Visiting with Gertrude Baines, the 113 year-old Black woman and the oldest living person in California according to an acknowledgment by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and among the oldest living persons in the world, is an experience that is filled with natural curiosity and recognition that she has lived through more history than most of us will ever study, learn or appreciate.
Born on April 6, 1894 in a small town not far from Atlanta, Georgia, Baines is the daughter of former slaves, Judge Baines who she remembers as a farmer and Amy Baines, a stay-at-home mother who reared three children. Regrettably, she had little to say about her parent’s lives and did not know much about their slavery experiences or what their early lives had been.
“My parents would not discuss their lives,” Baines explained.
Baines is a resident of the Western Convalescent Home at the corner of Adams and Cimarron in Los Angeles. She is also a member of the Main Gospel Church, lead by Pastor Warren J. Smith, who considers Baines his most celebrated member and who has conducted his regular church services at the convalescent home for several years.
Pastor Smith, who arranged the interview with Baines, cherishes her church membership and clearly caters to any need that she may have to make her life as comfortable and pleasant as possible.
“Mother Baines looks forward to our regular Sunday service,” Smith said. “She has energy and a spirit that is an inspiration to all of us.”
Baines most memorable job was as a housekeeper in a dormitory at Ohio State University in Columbus. She admitted that she dropped out of school in the fourth grade indicating that she did not like school and her parents did not insist that she attend.
“I preferred helping my mother with housework,” she remembers. “Cooking and cleaning the house is what I liked to do.”
Baines was married and she and her husband, a railroad worker, had one daughter. She lost her daughter some time ago and has embraced the members of the Main Gospel Church as her extended family.
While Baines has mastered the secret of long life she does not have any ‘tips’ to pass-on to others who aspire to become a member of the exclusive ‘centurion club,’ accept, “ask the Lord.”
Aside from avoiding tobacco and alcohol, which she admitted to trying but did not enjoy, Baines eats whatever tastes good, enjoys all types of meat, including pork, and has a particular fondness for sweets.
“I tried to smoke and drink but it did not agree with me so I quit,” she explained. “I eat everything if it tastes good,” she added, “and I enjoy sweet cakes and pies but not at every meal.”
Baines joined the church at an early age and remembers being baptized in a river outside of Atlanta. “The church did not have much money so we were baptized outdoors.”
She also did not enjoy a party lifestyle and explained that she was not one to go out dancing or otherwise having a ‘good time.’
“I did not have a lot of fun as an adult but I enjoyed going to church every Sunday,” Baines described, and when she was asked again about any advice she may have to pass-on to others, she said, “Treat everybody right and ask God. I have no secrets for long life and I do not have any disappointments in my own life.”
In response to a final question about what advice she may have for young people, which in her case applies to just about everybody, she said, “Be careful and stop killing each other.”
Baines small sleeping room, which she shares with another aged Black woman, who slept through most of the Sunday afternoon meeting with Baines, is adorned with birthday and congratulatory greetings from many local elected officials as well as several from President George Bush, who sends her a birthday note every year.
For a pleasant and fulfilling visit with a living legend in our community, take a moment to contact Pastor Smith, also known as The Gospel Rider, at 2190 West Adams in Los Angeles, to arrange a mutually agreeable time to visit with Mother Baines.