Guest Column (4/22/10)

Lessons from Sally

April 22, 2010

By Leah Soule

Sally. Ninety-eight years young and still growing. An open history book with thousands of living pages, and a mouth too. Sally was born on the 13th of January in 1912. I was born in 1995; I am merely 15, and she has lived through about everything I have ever studied in school — though her pages hold much more than I could ever get from a normal history book. Her pages are her mind; it may be rusty, but it holds the same amount of determination and purpose as ever before.

Sally and I met this past December when I played holiday songs on the piano at the Converse Home in Burlington. After the songs were over, I saw Sally sitting in the back row, looking unusually happy for someone who was sitting alone. I quickly learned she wasn’t just happy, that was her overall personality. That was just the way she lived: with a smile on her face.

I went over to her and introduced myself. Within a period of about five minutes, Sally managed to fill my brain with pages and pages of her own history book. Leaving shortly after our introductions, I found myself becoming intrigued by this 98-year-old woman who simply sat there in front of me, not even knowing how much impact she had made. There was living history sitting right there before me, and I had to go home to do my own history homework. Sally could have easily given me a day’s worth of school with an answer to any one of my questions, which would only stimulate more questions. Isn’t that what learning is all about, anyway?

We can learn so much from one single voice. I suppose it’s whether we are able to take notice of that one voice that makes all the difference; whether we are all able to accept that voice into our lives. I decided I wanted to hear this voice again. I went back to the Converse Home and met with Sally a second time. Sally greeted me with her lovely smile and content persona that I expected.

I had everything planned out. I proudly created a list of purposeful questions to ask about her 98 years. I had my recorder with me and I was ready to play out the schedule I had prepared. I was like an eager journalist yearning for a good story. Fortunately, as soon as I said hello, Sally immediately jumped into conversation. There was no time to take out the recorder and the list of questions. I say “fortunately” because I know I wouldn’t want to talk to a plastic box if I were on the other end.

I simply sat there and listened as Sally willingly told me everything about her life. I never became bored, that’s for sure. She spoke of everything from the first time she was allowed to vote to the first time she fell in love. Sally explained that when she was only 14 she began to work at an office by day and went to school by night. Sally was even able to complete two years of college.

I felt so honored to be in her presence — the presence of history. That sounds a little dramatic, but Sally really never gave up and she still doesn’t now. She told me she always strived to become better. It was inborn; she never needed an extra push like most people do. She simply wanted to succeed. That is the straightforward answer that got her through life. She pushed herself. She did what most humans wouldn’t: took on the challenge of existence. Now, what would the world look like if we all had a mind like Sally?

Sally. Ninety-eight years young and still growing. Where would we be without our elders? They have the potential to teach us the world. All we have to do is listen. Sally taught me so much within the hour I was with her. As soon as I met Sally, I could tell that she wasn’t afraid. She wasn’t afraid of challenges, of growing old, of dying. She was as happy as could be, with a smile glued to her face. Sally was so grateful for her life; she kept on telling me just how lucky she felt with her 98 years. When we shared our goodbyes, Sally enlightened me with a simple phrase that, I may add, has stuck to the bindings of my soul and I believe will stay there forever.

“You have so much ahead of you Leah, you really do. You just need to make the best of it.”

Thank you, Sally.


Leah Soule lives in St. George and is a student at Williston Central School.