Two Women 100 Years Old and Their Friendship

A true best friend will see you through pains and triumphs, and will always be there, even as romantic relationships may come and go. And at the end of your life, what could be more comforting than to have your best friend there to remind you of cherished memories and laugh with you at the insanity of the world?

So to honor all BFFs meet these two special women who’ve literally been best friends for almost an entire century. They are Irene Cook and Allice Jensen. These ladies were born in 1913 and have been BFFs since they were 5 years old. Seriously, a best friend is something special no matter how long you are together, but a friend who sticks by you throughout your whole life is truly an extraordinary gift.

These friends have not only seen each other through good and bad times, but they’ve also seen the world dramatically change around them. I mean, they saw the very first cars, and the inception of the Space Program, and the invention of TV, computers, and cell phones. Can you even imagine what you would think of today’s culture if you were born near the turn of the last century?

Steve Harvey recently did an interview with them for his show and asked them questions about today’s pop culture. Their answers are both hilarious and adorable.

Outrageous!

This story is simply too outrageous. The pastor of a church in Houston refused to allow the family of a longtime member of his church to hold her funeral there, saying she hadn’t tithed. Never mind that the reason she couldn’t tithe was that she was too sick to attend.

Olivia Blair was a member of Fourth Missionary Baptist Church for over half a century until her death last week at the age of 93. Her daughter, Barbara Day, says that her mother’s last wish was to be buried at her home church. But when Day asked Fourth Missionary’s pastor, Walter F. Houston, to open the church for her mother’s funeral, Pastor Houston turned down the request because Blair hadn’t tithed recently, and hadn’t attended the church recently. According to Day, her mother was too sick to go to church for the last two years of her life, and been unable to support it financially. Much of that time was spent in hospitals and nursing homes. She spent her last few months in a coma. But according to Day, none of that mattered to a church that treated her family with less dignity than a department store would. “All they care about is getting money, money, money, money, money!” a tearful Day said.

Day was forced to find another church willing to bury her mother. After the funeral, she reached out to Tyrone Jacques of the Church Folk Revolution, a site dedicated to turning the hot lights on abusive preachers. Day said that due to escalating medical costs, Blair was forced to get by on $60 a month. She also said that the church ignored her mother when it was apparent she was no longer able to support the church financially. To her amazement, Day says that Pastor Houston told her that if a member is unable to support the church financially, it is the family’s responsibility to keep up that member’s tithe. Day also said that no one from Fourth Missionary checked on her mother or reached out to her during her illness.

Jacques drove from his home in New Orleans to Houston in hopes of getting Pastor Houston to relent. Pastor Houston replied that Blair was no longer an active member because she was anywhere from eight to ten years behind in her tithes. He refused to allow the funeral to take place at the church–even when  Jacques offered to foot the bill and hold it on a day when the church was officially closed. Then, to pile obscenity on top of insult and injury, Pastor Houston suggested that Day and her family really didn’t care about Blair because they never bothered to chip in to keep her membership active.

The really disgusting thing about this affair is that even if Pastor Houston is telling the truth and Blair was a decade in arrears on her tithes, that would have meant she was 83 years old when she last paid her tithe. Jacques asks the obvious question–what kind of pastor would subject an 83-year-old woman on a fixed income to such ugly, nakedly aggressive tactics? Jacques has gotten in touch with at least three other families who have been squeezed by this callous policy. He’s also launched “The Olivia Blair Project” to focus on the havoc overly aggressive tithing policies wreak on people, especially those living on fixed incomes.

I look at this, and I find myself seeing disturbing parallels with the tactics of big-time televangelists. A prime example of this came in 2009, when The New York Times dropped in on one of Kenneth Copeland’s “believers’ conventions.” Copeland told his flock that they should keep writing checks even in the midst of the economic quagmire. Another speaker, Jerry Savelle, even said they should keep giving when they’re on the verge of falling off the financial cliff. From where I’m sitting, the only difference I can see between this and what Day and her family had to endure is that Pastor Houston is doing it on a smaller scale.

The Massacre In Calumet, Michigan in 1913

A little-known piece of history that Woody Guthrie documented in his haunting song, “1913 Massacre.”

