by Ms. Verlie Mae Pickens
I was born on June 11, 1916, in Lake Charles, Louisiana. My parents were Mr. Thomas Alfred Nisby (born August 1886) and Ms. Lillian Lumpkin Nisby (born June 1892). To this union, there came a family of six girls and two boys, 10 all together when we would sit at the table for the two important meals. My father did not bless the table until everyone was seated in their proper place.
We were only one block from school, which went from first grade to seventh grade. From that school to high school, we were one mile. On good days, they wanted you to come home. At 12 o’clock, we called that dinner. Our evening meal was at 6 o’clock; that was supper. Breakfast was important. My father was not home for breakfast during the five weekday mornings, only on Saturday and Sunday mornings.
I was very active in school. At the end of the year, I would be in more than one class play. The teachers would ask me to help out. I then did some singing and dancing, I was very light on my feet. I finished school in 1936 from Sacred Heart High School. We only went to the 10th grade.
My hobbies were tennis, volleyball, touch football. I had music. I played piano for my church choir for a few years in my hometown.
I married the summer of 1936. My son was born in 1937.
I left Lake Charles in 1940. I came to visit my two brothers who lived and worked in San Francisco. They came to San Francisco in 1935.
Times were very tight in those days. The Depression was on. The “crash” came in 1927. Things hit rock bottom.
President Roosevelt started programs; things started looking up for the U.S. and people began moving where the new work began in seaport towns. San Francisco was a good place for some things.
There was very deep discrimination here then. I tried to buy a job. They had places on Market Street and other main streets in the town where you paid to get a job. Things began to break because the war was at hand. Men began to see things and join the union and fight for everyone’s rights.
My first job was working for Dr. and Mrs. Hodges out on 32nd Avenue. I worked for them a few months. The war broke out in December 1941. I left and moved to Los Angeles. I worked in the airplane factory, Lockheed for a few years. Because of some kind of stuff from the metalwork, I got lead poisoning and could not work there anymore. The doctor forbade it. It was getting too bad in my bloodstream.
I came back to San Francisco in 1945. I started working at Blum’s cake factory. Sometimes if the cake factory would be slow, I would go up and work in the candy factory. I would ask if I could. I did not like to be idle.
My second marriage started in February 1947. My first married name was Verlie Mae Nisby Anderson. Then my name was Verlie Mae Pickens.
I was a hard worker. Samuel Pickens was raised in the same town. He never married anyone. He was in the war. When he came out, he went to my home in Lake Charles and asked them for my address to come to San Francisco, California, because he wanted to marry me. Although I had been married, had a son, that was OK with him. We married and lived very happily together.
The first thing I told him was that if we marry, I wanted a home first. After we had put money in the house and then the car and were well on the way with the home and put the money in the bank, we would start travelling. That we did. I went home one year later to help my mother. I stayed three months.
He bought a mobile home so he could really take me travelling. We went all through Canada and Mexico. We visited every state in the United States except Rhode Island.
My husband passed away in 1987. He bought my car which I was still driving up until several years ago. It was still running well. It got me where I wanted to go. Nowadays, I only drive to Antioch, and I go to Stockton once in a while. And I drive throughout San Francisco.
I miss him a lot. I still go out but not as much. I go a lot in town and around Oakland. I know Oakland well, so I can run there to things. I love movies, stage plays, and going out to lunches and dinners.
I enjoy working as a volunteer. I volunteered at Senior University classes at Senior Action Network for several years. The purpose of Senior University was to educate and train seniors in San Francisco on community organizing and senior leadership and empowerment. In other words, it taught us as seniors how to empower ourselves and to be leaders in our community.
The Senior University classes were in different languages. There were classes in Vietnamese in the Tenderloin. There were classes in Russian. We had classes in Cantonese in Chinatown and Visitacion Valley, and in the Mission and the Excelsior we spoke Spanish and English. We had classes at Jones Memorial United Methodist Church in the Western Addition.
Our classes in the Bayview and Hunters Point community were exciting and memorable. Anh Le, who was the director of Senior University, really made the classes fun, exciting and very interesting. Anh, a community organizer who works with seniors, got everybody involved and discussing things. Anh helped the seniors think about the issues. He made you want to participate in civic affairs and make things better for your community. Anh loves seniors and respects everybody.
