Story and Photo by Stefanie Jackson
Eastern Shore native Ellen Jordan, who celebrated her 100th birthday last month, recently revealed that the secret to longevity is as simple as the golden rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Those are the words Jordan has lived by for 100 years that have mostly been spent on the Eastern Shore where her life began in 1918.
She was born in the Eastville area, in Old Town Neck, and grew up in Eastville Station. Jordan was the oldest of Edna Jacobs’ and Lloyd Widgeon’s five children. The family lived on Edward Holland’s farm, where they earned their livelihood. Jordan’s father was an overseer.
As the oldest child, Jordan was “the boss” of her siblings, but they all got along well and played together on the farm.
Her favorite foods were vegetables – there were plenty of those on the farm. She especially savors the memory of Hayman sweet potatoes and how “juicy-like” they were and fell right out of the skin after they were cooked.
Jordan attended one-room schools, one of which was in Savage Neck, then studied in a three-room school in Eastville through seventh grade.
She may have learned the golden rule at her church, Union Baptist Church in Eastville. Jordan particularly recalls the revival meetings held there every year. She specifically remembers them beginning every September on the third Sunday.
There wasn’t an altar as churchgoers would recognize today. Instead, the first row of pews was designated the “moaner’s bench” where, “if anyone got religion,” Jordan said, they would sit and the elder church members would sing and pray over them.
She was baptized at age 12 or 13 in a creek at the residence of the Coston family, who also belonged to Union Baptist Church.
She graduated from high school in 1939 and went to work cooking and cleaning for a lawyer, Tom Nottingham, and his wife, Clara. Jordan was independent, living in her own home and walking to work every day.
In 1943, she took a job as a waitress in the dining hall at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, an all-girls school. Her friend was a maid there and they stayed in employee quarters on campus.
Jordan was paid $22.50 every two weeks. “Thank the Lord I didn’t have to send Mom and Dad anything,” she remarked. Her friend had to send one check to her parents and kept the other for herself.
Jordan’s day off was Thursday, and she would take the train to Philadelphia and catch up on all the latest movies at the Earle Theater.
Her favorite stars were singers Lena Horne and Billy Eckstine.
She married Fred Jordan, who she had met in high school, on Christmas Eve in 1947. After the simple ceremony at the Bethel AME church parsonage, the family returned home and ate cake and ice cream.
The couple had two children, one of whom survived.
While in Pennsylvania, Fred Jordan worked in wool production. He later was a bus driver for Northampton County High School.
Ellen Jordan worked again for the Nottinghams after she and her husband moved back to the Shore. She retired after experiencing a mini stroke in the mid-1980s.
Her husband died in 1991, followed by her father a year later.
Jordan recalled what it was like living on the Shore during segregation. There were two drugstores in Eastville that sold ice cream and would serve blacks, but they had to eat outside.
But Jordan feels the Eastern Shore was, overall, a good place to live. “The white people treated us all right,” she said. “We never had nothing like that Ku Klux Klan,” she said.
There were a few people who called her a racial slur, but on the whole, living through segregation and the civil rights movement “wasn’t too bad” on the Shore, Jordan said.
Ellen Jordan has lived what some may consider an unremarkable life. She didn’t chase after the American Dream in the grandest sense of the notion – she didn’t run off to New York City to try to become famous like Lena Horne, she didn’t pursue a college career to become a lawyer like her former employer, and she didn’t travel the world in the pursuit of expanding her horizons.
But she seems to have lived a good life just the same, finding contentment by following the golden rule and putting others before herself.
That is what makes Jordan’s life remarkable. She accepts the life she was given and has never tried to change it.
During her conversation with the Eastern Shore Post, she continually expressed thanks for everything she had in life and never complained about anything she didn’t have.
She never uttered a bitter word about any of the hardships she’s faced – having to leave her childhood home for work, losing a husband and child to illness, dealing with health issues of her own, or even encountering racism.
She doesn’t deny life isn’t always easy – “I don’t want to be another 100, ‘cause you’re going through too much,” she said.
But Jordan also said, “I never had a whole lot of problems … I could live it over again – if I had to!” she added.
She maintains her independence, even in her old age. Her neighbors check on her from time to time to make sure she’s OK, but she is content being by herself and enjoying life’s simple pleasures.
She likes naps, either inside or out on her big, closed-in porch.
“I just love to eat anything,” she said. “Sometime I cook, sometime I don’t.”
The 100-year-old still has a driver’s license and drives short distances. She visits the Hare Valley Senior Center twice a week.
“I cook when I want and come and go when I want,” Jordan said.
Story and Photo by Stefanie Jackson