Saturday, June 4, 2011

Longevity and clean living have been friends to 101-year old Martha Coleman

Martha Coleman, 101 years old
The game show Jeopardy is a favorite past time for Mrs. Martha J. Coleman. She watched the show intently while I interviewed her. Her two-pronged concentration was amazing, given the fact that she is 101-years old. Mrs. Coleman not only paid close attention  to the game show, she didn't miss a beat in her response to my questions! Her concentration was better than that of some younger individuals that I've interviewed.

Mrs. Coleman is the absolute living proof that age does not have to be an enemy. Soft spoken and quick to smile, she  stays active by attending the same  church  she has frequented for 60 years. She goes to Sunday School and stays through 11 a.m. service. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, Mrs. Coleman says she goes to a nearby senior citizens center to quilt and socialize.
Learning to cook at age seven, Mrs. Coleman earned a living at that profession for over 30 years. She said she crochets, is an avid embroider and sews in addition to quilting. “I can do most anything,” Mrs. Coleman  said with pride.

She was born in Waters Park, 11 miles from Travis County City Limits,  June 5,1905, with the help of a  midwife. Mrs. Coleman was one of 13 children born to Archie and Mariah Adam. Some of the children were born with the help of a doctor. Her parents were sharecroppers, who planted cotton and picked it to earn a living.

A widow, Mrs. Coleman is the only survivor of the 13 Adam children. Her mother died at age 95; her father at 85. She said her father was not a healthy man, but he had to “work real hard because he had a houseful of children.” When all of them left home, the majority moved to various states to live. Two sisters stayed in Austin.

Keeping on eye on Jeopardy while talking to me
Mrs. Coleman married Andrew Coleman when she was 20. They were together for 55 years. They had  no children, but she raised two of his sons from a previous marriage. She also helped her sisters with their children.

“I’ve always been around children; I’ve always taken care of children,” Mrs. Coleman said. She says staying busy keeps her young in spirit.
A petite woman who appears to be in good physical health, Mrs. Coleman said that was not always the case. At an early age she suffered through, and survived two deadly diseases: malaria and typhoid fever, the latter caused by an outside water system that attracted mosquitoes, she said.

“People back then drank water out of system. We didn’t have no well. We had a system on the side of the house, and when it rained the water run in the system. I loved to drink rain water. My parents tried to keep me from drinking it. One day when they wasn’t home I slipped and drank some. Mosquitoes had got in it. I got typhoid fever after that. I was a sickly child ever since.” She remembers being 10 or 11 years old at the time.
Mrs. Coleman said she was cured without the doctor ever seeing her in person. She went to bed one night and woke up later with a high fever. The right side of her body was paralyzed; her right arm was frozen in place, lying limp on her chest, she recalled.

Mrs.  Coleman said her leg was stiff and straight. She could not move. She stayed in that condition for a week. Her parents "doctored" on her with home remedies, but none of them improved her condition. Mrs. Coleman said her parents did not realize how close she was to death.
Her father finally called Dr. E. W. D. Abner, telling him that he was bringing his daughter to his office. Dr. Abner was a prominent “colored” practitioner, Mrs. Coleman said. He was one among a few "colored" doctors to treat “colored” people in Austin Travis County. Dr. Abner told her father not to bring her to his office. Instead, he would make a home visit. Dr. Abner said he would charge her father a dollar a mile when came to their home in Waters Park. The mode of transportation back then was a horse and buggy.  Living 11 miles outside the city limits of Austin Travis County was considered “living in the country.” Mrs. Coleman says her father could not afford the dollar-a-mile trip. 

“Dr. Abner told my father to just come on in (by himself) and tell him about my condition. I feel like I know what’s wrong with her,” Dr. Abner told her father. He had treated other patients with symptoms identical to young Martha. Dr. Abner gave her father a prescription to fill, and instructed him to administer the medication every hour.  Dr. Abner instructed her father to call him the next morning, letting him know if Martha's fever had broken.
“So he did that. The next morning my fever was gone. Dr. Abner told my father to come back and get another prescription. That’s the way he doctored on me. He never did see me. He had two or three patients in the condition I was in. He lost one and one was paralyzed for life,” Mrs. Coleman said, realizing how lucky she was.
“I  had malaria when I was nine. After that I was sick all my younger years,” Mrs. Coleman recalls. Laughing, she said she got all of  "my sickness out the way while I was young."
When she started Summit Public School in Waters Park, Mrs. Coleman says she graduated seventh grade, the highest grade at the school. She enrolled at Anderson High School, but did not graduate because her father could not continue paying the room and board for her to stay in the city. So she went to live with a cousin.
“When I  turned 17 I felt I was grown. I realized I didn’t want to take away from the children at home. I quit school and went to work. I had two little brothers younger than me, and they were real smart. I wanted to give them a chance to go to school,” Mrs. Coleman said.   

Her brothers went on to graduate from Anderson High School. Mrs. Coleman found work cooking and keeping house for a physician and his family. A country girl at heart, Mrs. Coleman says she did not like living in Austin, calling it “a nice little town.”
Raised going to church, Mrs. Coleman said she liked the movies “a little bit”and going to the carnival. Dancing was not an activity that appealed to her. She enjoyed being “around church people” because that’s who she was most comfortable with. Besides that she loved living in the country where most Black folk lived.
“I found living in the country more enjoyable than the city. Seemed like it was nicer. We didn’t have to go through so much,” Coleman said.
As a child she and her family did not see the racism in Waters Park that they saw in Austin. Mrs. Coleman says she did not see it in her neighborhood. “I didn’t go around them in Austin.. Where we lived in the country, white folks were very nice to us.”
Mrs. Coleman said her secret to a long life is simple: “I just live a common life everybody else. I just treat others like I want them to treat me. I try to live right.”

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