Doris “Granny D” Haddock received a lot of attention when she walked across the United States to raise awareness of campaign finance reform. She did this at the tender young age of 89. This story is an excerpt from her book about that experience, provided exclusively for Dare to be Fabulous.
Jim and I, at long last, got in the vehicle and drove home to Dublin, New Hampshire. My, it was delicious to see the miles fly by and not have to even think about walking them! And then my town ahead, and there it is! And the old house! My old chair! Bathtub! Books! Ahh, my tired bones!
On Tuesday morning I made my way back to my old friends – our Tuesday Morning Academy. They were happy to see me, but it was rather as if I had been ill for a time or off on a cruise. Within a few minutes, I was one of the girls again – except for one difference. One of my friends, after a few minutes of conversation about my walk, said she didn’t see what was so important about campaign finance reform.
It is reported that I took her rather sharply to task with a presentation of memorable ferocity. Well, was that me? Old Doris? It was not the Doris who had sat meekly among them a year and a quarter earlier. Even at my age, I had changed quite a bit.
For the first time in my long life, I was clearly not afraid of what someone might think of me – I cared more about the issue than my vain self. That transition was worth the walk, though I must keep working on it.
Several weeks later I received a call. A group of campaign finance reformers from the Alliance for Democracy were going into the Capitol Rotunda to petition for the redress of our grievance against campaign corruption. Yes, I said – I would go with them this time. I could care less anymore if people thought I was crazy. This was a way to push the issue forward – to demonstrate the depth of our concern and to take the pain of social change upon ourselves.
So I returned to Washington. On the evening of April 20, 2000, I walked from a train at Union Station to a church building near the Supreme Court. There I was to meet thirty-one others who would risk arrest. I was a bit late, as the streets of Washington can be confusing. I entered a room where the thirty-one were seated in chairs gathered in a great circle, and my perilous seat waited empty for me.
In the few steps across the room, I reminded myself that my whole life had been spent worrying too much about what others thought about me. Go ahead, old girl, have a seat.
It was a comfortably well-worn chair, and I looked around with wonder at the smiling people around me, bathed as they were in the golden light of the old room. Many had lost themselves to their causes many years ago. Some, like me, were young beginners.
I was arrested the next morning for reading the Declaration of Independence in a calm voice in the Rotunda. I did so to make the point that we must declare our independence from campaign corruption. My wrists were pulled behind me and cuffed. I was taken away to jail along with the others. When you jump fully into the river of your values, every moment glows with a blissful joy, even when your arms hurt behind you.
But, oh, dear husband, Jim! Are you up there looking down, laughing at me in the pokey? Get used to it, dear.
The fear of not being liked – of not belonging – has been central in my life. “She’s not like the others. She’s different. Sometimes I wonder if she’s mine at all, like I found her in a basket on my front doorstep,” I overheard my mother say when I was seven.
Not knowing how else to proceed, I embraced the idea that I was different. I was a princess in disguise. The pink granite Laconia Public Library, complete with turret, became my castle, and I read every adventure book in it. At home, my nose was always in a book until Mama scolded me to do my chores.
That overheard conversation, and that uncertainty helped me to become well read and adventurous, which has made me a connoisseur of life and of people. It has sent me on a lifetime of adventures – I can’t imagine how boring I might have otherwise become to others and to myself.
It does help to know that I was, in fact, loved. At Sybil’s wake, when a priest asked Mama who would be taking care of her now that Sybil was gone, Mama’s eyes brightened with joy when I said, “Why, she will be coming to live with me, won’t you, Mama?” It may have been only the sparkle of an extinguished worry, but I have clung to it.
Do we see who we are, finally? Do we see, behind the curtain, the scars and the insecurities that have controlled us? And when we see them and look them squarely in the eye, do they lose their power over us, backing down from their bullying bluster? Indeed they do. We become free to take our lie in whatever shape it has become, and find a good and enjoyable use for it, serving others and ourselves.
Interesting! After all this chattering, I have not told you five minute’s worth about my long career in the shoe industry. For so many years, that was all I could think about, and now it hardly seems worth bringing up. I think the lesson there is that a career, in the end, is a much smaller part of our lives than we can possibly imagine at the time. Our career distracts us from our real work, so we must learn to see past the limits of that blinkered world. All those years condense now in my mind to a chuckle.
The aftermath of my arrest was that I was later brought before the judge in Washington for my crime of being a troublesome person. While I hoped he would not put an old woman in jail for six months for reading the Declaration of Independence in the Capitol, as well he could, I yet worried that perhaps all of this, all of me, had been silly and he would now send me away to contemplate my silliness for a few months. As he sat expressionless in his great robe, I wondered what this wise-looking old man thought.
Judge Hamilton finally spoke, and most mercifully. He sentenced me, and the others, to the time we had already served, and he added these words of heavenly grace:
“As you know, the strength of our great country lies in its Constitution and her laws and in her courts. But more fundamentally, the strength of our great country lies in the resolve of her citizens to stand up for what is right when the masses are silent. And, unfortunately, sometimes it becomes the lot of the few, sometimes like yourselves, to stand up for what’s right when the masses are silent.”
His honor gave me a fine hug in his chambers afterward. His staff members were tearful and I was tearful, and America felt like my own country again.
So I am happy for how my walk has turned out, and for how my life has turned out. I am thankful for the troubles that have shaped me. If you and I were having a cup of tea and you were telling me your stories, as I have told you mine, I would see that it was your hard times that made you so interesting, so wise and able to laugh at life. Aren’t we lucky, friend, to be the creatures of such a genius Creator that even our darkest troubles graciously serve to deepen and wide our hearts? And all our memories, like days cast in amber, glow more beautifully through the years as the happy endings finally reveal themselves and flow slowly into the bright and mysterious river of the Divine.
Well, I am not finished … with my life or with my passion for campaign finance reform. There is almost always time to find another victory, another happy ending. I hope that is your feeling about life, too.
Doris “Granny D” Haddock continued to speak publicly and travel the country for campaign finance reform until she passed away in 2010, six weeks after her 100th birthday.
Excerpt from GRANNY D: WALKING ACROSS AMERICA IN MY NINETIETH YEAR by Doris Haddock and Dennis Burke, copyright © 2001 by Doris Haddock and Dennis Burke. Used by permission of Villard Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.