Story & Photo by Emily Siddiqui
The past century has been one of unprecedented technological and sociological change for the world. What has it been like to live through it? “Reflections” is a new series featuring the stories and thoughts of those who have experienced much in their lifetimes.
We asked community member Earline Carpenter, who was born in 1919, to share some of her perspectives on culture and society in America, particularly Oklahoma, as well as a handful of life tips.
The “Good Times”
Carpenter has lived in Oklahoma all of her 98-plus years, serving as an active member of her community and country for decades. Currently, she associates with the Jones Oklahoma Historical Society. She remembers traveling the country, fighting for the Equal Rights Amendment, and some of her favorite times were those spent on the road with friends.
You just didn’t have any worries of any kind, you know.
Growing Up: Then Vs. Now
I think it’s a terrible time for kids to grow up. But when I was a kid, they were hungry; some of my schoolmates I knew were hungry. I have a picture of when I was in the second grade, and in it there are these little kids with dirty old overalls and no shoes. That was a pretty hard time too. Mostly farmers lived around here, but still a lot of them were hungry.
And of course, there was so much hatred for Negroes. It was terrible how they treated them. We had a Negro woman, Maggie, to do our laundry and clean the chicken house and make the garden. She’d laugh at my jokes. I’d work with her, out cleaning the chicken houses … I guess I’d talk to her all the time. I’d come home from school for lunch, and we had a table that came down from the wall, and we’d eat there for lunch, and the Negro woman was supposed to eat by herself. As a kid I thought, “What’s the matter, why can’t she eat [with us]?” One day, Maggie spoke up to my mother and stepfather and said, “I just wantin’ to tell you, that my skin may be black, but my innards is just like yours, and my chillens get hungry, and I do, too.” I don’t know how old I was, but I remembered that. I was very young, but I remembered that, because I really loved her. She’d walk home, even though our darned cars could’ve taken her home, but they didn’t. That was the bad part of growing up back then. And that’s what stuck with me as I got older; I knew I wasn’t gonna do anything like that.
The problem for kids now is gangs. These days, kids have nothing to do. I had a great-grandson that was killed in Cushing, just two years ago, by a gang. And our social agencies just don’t have enough people. We need those hungry kids fed. That’s what’s so awful, to think that we talk about helping overseas, when we should be taking care of the kids here … of course I feel sorry for those overseas, too.
What seems to stay the same in society throughout the decades?
I can’t understand why … but racism. It seems like we still can’t keep from having segregation. Even some schools are getting back to where they’re all black or all white again. There is still economic [disparity].
Women’s Rights: What has changed?
Women are still treated as second-class citizens. That’s why I quit the Catholic Church ... We finally got up on the altar, and we could read the epistle, but that’s all we could do. We couldn’t dispense the eucharist or anything. Nuns have to take orders from the pope … and I think the nuns are the ones who convert more people than anyone else.
Thoughts on Religion
Prayer, of course, is the biggest thing to me. And faith—that’s why you don’t have to have faith in man. I think it’s wonderful, really. The point of the Bible and Christ, to me, was love. That’s what I think … that there’s somebody that’s higher. I believe there is a God. I couldn’t do without the grace that he gives me.
You never think about what all he’s given you. You sometimes forget God, and you’re onto something that you’ve made a god out of, if you’re not careful. You forget what all you ask for, and I try not to do that. I try to be grateful for what I get.
What is the most amazing thing you’ve seen happen in your life?
Carpenter explained the advancement of modern technology has gone beyond anything she had imagined, and that it has changed education for the better.
That amazes me. It seems like there’s something for everybody that wants to know something. And if you don’t know it, you might learn it faster. That’s another thing, students learn so much faster, and I think they ought to be promoted and out of [school] if they’re 15 or 14 or whatever, you know. I think it’s great for our youth … and it doesn’t depend on a darned old textbook! I don’t know about textbooks … but thank God I had ‘em! And I didn’t have too many … We had world books. We just took what they had in it, and that was it.
Despite all the benefits of modern technology, what was better about life before smartphones, computers, etc.?
We had more community, I think. You knew your neighbor. When you were in trouble, everybody helped and was concerned. There was more love … and of course, I think times got a lot better, and that helped everything.
Carpenter said she doesn’t know how to use a computer, but plans on getting one.
I’d like to write to my legislators, or text them.
I ought to take my typewriter down to the museum and let people see it … They may not know what it is, she said jokingly.
Health and Wellness
I exercise when I get up in the morning. I’ve been a member of the YMCA since ‘84. I don’t know yet how I’ve come to be so fortunate, but I do know I have to have exercise … water and exercise. I don’t take any medicine. I love to have fun and I like to be around people. [Being] social has kept me going, you know. And I love to do things like volunteer work. I think I’ve sat on, I don’t know how many boards … And I had my nose in everything, as they say, “nosy.” I got that reputation for a while. She laughed.
Is there something you haven’t done but want to do?
That’s what I say, “Been there, done that.” I never have gone abroad, except I’ve been in Mexico and I’ve been in Canada.
Carpenter remembers traveling to Canada as a child during prohibition, riding in her stepbrother’s car as he and his friends smuggled alcohol back across the border.
That was really exciting ... the guys all wanted to celebrate and drink, and boy they did. They had this big trunk in the back seat ... and under it they hid the liquor. My stepbrother said, “Don’t you say a darn word!” … I’ll never forget that.
What do you think people should be spending more of their time on in life?
I think they should care about one another more. It just seems like love is the greatest thing you can do. And laughter, I think, helps so much. And I love music … but not this new crap! She laughed and imitated vocals of some of today’s popular music.
I just think [it’s] terrible, how kids strain their vocal chords.
Carpenter said one of the most important things to discuss is friendship.
I think friends give you security and peace. You can talk to ‘em and let go, and they tolerate you … so far they have [for me].
For exclusive content in the “Reflections” series, visit the6420.com.