Clara Hughes age 101 soon to be 102, , is the grandmarshal of the Oliver Springs Christmas parade this year. She loves to dance and was an avid jitter bugger in her day. She still attends bible study and choir practice every week and helps others in need. Photo by Vivian Shipe

By Vivian Shipe
Part 1 of a 2 Part Series

KNOXVILLE, TN —What must it be like to live through not one, but two pandemics,  34 wars around the world, segregation, winning the right to vote and the turmoil of it all?

Mary Goins age 101, received a handmade prayer shawl, a basket of goodies, enough staples to last through out the winter , and a coconut cream pie, her favorite homemade pie as part of her gift basket. After making sure it was a REAL meringue pie properly browned in the oven and had none of that instant whip cream in it, she allowed it to be placed in the refrigerator. Photo by Vivian Shipe

How does it feel to know what life was like before computers, cell phones, and all the other conveniences we all take for granted?

For a full week, volunteers from several organizations sat at the feet of elders in Knoxville and listened to the stories of the lived experiences of men and women who have walked through many of the lessons in the history books of America.

Their stories were gathered during a time of gifting from the Knoxville community to the shoulders on which we stand. For months, items were gathered to be given to the elders during the week leading up to Christmas.

Heavy bags overflowing with staple items, candies, shawls, lap blankets, and favorite items from their era were delivered to the homes, vet centers, nursing homes and assisted living facilities of elders aged 89 to 103. 

Willie Mae Kyle aged 94 , a PROUD supporter of HER President, Barack Obama. received the history of his presidency as part of her gift basket. She never thought she would see a Black president in her lifetime and to see it happen and also to be able to vote him in is one of her life’s greatest moments. Photo by Vivian Shipe

Children from area churches crafted handmade cards to be placed in every bag. One child’s little handmade message simply  read, “Being 100 is a super power!”

For a full week,  31 elders, the majority of whom were over 100- years-old, were visited and presented their senior gift baskets. If there was something special they wanted, it was included in the baskets and there were no two alike. 

Those who delivered them did not just drop off the baskets and run, they pulled up a chair and listened.

The stories from the elders were captured via video and by scribes who listened, fascinated by the words flowing into their hearts and ears. 

Meet the elders, from Knoxville and five surrounding counties, this week and next as they share tidbits of a life well lived. 

As one elder said, “Like the old Williams brothers song says, we we’re STILL here.”