Dixon — one of the first African American women to serve in the Army — continued her spitfire assault on a second century of living with a spirited birthday bash Tuesday celebrating 105 years.
In a sunny, balloon-filled community room at the VA Medical Center in the District, a jazz combo played, Mayor Vincent C. Gray sent birthday wishes and — at Dixon’s request — everyone in her geriatrics unit dined on shrimp and crab cakes. As usual, Dixon pressed everyone to supply her with some new jokes. In one of the many tributes to her World War II service, Dixon was presented with a dozen red, white and yellow roses.
“On behalf of the Amvets, we wanted to give you flowers while you’re still smelling them,” said Aaron Smith, district commander of the D.C. Amvets. Dixon, sitting in a wheelchair under a “Princess” balloon, soaked it up, happy to note that even the “big shots” had come.
“I want to thank you all for being here,” she said. “I feel like Marilyn Monroe or something like that.”
Dixon, who was born on Sept. 11, 1907, has lost family. She lost a leg to a nasty infection. She thinks she may have lost an inch in height over the years, leaving her a feisty 4-foot-9. But she has not lost any zest for life, or the sharp edge to her tongue. If you live long enough, you form a lot of opinions about life. If you live to be 105 years old, you let them fly.
On aging well: “I’d like to let you know that when you get old, you don’t have to dry up. I tell the girls all the time: ‘Put on your jewelry! Look good! Be active! Be positive!’ ”
On politics: “You got a bunch of stupid up there running the country.” (President Obama excepted, she said.)
On health: “I smoked for 40 years. Drank, too.”
On speaking her mind: “I’m still here, 105 years old. I can talk, fuss and cuss, and do everything. What do you want to know?”
On a visit this week, as her mind ranged over the memories she’s accumulated from more than a century, she reeled off anecdotes, opinions and wisecracks that veered from poignant to comical to outrageous and politically incorrect. She finished more than a few of them with a knowing cackle.
Before she does interviews — several news outlets have come calling in recent years — she requires warning. Everything must be just so, staffers said. She makes sure her wig’s in place, that her lipstick is neatly limned. During a visit Monday, she wore a snazzy violet blouse, a gold and purple necklace, and black slacks. It’s that knack for style that inspired her to start spelling her name the way 1920s Hollywood star Alyce Mills spelled hers.
“My mother said, ‘You wasn’t born like that,’ ” Dixon recalled. “I said, ‘Now I am.’ ” She was 13 at the time.