They were smart. Wise. Intuitive. Their stories from long ago were riveting and historically significant.
But what seemed to draw readers to Sadie and Bessie Delany, the late centenarian pair of sisters of Having Our Say fame, was the fact that they were utterly charming and completely genuine. In a society in which people are accustomed to artifice and manipulation, the Delany Sisters were a shock. In telling their story, they had no agenda, and readers could sense it immediately.
The day I met them in 1991, they were 100 and 102 years old, and I was a 33-year-old newspaper reporter. Talking to them was like time-travel. They reached back into the past with ease, and took me with them.
They blew me away.
I was captivated by the way they interacted with one another, sister to sister, after living together for a century. When I got home that evening, the first thing I did was call my own sister, who is a year and a half older. I couldn't wait to tell her about the pair of centenarian sisters I had met that day, and how they were still giggling and quarreling about things that had happened a century ago when they were little girls.
This was, I told my own sister, the sweetest thing I've ever witnessed.
It is this sweetness, this unvarnished charm, that flows through the book. I made sure to include it all. I didn't want the book to come across as too reverent which to me meant stale. I wanted readers to know what it felt like to be in my shoes while I observed them puttering in the kitchen, or listening from "my" chair in the parlor or at the dining room table. Happily, the sisters liked my approach. When I suggested that the book be a work of oral history rather than a third-person biography, they agreed to that as well. To me, the words they chose to tell their stories were as important as the stories themselves.
And so, Having Our Say is peppered with endearing expressions and anecdotes. The sisters, for example, referred to themselves quaintly as "maiden ladies," a term I had heard perhaps one other time in my life. When I asked the name of their cat, they explained cheerfully, "We call him Mr. Delany since we don't have a man in the house." When asked why they thought they had lived so long, they replied: "It's because we never married. We never had husbands to worry us to death!" And then they shrieked with laughter at their own joke.
I could go on....and on. But it's all in the book for you to read, anyway. You'll learn a great deal of American history from the book. You'll see flashes of anger and sorrow as they tell their stories. You'll be appalled at some of it. But most of all, when you reach the last page, you'll realize you've fallen in love with the Delany Sisters.