The minute I met Sally Patterson three years ago, I knew I was in the company of a genuinely trustworthy, compassionate and happy person. She exudes joy and easily says about herself “I wake up happy!” I was pleased that she took a moment from her busy life to sit down with me to share some of how she got to where she is today.
Antonia: Hi Sally. Thank you very much for being here. Let’s start with you telling me when and where you were born.
Sally: I was born in Los Angeles in 1936. That makes me just barely 79.
Antonia: Tell me about your family.
Sally: I met my husband, Hank, right after graduating from high school. We both fell head over heels and knew instantly that that was it for us. We’ve been married 58 years.
Hank and I have six children; three boys and three girls. And they’re fantastic! All really likeable! They range in age from 56 down to the youngest at 44. I have ten grandchildren; a monopoly of boys, and there are three great-grandchildren; two boys and a girl. I had a brother and a sister, both of whom have passed away.
Antonia: You say you grew up in Southern California. How did you get from there to here in Santa Rosa?
Sally: After finishing college Hank was recruited for a teaching job with the L.A. City Schools. We knew we wanted a lot of kids and always talked about great places to raise a family. When one of our kids got pneumonia, the doctor said we should move out of smoggy L.A. A friend told us about Santa Rosa and what a perfect family community it was. Hank put in his teaching application and in 1964 we moved here. I worked in accounting here for the County. After 16 years I retired and Hank retired after 41 years.
Antonia: I know that you currently volunteer your time at Memorial Hospital in Santa Rosa. Why do you enjoy that work?
Sally: Yes, this is my fourteenth year volunteering at the front desk. I love it because I like the people and I like helping them.
Also, after surviving breast cancer, I also volunteered for the American Cancer Society through their “Reach to Recovery” program for patients recovering from surgery. I was bound and determined not to let cancer take over my life. It felt good to give back something positive after a negative experience. I did that for 20 years.
A little over a year ago, I had a cancer relapse but I found a great doctor and received good treatment that removed it all, so now the prognosis is good.
Antonia: You’re a survivor! Your positive attitude shines through, Sally. Tell me how you feel about getting older.
Sally: Well, I feel it’s inevitable (laughs). The alternative isn’t great. I’ve had a few setbacks but life goes on. You make the best of it. There’s no perfect life without bumps.
I’m so fortunate to have a partner in life who believes as I do that we do the best we can while we’re here. My personal faith, which has been developed over the years, also plays a role in my life.
Antonia: What kind of advice would you give those of us coming behind you in terms of age?
Sally: Because you’re looking at the shorter end of your life at this point, I’d say you should have a very forward-looking thing about each day you wake up…that you should see the glory in the way the sun’s coming up, if there’s some pink in the sky. My husband laughs at me about this, but I’ll run out the door just to see a beautiful day. It excites me.
I appreciate everything outside of myself. It’s a glorious planet and we live in a beautiful place. It’s one of the most fulfilling things to see the beauty of where we are. I look ahead with glory every day.
Antonia: Thank you for talking with me today, Sally.
After I turned off the recorder Sally said the most succinct thing about herself: “If you want to understand me, it’s that I’m happy.”I was struck by this aspect of her from the first day I met her. Her happiness draws people closer to her. It’s contagious.
Sally’s attitude and approach to life as an elder in our community serves as a role model to me.
Contact Antonia at Antonia@TheJoyofAgingGratefully.com