There were millions of pieces of paper flying in the streets."
Madeline also recalls the joy people shared as the last great World War ended.
"It's one of my favorite memories," said Madeline. "We were all so happy that we were out in the streets, hootin' and hollerin'!"
Pauline moved back to the Midwest in the years following the war's end, where she discovered post-war difficulties resulted in some odd coping mechanisms.
"Factories were suffering from a lack of available materials at the time," said Pauline. "That made it tough to find hosiery and nylons. Women even painted lines on their legs to make it look like they were wearing hose! Imagine that!"
If drawing on your legs to mimic the look of hosiery sounds unique, Maggie remembers a more "technical" life upgrade that is still her all-time favorite invention: the dawning of the age of indoor plumbing.
"Let me tell you, that was something I'm still pleased about," said Maggie. "I remember having to get up in the middle of the night during the winter or bad weather and going out there. So indoor plumbing was a real gamechanger for me!"
Moore's centenarians are all in agreement when asked about the most important lesson all the changes they've watched unfold over the years. As they've watched people's emotions boiled over in the last year concerning issues like the pandemic, politics, and racism, the oldest and wisest among us offer counsel that includes patience and understanding.
"When I think about racism and people like Martin Luther King, I wish we would take the time to understand more about each other," said Billie.
For all of them, the real answers boil down to family and faith. Pauline says that her personal faith in Jesus Christ has been her most vital foundation.
"Worry is as useless as rain on the ocean," said Pauline. "And like the rain, it can dampen your ardor for the things that really matter."
Madeline said, "I wouldn't have made it through if not for the love and support of my parents and family."
"All this technology we have today can't replace our families and our faith," said Maggie." The best advice I can give people right now is to get close to the Lord. I remember realizing that faith in Him was the most important thing in life when I looked into the face of my firstborn for the first time.
Note: Pauline Meyer Smith passed away in January of 2021.