Photo: Video screenshot (Monica Akhtar/The Washington Post)
‘I’ve known her all my life’ is a phrase Leona Barnes, Gladys Butler, Ruth Hammett and Bernice Underwood can say in full truth. The four women have been friends since their childhood days growing up in Southwest Washington (the same place Marvin Gaye was born). From playing jump rope together, living together, starting and raising families together, to seeing their neighborhood and world change over nearly a century, these 99-year-old lifelong friends never imagined they’d come this far together.
“We all are grateful, and we thank the Lord for all of us to see 99. If we don’t make 100, it’s up to Him — but we made the 99,” Barnes said in a Washington Post feature. The ladies are looking forward to each turning 100 this year, God willing.
One can only imagine the infinite wisdom and juicy stories they have, and obviously these ladies are doing more than a few things right to be here to tell it all.
Here are a few takeaways from their story that may explain their secret to longevity and lasting friendship.
1. Stay active.
Three of the four live on their own and still do their own housekeeping. Hammett volunteered at church and at a Veterans Affairs hospital until a few years ago and now lives with family. Underwood gets on her stationary bike every day and loves to dance. Without hesitation, she bent forward, straight-legged, and touched the floor. “I’m old,” she quipped, “but I’m not cold.”
“They say, ‘You okay by yourself?’ and I say ‘I feel good by myself,’ ” she said. “I sing to myself and I talk to myself. As long as I don’t answer myself!”
2. Check up on the people you love every day, but especially in times of need.
The years have not always been easy. All four women lost their husbands; some also lost children, including Barnes, whose son George, her only child, died last year of cancer in his early 80s.
But they have each other. Underwood calls Barnes every afternoon at 4 o’clock, to check in. “She gets tired of me calling,” Underwood said. Barnes held her tongue, and Underwood grinned. “She didn’t say no, either.”
3. Stay hopeful the times can and will change.
By age 92, the women thought they had seen it all. But then something happened that they would never have predicted.
“That a black man became president of the United States,” Barnes said softly. It was, she said, the best thing that ever happened to her. “I never thought in my wildest dreams that that would ever happen. That’s how far down we were.”
Butler shook her head. “I just wish that some of my parents and my sisters and my relatives could have been here to witness it.”
“The Lord carry me home, I carry that with me,” said Underwood.
At the core of their individual lives and collective friendship is a common thread of faith and love of the Lord. The only thing better than a having a praying friend is having three.