A Fresno Woman Born One Hundred Years Ago Says 'We'll Get Through This'
These days, do you ever find yourself looking out the window of your house or apartment and wondering ‘how are my neighbors doing during this pandemic?’ I was thinking a lot about my neighbor Dorothy Jones so I reached out to her. She turns 100 this year and she still lives in her Fresno High home.
When Dorothy calls me back, she gets my voicemail. She leaves this message: “Well Alice, I’m delighted we’ll be seeing you. The fact that we’ll be sharing some thoughts and visitation is exciting!”
She says she doesn’t want the pandemic to ruin the warmth and closeness of the neighborhood and she suggests a time to meet. But as much as I’d like to sit right next to Dorothy, coffee and cake on the table nearby, we decide the safest way to have a conversation is by phone.
I tell her I want to know how someone who was born a century ago and has lived through so many historic events is faring now.
“You know I’m surprising myself that I'm accepting everything,” Dorothy says. “I realize there’s not much any of us can do. Since I just lost my driver’s license in November because of the test I failed to take at the DMV, I’m stuck here at home anyway!”
She says “Thank Heavens” for TV and books. At night, she and her daughter Kate Jones, who is staying with her these days, share a bedtime story and read out loud to each other. They just finished The Call of the Wild. Right now, they’re reading To Kill a Mockingbird.
But, Dorothy says, there are things she misses and she is tired of the pandemic.
“Yeah I’m sick of the whole mess!” she says. “I’m sick of the fact that you can’t go get your nails done, you can’t get your hair done. You can’t go to the casino.”
I confess I’m a bit surprised. “Do you typically go to the casino?” I ask.
“Oh I love to go. I don’t go often,” she says. “I don’t drive up there by myself and none of my kids enjoy it so none of them even like to take me up there. They will, under pressure!”
Before the pandemic, she and her friend Maria would sometimes hit the road to Table Mountain on their own. Maria helps her with housework.
“She loves to go. So I’ve been with her. A couple of times she and I’ve driven up there. It’s only a half hour’s drive,” Dorothy says laughing.
Dorothy grew up in Rock Hill, South Carolina. She was born on Nov. 29th, 1920 right after another pandemic, the Spanish Flu, killed at least 50 million people worldwide. She remembers her parents talking about it.
“My father had been in World War I. He’d been in the Cavalry,” Dorothy says. “Oh ho ho. He didn’t know how to ride a horse but he was in the Cavalry. And yes, they talked about it because it was as widespread as what we are going through now with this miserable thing. They were all scared to death. Nobody in their families died from it which was quite unusual because most families had deaths, multiple deaths actually.”
The Great Depression followed.
“I remember very clearly what it was like,” Dorothy says. “My father was a barber and barbers didn’t make a lot of money, you know. But he did a lot of bartering and some of our things that would appear on the table might be a chicken that was raised in somebody’s else’s yard that they brought, and traded to my father for a haircut.”
In those hard times, she and her five siblings learned to laugh a lot. She recalls the day her brother hung a little note around the neck of a neighbor's chicken. The chicken had been eating their mother’s garden seeds.
“And it said on the little note, ‘I’ve been a bad bird. If I’m caught in Mrs. Robinson’s yard again, I will be found in her cooking pot the next day.’ And we thought that was hilarious,” Dorothy says.
Dorothy tells me she really wanted to go to college after high school but it was just too expensive. And then World War II broke out. She decided to enlist in the Navy. First stop, Stillwater, Oklahoma.
“At the university there, that had been suddenly changed into a training session for prospective Navy WAVES that we were called and that’s what I did. For the next four years, I served in the Navy,” she says.
She was stationed in Charleston and worked as a recruiter in the Southeast. And then she went to Hawaii.
“And I was assigned to the best duty on the base, on the Big Island and I was secretary to the CO there,” she says.
After the war, she eventually moved west to Stockton, CA where she worked for the Veteran’s Administration. There, she met and fell in love with a man who was originally from Fresno. They moved here and raised four children. Her daughter Kate says her mother's optimism remains irrepressible, even in times like these.
“Oh why not!” Dorothy says. “I can’t imagine not being that way. I can’t imagine being gloomy even going through what we are now. We’ll get over this, you know. It might take longer than we’d like and I might not get my hair fixed every week.”
She says every night before she goes to bed, she stares up at a crack in her ceiling, a kind of portal to God.
“We discuss what’s happened during the day and what should have happened and what didn’t and then I know tomorrow will be ready for me and I’ll be ready for it more or less,” she says.
After we hang up, I realize I neglected to ask Dorothy the secret to a long life? So I reached out again. Her witty one line response? “The fact that I was born so long ago.”