Pearls of Wisdom

“It Was Good Then…It’s Good Now”

By Crystal Hamon

She is definitely spunky, inherently full of vim and vigor. The embodiment of a hundred years of laughter and optimism, Annie Lynch celebrated her centennial birthday this past June. Born in Greenville, North Carolina, in 1908, Annie recalled that she was born on a Monday. “It was wash day,” she said with a heartfelt laugh. “I’ve been working since the day I was born!” Having just turned twenty-five myself, I contemplated the fact that I have lived only one-quarter of this woman’s lifetime. I tried to imagine all of the things she must have seen and heard during such an eventful period of history. I am honored to have had the opportunity to sit down with Annie as she shared her life story with me.

She is a remarkably positive person – amazingly sharp and focused as she converses. Her unique perspective and attitude of contentment are refreshing. I could only imagine what her life experiences were like. Annie’s lifetime spans some of the most historic and memorable times in our nation’s history. The inventions of penicillin, private telephones, paved roads, talking movies, television, the mass-produced automobile, refrigeration, insulin, plastic, and the World Wide Web have all taken place in front of her brilliant eyes. It is hard to think there was a time when Annie could not say, “That’s the best thing since sliced bread” – because it had not yet been invented!

She lived through WWI, WWII, prohibition, the repeal of prohibition, the Great Depression, the Vietnam War, the Korean War, the Civil Rights movement, the building and subsequent destruction of the Iron Curtain, space travel, the moon landing, 9/11, and both Gulf Wars. She witnessed Martin Luther King, Jr. during the famous March on Washington, as he, with poetry and wisdom in his speeches, helped to secure rights for black Americans in an unprecedented way. In light of the amazing events within her lifetime, I was curious to know what she thought about the current state of our nation. I asked her if we are better or worse off now than we were 100 years ago. She replied with her straightforward tact, “It was good then; it’s good now.” Her daughter, Gloria Johnson, with whom Annie lives, said that her mother has always given similar replies to such questions because she always seems to find the good in everything.

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Having lived through the Great Depression, the salient point she remembers most is the strong neighborly connection during that time. Her family rented a house with two others, each family taking a different floor. Neighbors were aware of each other’s needs and did their best to help one another. When Annie’s job offered her carfare for transportation to and from work, she gave it to her husband, Thomas Lynch, Sr., and took the bus to work. She remembers the give-and-take – a strong sense of community and togetherness even through great adversity. In a time when our current economy is struggling a bit, I think we would do well to remember the lessons of generations who endured much harsher conditions with such grace, poise, and compassion.

As a culture constantly searching for improvement and grasping at progress, we are repeatedly told with each and every click of the remote control that our lives are not quite as good as they could be. We constantly attempt to reinvent ourselves and create an enhanced cultural identity. Seeking to better ourselves carries its own merit, but along the way, we sometimes lose what Annie has managed to hold onto: inner contentment.

In an election cycle where we have watched both a woman and an ethnic man place their bids for the presidency, I wondered how such events must feel to a woman who lived in a time before women were even allowed to vote and when policies of segregation ruled the land. In her dreamy and understated way, she said, “We have made a lot of progress since then.” Annie remembers the time after the tragic death of Martin Luther King, Jr., when riots broke out and sit-ins took place in her neighborhood in Maryland. MSU students were protesting discrimination that kept certain restaurants and shops off-limits to blacks. Annie and her family took an active role and prepared meals for the National Guard units assigned to their neighborhood.

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After hearing Annie recount her life experiences, I was amazed to discover, even at this milestone age, that she is not on any medications. I was fascinated to learn to what she credits her longevity. “First, a strong faith background,” she said (something she has found in common with other people in her age group). “Another factor in my endurance is that I have constantly been surrounded by youth.” After raising her own two children, she adopted four others and often took care of relatives’ children. Her daughter, Gloria, remembered, “We had an open-door policy.” She said with a smile, “Our door was always open.” Whether it was children or adults who were having a hard time, they always tried to help other people. Annie has also maintained strong ties with her growing family as a matriarch and great-great grandmother, noting the importance of heritage. Annie said, “I enjoy life. Taking care of children, cooking, doing the washing – I like that.” Gloria noted that being needed was always important to her mother, saying, “She has been a solid foundation for our family and always wants to find a way to give.” Annie finished off her list of tributes to long life with one final piece of advice – “Just take it easy.” It goes without saying, it also helps to have good genes – Annie’s father lived to be 106 years old.

Annie, Gloria, and son-in-law, Ricardo attend church at Christian International Family Church of Santa Rosa Beach, where “Ms. Annie” received a reception on June 22, in honor of her birthday. She received commendations from Florida’s governor, Charlie Crist, the Walton County Commissioners, and the White House. The card from President George W. and First Lady Laura Bush read, “Happy 100th Birthday! We are pleased to add our congratulations to your celebration. You have led a remarkable life and your experiences have contributed to the strength of our Nation. We join your family and friends in wishing you all the best on your special day.”

With her ever-sunny outlook, Annie never thinks of herself as old, either. When asked her age, she replies, “100 years young!”

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