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107-year-old Bronx resident looks back on a life well lived

Source: NY Daily News

107-year-old Bronx resident looks back on a life well lived
BY DANIEL BEEKMAN / DAILY NEWS WRITER

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 19, 2011, 1:32 PM

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Times are tough in the Bronx in these days of recession and 12% unemployment.

But Louise (Big Momma) Mitchell, who turned 107 last Sunday, has survived hardships that people today can barely imagine.

Born in the Deep South town of Warrenton, Ga., in 1904, Mitchell went to work picking cotton at the age of 5.

“I had to work in the field with my hands when I was so small,” said Mitchell, sitting in her Morris Heights living room with a warm blanket draped over her blue dress.

“I had to work in the field, and not a penny to show for it.”

Mitchell, perhaps the oldest resident of the Bronx, celebrated her birthday last Thursday at House Call Medical Services of New York in Mount Hope.

Founded in 2005, House Call sends doctors to visit fragile homebound patients such as Mitchell.

“When people are too sick to visit the doctor, they usually end up in the hospital,” said Sumir Sahgal, director of the service. “We reduce hospitalization by 56%, and that saves the government money.”

Mitchell is House Call’s oldest patient, Sahgal said, patting her shoulder and smiling.

The concept is old-fashioned, but House Call doctors use new technology on the job.

When Sahgal visited Mitchell recently, he took notes on a tablet computer linked to his office by wireless Internet.

The house calls have been a relief for Mitchell’s goddaughter, Rena Chinhenzva.

“For years, we literally had to carry her to the doctor,” she said.

Mitchell received no formal education after the third grade. She toiled instead, first in the cotton fields and later in the home of a wealthy white landowner, washing clothes.

She has some trouble recalling details about her past, but not the harsh nature of life for poor black women decades ago.

“I grew up to a lady – [going] from job to job – always with nothing,” she said softly.

Mitchell moved to New Jersey as a young adult to work as a housekeeper. She later cooked and cleaned for wealthy Jewish households in Manhattan.

She lived through the Depression and two world wars.

Now frail and thin, Mitchell had a “bubbly” way about her then and was a snappy dresser, said Chinhenzva. The women she worked for gave her clothes to wear.

Mitchell lived in Harlem and on Kelly St. in the South Bronx and became a fixture at Harlem’s Mount Moriah Baptist Church.

She married and widowed twice, with no children. But she loved children and gave freely to the tykes in her neighborhood, handing out candy and slipping them money for food, Chinhenzva said.

“She always had pound cakes that she baked, and butterscotch candy,” said Carl Sumpter, her grandnephew.

Mitchell worked until she was 85 years old.

“There was no such thing as retirement,” she said.

She now lives at River Park Towers, between the Harlem River and the Major Deegan Expressway, in an apartment with a 3-st-floor view of the Bronx. Her home health aide keeps her company.

“I have nothing to be thankful for other than the Lord,” Mitchell said. “I want to tell young people today to be grateful and go to school.

“They should pray to God their life isn’t hard like mine.”

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