As part of our Senior University classes in the Bayview and Hunters Point, Anh and we seniors decided to organize a demonstration and protest against the FoodsCo supermarket on Williams Street to demand that they stop selling rotten and spoiled foods to shoppers in our community. The FoodsCo store sold spoiled meats, fish, produce and fruits, and dairy products, including many items past their sale expiration dates.
They had been doing that for a while in our community, and they got away with it. They thought they could get away with that practice because they were the only big supermarket in our community. We seniors educated our community about this problem. The San Francisco Bay View newspaper published our article about this issue to inform the community.
We contacted the Mayor’s Office, the San Francisco Department of Public Health and the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. We wrote letters to the CEOs of the corporations that own FoodsCo. In the end, the FoodsCo supermarket in our community had to clean up its act. I was able to give a lot to my community when I volunteered at Senior University. Besides working with Anh, I also worked with two other seniors who volunteered, Ms. Hui Truong, a native of Vietnam, and Ms. Juanita Negrete.
I have also been involved with Network for Elders in the Bayview and Hunters Point community. Network for Elders is a great group working for the community. Ms. Betty Williams and Ms. Beverly Taylor are great leaders in the community. Betty and Beverly do great work to help the seniors and everybody in the community and all of San Francisco. They are really caring and dedicated. Network for Elders has many members, and we get together for a monthly meeting. Network for Elders makes a big difference in seniors’ lives.
I’ve also enjoyed volunteering at the Bayview Hunters Point Senior Adult Day Health Center, the Dr. George W. Davis Senior Center and other community places in the Bayview and Hunters Point and various neighborhoods throughout San Francisco. I enjoy preparing a special homemade peach cobbler dish for the Black Cuisine feast held at the Dr. George W. Davis Senior Center every year. I enjoy attending the early morning Sunday services at my church and staying active in church programs.
For my 95th birthday party on June 11, my precious family members, friends and neighbors are going to celebrate it with me. My family members include my son, Joseph Sr., my daughter-in-law, Euna, my 34-year-old grandson, Joseph Jr., my 17-year-old great grandson Jeremy, my granddaughter, Cherise, my niece, Ina Lynn, from Pennsylvania, many nephews and nieces, my great grandniece, Elizabeth, from Atlanta, whose birthdate is the same as mine, and many precious great grandnieces and great grandnephews. We’ll all have lots of good food, lots of good stories to share, and good music and dancing.
I’ve been asked how I’ve lived a healthy and long life. When I was growing up, I ate healthy homegrown vegetables. I enjoy fruits and vegetables. I go to bed early and wake up early each day. I learned that from my parents. My family is precious.
My personal philosophy is: Try to live a decent life. Love God. Live life fully. Respect nature. Be kind to one another. Treat everyone with kindness and respect. Eat the right foods. Keep active. Get your exercise and lots of fresh air. Take good care of your health.
Also, teach our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren well. Encourage and teach the young people and their parents, and encourage the seniors. Be active in your neighborhood, community, city and nation. Work to make your community, country and world better for yourself and everyone. Volunteer. Be a good neighbor and a good citizen.
I am also very glad that our nation elected President Barack Hussein Obama to be our president, our leader. President Obama’s election is historic and has special meaning for all of us as Americans and for people around the world.
I am enjoying life. I have good health. I have a loving and precious family, dear friends and neighbors, and so many good people in the community who care. I feel thankful and grateful. I thank God each day for such abundant and rich blessings!
I am so blessed and thankful to have grown up with my five sisters and two brothers, and our parents who raised us so well. My siblings are Mr. Charles Nisby (born July 1908), Mrs. Addie B. Hall (born May 1911), Mr. Wiley Nisby (born March 1914), Ms. Vera L. Miysaka (born April 1921), Ms. Lillian Nisby (born December 1924), Ms. Mecedes Joubert (born March 1927) and Ms. Ina Tommie Dewitt (born May 1933). I am very blessed to have Vera and Mecedes still living, and I always look forward to visiting them.
I thank God each and every day for God’s blessings!