It’s not too often that people get to celebrate their 100th birthday, let alone share it with a loving host of family and friends. But that the case Labor Day weekend, when Kellen Cook was lauded by a crowd of 320 well-wishers during a lavish outpouring at Martin’s Crosswinds in Greenbelt, Md.

“I enjoyed myself. I had a lot of fun,” Cook said this week in an interview with the AFRO. “People couldn’t believe I was 100 years old. A little girl came up to me and said, ‘You sure don’t look like it.’”

Cook, the perky and gracefully-spirited mother of 16 children (two are deceased), has lived in Washington since 1939 after migrating from South Carolina to be with her husband James, who’d come the year before to set up a home. At the time, the couple had six children, and while James worked three jobs, his wife stayed home.

“I couldn’t work after I got to D.C. because I had to take care of my children,” Cook explained. “But I worked on the farm back in South Carolina, because growing up, everybody worked – the girls and the boys – raising crops that our family lived off.”

Cook said that before her marriage to James, who died 15 years ago, the couple “courted” three years and often wrote each other love letters.

“I wrote him that violets were blue and that if he loved me, he’d write me too,” Cook said with a hearty laugh. “He wrote back that he loved me and we sneaked off and got married.”

Cook said people sometimes ask if she’d like to remarry. But, said Cook in a feisty tone, “I’m not getting married no more because I haven’t called nobody and nobody’s called me.”

The matriarch of a family of more than 60 grandchildren and about a dozen great-grandchildren, Cook said she knows how lucky she is to have the love of her family. “My children make me very happy,” she said, later watching admiringly as daughter Zellen Woodson showed off the adult portraits of each of her mother’s children. The framed portraits line a wall winding its way upstairs in the family’s stately Northwest D.C. home.

While Cook likes to attend worship services at Way of the Cross Church of Christ at 9th and D streets in Northeast, she said she doesn’t get there as often as she’d like. But during the week she likes to watch television. Game shows are her favorite, and according to Woodson, her mother is not to be disturbed when either Jeopardy or Wheel of Fortune is on.

“I love those shows,” Cook said.”But I don’t watch the soap operas because the people on them like to kiss too much.”

Cook’s mother Bertha Bynum died at age 102. However, when asked what has contributed to her longevity, Cook said in pointed tones, “I don’t get into anybody’s business and I don’t let them get into mine.”

Woodson, 68, said her mother says exactly what’s on her mind and often keeps the family in stitches. ?

“Sometimes I look at her and I say, ‘Mama, I don’t know what I’m going to do with you.’ And she’ll look right back at me and says, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do with you either.’”

Grandson, Raphael Cook, 44, believes his grandmother’s “sweet spirit” has a lot to do with her seeing her 100th birthday. “I’ve never seen her angry,” Cook said. “She’s just pleasant and meek and that’s what I really love about her.”

 

DorothyRowley

AFROStaffWriter