Life is a series of storms and rainbows, sunshine and rain. And for 101-year-old Zenobia Carey, born on August 25, 1906, life has been a journey of ups and downsbut through it all, the great-grandmother continues to keep on smiling.
In her 100-plus years of living, Carey has witnessed monumental changes and she has loved every minute of it.
Carey and her husband lived in Omaha, Nebraska in the 20s, where her husband, a postman, also ran a small store called the Neighborhood Grocery. Carey recalls that one of the customers who used to wander in was a little boy dressed in shabby clothes.
His name was Malcolm Little, recalls Carey, who said that Malcolm Little would emerge as a household name as Malcolm X. He lived a half block from our store. His mother didnt have much money to feed the family. I remember Malcolm wandering into the store and trading in discarded pop and milk bottles. He used to cash them in for food. At the time, I believe he was only five or six years old.
Carey said she was stunned when years later, she realized that the poor little boy who traded in bottles for pennies had grown up to be Malcolm X. I had no idea that he would become such a historical figure that he did, marveled Carey.
The promise of new beginnings spurred the Carey family to move from Omaha, Nebraska to Los Angeles in 1940 with their three small children. My husband was a brilliant man who always provided for the family, but he would have sick spellshe suffered from asthmaand I realized that I would be responsible for the children if he passed. We had a big fight about it, said the feisty mother, who graduated from Lincoln University in Missouri with a degree in chemistry in 1924. He just wouldnt accept the idea of his wife working because married women usually didnt work in the 40s, so we got a divorce.
The dissolution of the marriage didnt dampen Careys spirits. While she was raising her three children, Aleasta, Marilyn and Levi John Carey, she acquired three teaching credentialsand taught in Los Angeles schools for over 18 years, later becoming a school counselor.
Perhaps the seeds of Careys determination were planted as a child. When I was growing up–back in 1914, 1915there were few opportunities for blacks. The top jobs for black men were working for the railroad as dining car waiters.
Carey said that she saw the birth of many technological miracles as a child. I can remember the first car I ever saw, she said. A doctor came to the house and parked this big, beautiful car. I dont remember what make it was, but I recall it had leather straps attached from the hood to the body. I also remember the first airplane I ever sawI looked up and it was flying over the neighborhood where I lived. It seemed to disappear into space.
The great-grandmother, who attends Holman United Methodist Church, recalls that she would never forget hearing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at another church at 4th and Vernon Avenues in 1961. That church is now Bryant Temple. Martin had been leading the marches all over the country and the whites were putting out a lot of propaganda against him, but I wanted to see him because Martin was fighting for freedom for blacks. I recall that he was very low key that Sundayhis voice was very soft. I dont remember what he talked about that day–his speech or sermon was mostly religious. But after he was assassinated, I thought about how soft-spoken he had been that day. Now that I think back, I imagined that he was probably concerned because hed heard that people wanted to kill him.
Still spry and vibrant, Carey said that one of her favorite pastimes is reading. Right now, Im reading a book on Condeleeza Rice, said Carey. Shes quite a woman. I also participate in a bridge club, and I like to go out in the yard and tinker around with the plants. I have a yard full of flowersorchids, roses, and daises. But I dont get around by myself too much anymore, said Carey, who added that her daughter and her caretaker help her with chores. I have a touch of arthritis.
When asked if she had a philosophy of life, Carey, who has four grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren, said it was important to Serve something or someone. I picked up that philosophy just from living. I realized as I grew older that we have to serve, that our life is not fully our own. Its important to give serviceand I taught my children that, too.
As for living to the ripe old age of 101, Carey said she considers herself lucky. Age never did bother me, I just dont think about it. I just never had illnesses, Ive never been sick, Carey reflected. Ive had colds and tonsillitis, and I have a little arthritis, but thats been the extent of my illnesses.
With the presidential race looming, Carey said she is thrilled that a black man, Illinois Senator Barak Obama, is a front-runner for the Democratic bid. Im so happy to see a black person reach that stageand Obama has so much intelligence I think hed make a great president. If Obama wins, Ill be the happiest person in the world.