After eating pigs' feet, collard greens, black-eyed peas and corn bread for most of her 105 years, Mary Jacobs says she's still not sure if the home-style trimmings possess mysterious properties that ensure good luck for the new year.
But that didn't stop the domestic worker -- hobbling one determined slide-step, slide-step at a time -- from joining about 400 elderly Washingtonians yesterday for the Second Annual New Year's Eve Good Luck Dinner held in Northwest Washington.
"I used to cook all kinds of pig," Jacobs said, as the slow-cooked hog entrails, called chitterlings, returned her attention to her plate. "I used to cook it all; that's why I can eat it like I can."
When asked if the soul food is, indeed, lucky, Jacobs stretched her age-creased skin into a broad grin and spoke almost in a whisper: "I pray to the Lord. He has spared me this long."
Like believing in Santa's annual generosity, or the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy, a centuries-old tradition has seasoned with pixie dust the food of necessity of Southern black slaves. Throughout the dinner, folklore and Bible-thumping Christianity combined to create a kind of anything-is-possible atmosphere, that is, if you believe.
Evelyn Jefferies, 72, stirred the dining room with a gospel song, powerfully crying out for "beams from heaven." And the air stayed charged with a kind of youthful exuberance that seemed out of kilter in a room full of gray hair.
Organized by the National Caucus and Center for Black Aged, the only national, non-profit group dedicated exclusively to improving the quality of life for the nation's elderly blacks, the New Year's Eve dinner will continue to be a regular feature, NCBA president Samuel J. Simmons said.
"This is our way of showing the people we work with and try to serve that they are part of a large family," he said. "This is one way of wishing them the best for the future."
In two hours, 1,000 pounds of home fixings had been eaten. Many of the elderly returned for second helpings and a wedge of sweet potato pie.
"I like this good, old home-style food," said Evelyn Blackwell, a slender 65-year-old woman dressed in a pin-striped suit given to her by a friend. "It makes me think of the good old days.
"They used to say that the black-eyed peas are for luck and the greens bring you money," Blackwell recalled. "But I don't wish for so much wealth, just better health and more compassion for those of us who are elderly and incapacitated."
"This food is lucky," said Theodore Robinson, the 36-year-old assistant director of food services at the NCBA elderly high-rise, at 2801 14th St. NW, where the dinner was held.
"I'm from the South and I know what I'm talking about," said Robinson, who began cooking yesterday's meal on Thursday.
"It's good luck anytime I get something for free," confirmed John W. Hamilton, a 73-year-old retired special police officer. "This is one great thing."