In July 1913, over 7,000 miners struck the C&H Copper Mining Company in Calumet, Michigan. It was largely the usual issues of people who worked for a big company during a time when capitalists ran roughshod over their workers — a time when monopolies were a way of life. Strikers’ demands included pay raises, an end to child labor, and safer conditions including an end to one-man drill operations, as well as support beams in the mines (which mine owners didn’t want because support beams were costly but miners killed in cave-ins “do not cost us anything.”)

Six months without work left many miner families with little food for the holidays and no money for presents, so the Ladies’ Auxiliary of the Western Federation of Miners held a Christmas party for the kids. 500 children and 200 adults showed up that day, Christmas Eve 1913. It was held on the second floor of Calumet’s Italian Hall; the only way in and out was a very steep stairway.

crop-e56cee281d2e1112ed079866179ff88f

As darkness fell and people began to go home to their family celebrations, some of the children gathered around the stage as presents were passed out — for many, it would be the only gift they’d receive this year. In the middle of this festive celebration, someone — possibly more than one person — opened the door at the bottom of the staircase and yelled, “FIRE!”

Chaos ensued. As everybody headed down the stairs to the exit, the door was blocked from the outside, and children and adults were trampled, then suffocated, by the throng of bodies trying to escape the “fire” — which didn’t actually exist.

In all, 73 people, including 59 children, died, most of them Finnish immigrants. The youngest was Rafael Lesar, 2.5 years old. The oldest was Kate Pitteri, 66 years old.

Some of the victims

Some of the victims

The culprits who yelled into the hall that day to start the tragedy were never identified, but it’s widely suspected that it was allies of mine management or the owners who did so to disrupt the miners’ party. Nobody was ever prosecuted or even arrested for causing the massacre. It is always thus: Those with money and power control the narrative, silence the truth, and thwart justice.

Partly because a lot of miners left Calumet behind after this tragedy, the strike didn’t accomplish what the miners wanted. However, it’s considered a turning point for union strength in Michigan’s Copper Country.

In 1941, Woody Guthrie got an idea for a song about the tragedy, which he called “1913 Massacre.” Ella Reeve “Mother” Bloor’s eyewitness account in her 1940 book, “We Are Many,” inspired him. Mother Bloor was a labor organizer who was active in the Western Federation of Miners, the union that represented the people who were on strike in Calumet.

“1913 Massacre”
Words and music by Woody Guthrie
Take a trip with me in 1913, 
To Calumet, Michigan, in the copper country. 
I will take you to a place called Italian Hall, 
Where the miners are having their big Christmas ball.
I will take you in a door and up a high stairs, 
Singing and dancing is heard everywhere, 
I will let you shake hands with the people you see, 
And watch the kids dance around the big Christmas tree.
You ask about work and you ask about pay, 
They’ll tell you they make less than a dollar a day, 
Working the copper claims, risking their lives, 
So it’s fun to spend Christmas with children and wives.
There’s talking and laughing and songs in the air, 
And the spirit of Christmas is there everywhere, 
Before you know it you’re friends with us all, 
And you’re dancing around and around in the hall.
Well a little girl sits down by the Christmas tree lights, 
To play the piano so you gotta keep quiet, 
To hear all this fun you would not realize, 
That the copper boss’ thug men are milling outside.
The copper boss’ thugs stuck their heads in the door, 
One of them yelled and he screamed, “there’s a fire,” 
A lady she hollered, “there’s no such a thing. 
Keep on with your party, there’s no such thing.”
A few people rushed and it was only a few, 
”It’s just the thugs and the scabs fooling you,” 
A man grabbed his daughter and carried her down, 
But the thugs held the door and he could not get out.
And then others followed, a hundred or more, 
But most everybody remained on the floor, 
The gun thugs they laughed at their murderous joke, 
While the children were smothered on the stairs by the door.
Such a terrible sight I never did see, 
We carried our children back up to their tree, 
The scabs outside still laughed at their spree, 
And the children that died there were seventy-three.
The piano played a slow funeral tune, 
And the town was lit up by a cold Christmas moon, 
The parents they cried and the miners they moaned, 
”See what your greed for money has done.”