“Her children arise up, and call her blessed...” –Proverbs 31:28
Inside her west suburban Berkeley home, “Mother” basks in the glow of her golden years and in the glory of the Lord, her smooth brown skin yet unblemished and her silken silver hair as radiant as her smile.
Her eyes, beneath the gold-rimmed spectacles, are clear and loving. Her countenance, accentuated by gold hoop earrings, bears a certain elegance and peace.
Perhaps it is a peace that emanates from more than a century of witnessing the faithfulness of God. Perhaps it is the peace of having endured hard times, from Jim Crow Mississippi to the Promised Land. The peace from having made the journey from the Deep South to Chicago in a car carrying 11 people, and ultimately raising 10 children to be good productive citizens.
Or maybe it is simply the peace — and also joy — that generations of her offspring have prospered and multiplied and now number more than she can count.
Whatever it is, this much is clear: Black don’t crack. And this dear mother who has lived for more than a century is proof that there is something mighty sweet about a grand mother who has lived by her faith.
Her name is Alice Rice-Thompson. Her loved ones simply call her “Mother.” The family’s matriarch, she turns 109 on March 17.
And this weekend, the family will mark that milestone — with a dinner and cake and all the trimmings — in honor of Mother who has cared for, loved, nurtured and whispered prayers for them all the days of their lives.
“Singing and praying” is her prescription for long life, she told me this week. But becoming a centenarian wasn’t something she dreamed of. “ … But whatever the Lord set to be — 109 — that’s what I am. And I’m proud of it,” she said with a gentle chuckle.
“I think it’s a wonderful thing,” said grandson Carl Hayes, 59. “I hope I can live that long and be as good as Mother. Everybody loves her.
“She’s meant everything to me.”
A native West Sider who migrated from Jackson, Mississippi, in 1953 after the death of her husband John Lee Thompson, Mother lived in West Garfield for decades then later in Oak Park. As a Chicagoan, she became a devoted Bulls fan — win or lose. Her son, M.C. Thompson, now deceased, was a standout basketball player at DePaul University.
Rice-Thompson was born in Flora, Mississippi, on March 17, 1911. Also among those born that year were Lucille Ball, Ronald Reagan, Mahalia Jackson, and Negro baseball legend Josh Gibson. William Howard Taft was president.
Born more than a decade before the invention of television, Rice-Thompson has lived through 19 U.S. presidents; World Wars I and II, the Korean War and Vietnam War; through Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement; and through the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, holding fast to her faith and a simple philosophy:
“Live and let live,” she told me.
Other than arthritis, she is in good health, happy, a “quiet soul,” her daughter Dorrethea Hayes-Graham, 76, said. “She’s got a good mind. We have conversations and we forget things in the past, and she’ll shoot ‘em out. She reminds us of all the names … ”
“We were raised to stick together,” added her eldest daughter Rosie Jenkins, 89. “Mother said, ‘If you don’t have enough to eat, just go on and hold your head up, nobody knows what’s in your stomach.”
For her 109th birthday celebration on Sunday, Mother has simple plans: “To sit down and eat and look at my children and my friends, and at God,” she said.
And to bask in the joy of family, life and the Good Lord.
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