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How do you live to be 100? Lummi’s ‘eldest elder’ shares how she did it

Lummi Nation celebrates Mae Moss at 100

Lummi Nation member Mae Moss celebrated her 100th birthday with friends and family Friday, Aug. 12, 2016.
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Lummi Nation member Mae Moss celebrated her 100th birthday with friends and family Friday, Aug. 12, 2016.

Lummi Nation’s “eldest elder” Mae Moss still lives on her own, loves watching the Mariners (Seth Smith is her favorite player this year), and has a laugh that could bring a smile to even the sourest of faces. Her sense of humor is evident to anyone within moments of meeting her.

For instance, when asked how does it feel to make it to 100 years old?

“It feels like I wish my knees didn’t hurt,” Mae says before giggling. “This new doctor I got ... he didn’t want to give me any pain pills. He said you can become addicted to them. I said, ‘Did you ever look to see how old I am?’ 

She maintained her sense of humor through all of the hardships. Her contagious laughter was her strength and healing at the same time.

Candice Wilson, a relative of Mae Moss

After celebrating her birthday Friday, Aug. 12, she’s only the second Lummi member to live past 100, according to enrollment office records. The other was Mildred (McCluskey) Haas, who lived to 103 and died in Chehalis in 2011.

Mae comes from the Finkbonner family. The closest elder to her age is Mary Helen Cagey, 98, followed by Mae’s sister, Grace Erickson, who also is 98.

Lummi

Mae was born in Bellingham but spent most of her life away from the reservation. They moved, in part, because economic conditions meant it was tough to find work, according to her relative Candice Wilson, a former Lummi Indian Business Council member.

Mae and Grace grew up in Hoquiam but were able to spend summers at their grandmother’s house on Sandy Point.

Mae says being a member of the tribe is something she is proud of – but it never occurred to her they were different from anybody else.

“It was just natural, being Lummi, that’s all. It’s no different than the white part of me,” says Mae, explaining that her mother was Lummi; her father was Scottish. “When I used to spend summers at Sandy Point, we were just a community of our own out there.”

What good is there in living if you can’t be happy? Don’t take anything for too long. Otherwise, how can you be happy?

Mae Moss

While Mae was living around the country, official blood quantum was assigned to members, which ultimately impacted her son Mark Moss’ ability to enroll in the tribe, Wilson said.

“When they came back, Mark was ineligible because of his blood quantum. ... My father always told me blood quantum was a way of doing away with ourselves,” Wilson said. “Regardless of how things evolved and impacted their lives, she and Grace, they are still proud of who they are. That’s what’s so important.”

Moving on

Mae has lived her life by her own terms, even (and sometimes especially) when that meant moving on, from places, from people, from any situation where she wasn’t happy.

“After (World War II), my friend and I decided we’d set out and see the country,” Mae says. “I got as far as Denver, and I liked it there, so I stayed and she went on.”

Mae worked as a waitress at a breakfast joint there for more than a decade, got married, and had her son Mark.

Decades later, Mark would move back in with her in Whatcom County. They spent many good years together, and he helped care for her until he got cancer. Then she took care of him, until he died about two years ago.

When things weren’t to her liking, Mae would make a change.

Take the time she wound up living in Oklahoma with her last husband (she was married and divorced three times).

“I couldn’t understand how anybody in the world would wanna live in Oklahoma. I tell you, it was hot and we lived in a small, little old town. I think it must’ve been around 300 people, and I said to myself what in the world am I doing here?” Mae says. “So I packed my suitcase, flew home, sent him a letter and said I’m not coming back.

“What good is there in living if you can’t be happy?” she asks. “Don’t take anything for too long. Otherwise, how can you be happy? If they can’t make you happy, somebody else will.”

Sage advice

How does she think she’s stayed healthy for so long?

“Eatin’ stuff I’m not supposed to,” Mae says with a long laugh.

She loves to drink Coke and eat chocolate.

Be nice to each other. Just think of each other. Call your friends. Ask them how they’re doing.

Mae Moss, on the key to living a long life

Her advice?

“Well, I think you just do what you enjoy, and make other people enjoy with you,” Mae says. “Be nice to each other. Just think of each other. Call your friends. Ask them how they’re doing.”

She enjoys playing bingo, spending time with friends, and of course watching ballgames.

The thing she is proudest of in life is her son Mark. Her biggest regret is not making it to the places she and Mark wanted to go see.

“Anyhow,” she sums it up, “be happy.”

Samantha Wohlfeil: 360-715-2274, @SAWohlfeil

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