Marjorie Day admits that nobody knows the secret to reaching their 100th birthday, but it may be that her avoidance of processed foods, sugar and white flour has kept her healthy.
Now 103, Ms. Day was among 13 centenarians recognized with proclamations courtesy of New York State Sen. Anthony Palumbo at a birthday celebration last month. A few weeks later, Ms. Day recounted stories from her life with The Suffolk Times for its series drawing wisdom from the residents of Peconic Landing. Here are some key takeaways from this discussion.
Help others however you can
For 10 years, Ms. Day worked as a visiting nurse, helping patients in their homes in Brooklyn. She then took to teaching the trade at Jane Addams High School for Academic Careers. Although a noble profession, it was not always the safest. In those days, she explained, nurses wore uniforms and carried marked bags, which made them targets for those seeking illicit substances.
“We weren’t carrying drugs,” she emphasized. “But they didn’t know that.”
During her time helping others, she met a fellow nurse who, after all these years, she still remembers for helping her and her husband, Lloyd Day, secure a home in Sag Harbor by taking out a second mortgage on her own home.
“I remember her being a very kind lady, and very friendly,” Ms. Day said.
Respect others and their differences
While earning her master’s degree in nursing at NYU, Ms. Day recalled being the only Black woman in the program. For the lifelong activist, who lived through the Civil Rights movement, these experiences were common.
Growing up, she said, “I learned that I was different from everybody else, but I didn’t know why I was different.
“You have to be yourself and understand other people are different from you,” she added. “When I first got [to Peconic Landing], the only other Black lady here was [Josephine Watkins-Johnson]. She just died [in 2020]. Our hair is different, our eyes are different, our skin is different. You have to accept that you are different, and you are special because you are different. Love yourself. You have to be conscious of being different, you have to accept it, but it’s not easy.”
Continue the fight for civil rights
When asked about her time as a Civil Rights activist and her thoughts on current efforts for equality, Ms. Day said she wants people of color to have greater access to better “housing, education and jobs.” As a Black woman in New York in the middle of the 20th century, Ms. Day said, her only education and career paths were teaching or nursing. If not for that fellow nurse, she added, she and her husband could not have afforded their Sag Harbor home.
“It’s hard for a Black person to get money to buy a house,” she said. “The bank hesitates to give a mortgage.”
While progress she herself fought for has been made, she said there is still more to be achieved?.
“I was always involved in civil rights,” she said. “I always took part in any protest.
“How long will it take?” she added of the push for equality. “It’s been going on for years and years.”
Stick to projects and hobbies
Ms. Day lived a full life, from raising her two children to taking part in civil rights meetings and protests. However, she said, she did let some less important activities drop by the wayside.
“I would start a project, I would start things to do but never completed them, so that’s a fault in me,” she said. “One time, a long time ago, there were these wire figures and I used to make animals wrapping cloth around the [wires]. I did choral singing. I went to the rehearsals but I didn’t continue … I belonged to the ukulele club for a minute. I was trying to have the poets here learn more about Black poets. I tried to bring in names that I didn’t know a lot about myself, so I was learning, too.”
Value whatever time you have with loved ones
When she was a child, Ms. Day said, her mother worked as a housekeeper while her father worked overnight shifts as a janitor.
“I don’t remember my father too well because he had a hard time,” she said. “He had a very hard time.”
She does, however, treasure memories of a few special family outings she took with both her parents.
“I remember going to Coney Island with my father,” she said. “We would drive up to Croton Point [Park] and we would have picnics there. I remember my mother used to make this particular dish and put it in a jar; it was sliced onions and mayonnaise. It was delightful, we had a good time.”