The Big Brothers program was 4 years old, and it would be 11 more years before women had the right to vote. Wilbur and Orville Wright had convinced the U.S. Army a year earlier that their newly invented airplane could stay aloft for more than an hour.
Such is a mere snapshot of the world that Doris Ellen Norah Bidwell Flourney entered on April 26, 1909.
When only 5 months old, her mother “bundled me up tight and we set sail for the United States,” Doris related on the eve of her 100th birthday. Visiting with Doris in her cozy apartment — home for the last 35 years — this was my first chance to interview someone on the brink of such a momentous occasion.
She was born in Plaistow, then but a village in the East London, England county borough of West Ham.
“I never really had a real dad,” she remembers, noting that her father “took off with another woman shortly after I was born,” and Doris’ mother was left with an infant whose sister Margaret was only a couple of years older. Doris and her mother followed her maternal grandparents to the U.S. and Washington state where they had settled in a remote village of Grapeview (near Shelton). Margaret stayed behind with her paternal grandparents.
Nearly a century later, on Sunday April 26, Doris will celebrate with family, friends and parishioners of the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in Kenmore. “I don’t think we can afford a cake large enough for 100 candles,” Doris noted in her unassuming manner, revealing a keen sense of humor.
I had asked for help in what to ask someone approaching a century’s worth of viewing a dramatically changed world. There was the proverbial question, “To what special lifestyle or habits do you credit your longevity, your arriving at age 100 in such good health and in such good spirit?”
“Not a darned thing,” was her emphatic response. “I just inherited some good genes.” The gleam in her eye was stronger than ever, an endearing smile emphasizing the point.
From a childhood in Grapeview, Doris and “Mom” moved to Seattle where she could attend grade school and later Broadway High, where she graduated in 1927. “Mom” worked for Black Bear manufacturing company in Seattle, sewing buttons on overalls.
She recalls living in her “Grandpa’s” rooming house in Seattle. “All the working men living there spoiled me rotten,” she confessed, “always leaving candy and toys around for me.” While a teenager, living with grandparents in a residence in north Seattle, a slightly older neighbor named Al would “flirt across the back fence while I tried to figure out the difference between a weed and a flower while working in Grandpa’s back yard. Al was away a lot going to military school in Georgia. When I was a senior at Broadway, he told his mother that he was going to marry me.” And, he did, in 1930 at the height of the Great Depression.
She attended Seattle Pacific University right out of high school, but times were tough then, and Al kept peering over the back fence when home from military school.
It was difficult to detect any part of Doris’ life that might spice up this story. As close as I could get was her telling about being called into the dean’s office at SPU well into her second year there.
“I about got kicked out. He told me that I was wearing skirts that were too short!” she said with relish. This was in the late ’20s. The skirt length was probably a daring mid-calf? “I watched my P’s and Q’s after that,” she added.
On politics: “I tried to keep peace in the family. My husband’s family was supporting one political party and my mother’s family the other party.”
As to presidents, she voted for Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1932, she assured. How about Barack Obama? “Sure! He’s a good guy,” Doris said audaciously.
John B. Hughes was owner-publisher of the Northshore Citizen from 1961 to 1988.