By Mackenzie N. Morgan
Special to ocgnews.com
ROCKDALE COUNTY–Dozens of family members traveled to visit Mary Ingram for her 101st birthday on Saturday, Aug. 6.
Just a few years ago for Ingram’s 99th birthday, family members were joined by the Rockdale County Fire Department and Conyers Police Department.
In addition to gifts of cards, candy and money, Ingram received a special telegram from family members on her birthday over the weekend. A person dressed in a giant red heart serenaded Ingram as she sat in the shade of an oak tree in her yard flanked by dozens of family members recording the event with their phones while singing out loud Boyz II Men’s popular hit song, “A Song for Mama”.
Her favorite gift, though, was seeing some of her 28 and counting grand, great-grand and great-great grandchildren.
Born at home on Aug. 6, 1921 in Hawkinsville, Georgia, Mary Ella Ingram was the daughter of sharecropper parents, Ella Lugenia and Johnnie Burden. She was the seventh of 10 children, which included a set of identical twin sisters. She had a younger sister who died from malaria at the age of 15.
Growing up, Ingram enjoyed cooking in the kitchen with her mother and going to the town’s general store. With a tenth grade education, Ingram taught first and second grades and held jobs as a domestic worker well into her sixties.
Ingram married her hometown sweetheart Joseph Ingram, and together, they had 10 children, four of whom are still living. In pursuit of better opportunities, the family moved to Atlanta after their last child was born. They were married for 50 years and three days. Ingram took care of her husband until he passed away following a stroke in the 1990s. Ingram never remarried.
One of Ingram’s grandchildren, Kenyata Ingram of Covington, who has three children — Timaiyah, 19, Steve, 17, and Dallas,6 — attended the party. Kenyata recalled her grandmother doing various domestic jobs.
“She never drove. We always caught the bus to get to her jobs. I remember watching her clean and iron while I sat and watched TV. Sometimes she would let me help. She was the mama hen to everyone in the neighborhood. She didn’t have much but she was going to feed you.”
Ingram’s 89-year-old sister, Mattie Pearl Calloway, also attended the party. Calloway lives with her adult son in Lithonia.
Family members said several of their relatives have lived well into their nineties and hundreds.
When Mary Ingram was more active, her granddaughter said she used to enjoy making quilts, cooking, and sewing. She attended classes at the recreation center when the family lived in East Atlanta’s Reynoldstown neighborhood.
“Granny used to go to water aerobics and take pottery classes at the rec center. This is the same place she learned how to quilt and sew,” said Kenyata Ingram.
As a hobby, Ingram used to make quilts for all of her grandchildren’s children. One year, a relative gifted Ingram with an embroidered quilt with all of Ingram’s children, grandchildren and great-great grandchildren’s names. The list of descendants now exceeds the length of the quilt, with a second great-great grandchild born just two weeks prior to Ingram’s 101st birthday.
Over her lifetime, Ingram has overcome many challenges — growing up in abject rural poverty, tirelessly working to make ends meet while raising children after the death of her late husband, burying six children and a grandchild — and somehow living to tell their family’s story.
Her most recent triumph was battling COVID-19 after the pandemic hit the U.S. in 2020.
Kenyata Ingram recalled they received word that the family matriarch had been diagnosed with corona virus at age 98.
Mary Ingram, who was usually in great health and spirits, suddenly became ill and disoriented and family members called 911 for help.
“She got sick. It’s like she was here but she wasn’t. It was a scary time because it happened when the lockdowns first started taking place and relatives were not permitted inside the hospitals. We had no idea how she contracted the virus, since she hadn’t left the house, nor had anyone else in the house been exposed and we were all under quarantine,” Kenyata Ingram said.
Days later, the family learned Mary Ingram’s positive status after leaving home by ambulance. Though news reports were grim, Ingram pulled through. She was released from the hospital two weeks later, with minimal medical intervention.
“She didn’t get put on life support or anything. We were just so grateful to have her back at home,” said Ingram’s daughter, Fannette Ingram of Conyers, Georgia.
Fannette is Ingram’s youngest child, whom she gave birth to at age 40. At 59, Fannette is one of Ingram’s four surviving children and has been Ingram’s full-time caregiver since 2008.
Fannette recalled her mother being an excellent cook growing up.
“Mama was a great cook and an excellent baker. We didn’t have much growing up, but she always made it seem like we had everything we needed and if anybody stopped by, she would feed them,” said Fannette.
Fannette said there were times when the family couldn’t afford to put meat on the table. Her mother would forgo meals so her children could eat. Some of Ingram’s specialties include hoe cakes, tea cakes and cakes baked from scratch.
Though Mary Ingram said that blacks and whites got along in her hometown, she told the story that was told to her when her biracial paternal grandmother, Nettie, learned that slavery was over:
“My Grandma Nettie was down at the pond getting some water and her sister yelled down to her, ‘Girl, throw that water down from the top of your head, we free!”
Outside of severe arthritis and some hearing loss, Mary Ingram boasts strength, health and beauty. She now receives in-home doctor visits, only leaving home occasionally to attend family gatherings. The last family event she attended was Thanksgiving 2021.
Once a month, clergy and congregates from Second Mount Vernon Church in East Atlanta visit Ingram at her home to serve the centenarian communion. For 35 years, Ingram had been an active member of the church, where she served on the Mothers Board.
Ingram spends most of her time relaxing at home, coloring, and talking with visitors and loved ones over the telephone. Some of her favorite treats include tuna fish and Werther’s caramel candy.
Rockdale County resident Mary Ingram turns 101, Aug. 6, 2022
DeKalb County celebrates oldest resident who turned 109: https://ocgnews.com/relda-beatrice-bennett-dekalb-countys-oldest-citizen-turns-109-commissioner-davis-johnson-extends-honors/