Emma Virginia Douglas: One Woman’s Century of Wisdom and Wonder

By Linda Cicoira — Emma Virginia Douglas, of Withams, knows the secret to a beautiful complexion and a long life and shared that sought-after information with the Eastern Shore Post this week. She is wise, fun, spunky, talented, has a wide smile and gave up trying to find true love decades ago to focus on her family, friends and God. 

She also celebrated her 100th birthday Thursday.

Born in Hopewell, Md., in Somerset County, near Crisfield, on Friday, Sept. 14, 1917, Douglas went to a one-room schoolhouse back in the day that was heated with a pot-belly stove. 

“I didn’t have any other choice,” she said reminiscing. “I had to go whether I wanted to or not. It was nearly two miles” to John Wesley Elementary School. “We had to walk and skate on ice” she said of herself and her six siblings. 

But Douglas didn’t always make it that far and she didn’t offer an explanation to the school about her absence. “This man had geese and you know geese will run you,” she said. “That goose came out there. I hid in the woods. I was scared of the goose. I waited. That goose wouldn’t move. I had to wait and wait.” Finally, Douglas said, “I went back home.”

Another time she was in the school yard, walking backwards “as children will do,” and fell in an uncovered well. “I hit this well and down I went,” she remembered. “As I was going down, I caught each side of it.” Someone saw or heard her and “went in and told the teacher and she just lifted me right out.” The threat of the approximately 90-year-old memory was vivid in her mind.

Douglas looks between 65 and 70 years old. With hardly a wrinkle, she said, she washes her face with water and sometimes remembers to put Vaseline on it before she goes to sleep. She isn’t vain and doesn’t fuss about it. “I don’t have a beauty routine,” she said, not realizing that she is among the few who don’t need at least a little makeup. Her long life is partly due to good genes but she has the right attitude too.

“I just take one day at a time,” she said. “I don’t think about living. I don’t thinkabout dying. I just go day by day. It’s not up to me. I don’t worry about things. I can’t change. I try not to let things get inside of me. Worry will kill you, if you allow it,” Douglas added. “If people do you wrong, you do the right thing anyway. Don’t try to get revenge. Let it pass. I just go day to day looking at the bright side of things.”

Her parents were Roger Croswell and Mary Ethel Roach Croswell. Her father was pastor of the 150-year-old Mt. Zion Independent Methodist Church in Withams when it was still part of the United Methodist group. She played the piano there for 50 years and on occasion practices on the one in her home.

Her father didn’t have a wrinkle either. “My great-grandmother was 90-some and didn’t have any gray hair in her head … and she smoked her pipe until she died.” Douglas smoked for a while. “I couldn’t make a habit of anything.” Any other -vices? “I can’t think of any,” she answered.

Douglas remembers the Great Depression of the 1930s. “We were all just growing up,” she said. “I heard them talking about it. Sometimes the food got low but we always had a meal. They (her parents) always found a way to provide for us … it was different altogether then. Living off the land” was the way. “Everybody looked out for the family by raising their own food, poultry. They prepared for each season. Everything was done manually (with) the horse and the plows. There wasn’t any tractors or things like that.”

After she graduated from high school, Douglas went to Philadelphia, where she had relatives, to be a live-in maid. She was serving dinner when the news of the bombing of Pearl Harbor was realized. “We had curfews in the city after that. Sirens going off at certain times. Nobody would be on the street after dark.”

She married and had three sons – Ronald, Andrew (Van) and Michael Dorn. A daughter, Valerie Evans, was born from her second marriage. She raised a granddaughter, Andrea Marshall, who lives next door. 

She moved to Virginia’s Eastern Shore in the 1970s. Her best friend of half a century is sister-in-law, Josephine Douglas, who lives up the street. 

“She’s a wonderful, wonderful smart lady and she has a heart of gold,” Josephine Douglas said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “She’s interested in everybody. Everybody in our community, everybody in our church has been helped by her. Most of all, she loves God first and she’s a people lover. She’s a very, very smart lady and I’m not just saying that because she is my best friend. She has wisdom. She’s just a kind woman.”

The two, and a third sister-in-law, the late Beatrice Douglas, were lovingly called, “The Over-the-Hill Gang,” by her son, Van. The trio were inseparable. “Not too many states we didn’t visit,” said Josephine Douglas. “Went to Florida, Canada, Tennessee. We’ve been all over the place.” Now, the two, “We just have good times talking to each other on the phone.”

Douglas also loves vegetables, isn’t crazy about sweets and drinks plenty of water. She was 95 before her son, Van Douglas, who lives in Parksley, learned how old she was. “A woman who will tell her age, will tell anything,” she said.

“My last days are my best days.” Douglas added. “Well, I’ve lived, I’ve learned. I don’t have anything to look forward to. Just enjoy life as it is and appreciate each day as its given to me. I’ve tried to help people all my life.”

Her lowest point “was when I lost my son, Michael,” she said. The Marine was 19 when he died in action in 1969 in Vietnam. “He volunteered … he wanted to be in the thick of things. He did what he wanted to do.” When he enlisted, she knew all too well what could happen. “At one time, my parents had three sons in the service. My oldest brother was MIA in World War II.” Milton Croswell was drafted around the time of Pearl Harbor. He was never found, she said.

Douglas has been voting since she was 18. The first president she marked the ballot for was Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Her favorite was John F. Kennedy. “I was working at Buddy Boys Chicken Plant in Snowhill, Md., when I learned they killed our boy, the president,” she said. She put her hand over her mouth and said she wouldn’t discuss current politics. 

She also remembers the events of Sept. 11, 2001. “That was a sad time. I think I was home when that happened. That was a terrible deal. Why do people go around killing people for nothing?” she rhetorically asked. “What do they get out of killing people? I can’t see it … this younger generation, they watch too much TV and they try to imitate what someone else is doing.”

Douglas talked about the drug problems of today. “We didn’t hear about that then. We heard about the moonshine whiskey but we didn’t hear anything about drugs. Moonshine whiskey and cigarettes but not drugs … People doing it to make money. It’s ruining a whole generation. They don’t care what they do for money and they don’t care who they hurt.”

She has many words of wisdom for others. “People need to start loving one another. Nobody loves one another anymore. In church, if you weren’t there on a Sunday they used to go check where you are … The love is gone and the trust is gone.” 

Douglas blamed the lack of discipline at home for problems with today’s youth but acknowledged that parents are limited. “Spare the rod, spoil the child. That’s what I was taught.” But she said now parents can get in trouble for beating their children. “The parents were in control when I was growing up. They didn’t ask the children, they told the children. We obeyed our parents. We dared not talk back to them. Now it’s a turn around. I was a father and a mother both to my boys and they still respect me,” she said.

Douglas also debated chicken houses and solar panels, the latter of which is visible from her kitchen door. Both “are just ruining the land. How are they going to farm? How are they going to raise the products to feed the chickens? Solar panels are worse than chicken houses. There is odor with chicken house. Solar panels … they can’t farm it. They plant trees trying to hide. They’re not doing very well.” She said they let the weeds get tree-high and then cut it. “Land is just lying there. When we were growing up it was fertilizer that they put on their crops. Now pesticides have got to go into your system. The food does not taste as good. They make the chickens grow fast.”

She rarely eats meat. Douglas has been pretty healthy. “I’ve been in the hospital in my life about three times. I’ve never had what you call serious sickness.” She started driving when she was around 30 and got a used Oldsmobile and still drives to church every week. Her favorite show is Family Feud. She also likes talk shows, religious programs and Steve Harvey, a comedian, television host, producer, radio personality, actor, and author.

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