So what if it's from the 19th century. Maude "Big Mama" Brown enjoys the Christmas poem from her childhood, and she doesn't miss a beat.
The 105-year-old woman sat in her Capitol Heights living room and recited with ease the words to Clement Moore's classic ballad. " 'Twas the Night Before Christmas."
Brown's daughter Laverna Jackson listened just like she and her 14 siblings did as children, when Christmas stories were accompanied by Christmas carols, cakes, pies and baked walnut candy.
From Christmas poems to the dialectic writings of Paul Laurence Dunbar, Brown has entertained family and friends in a life that has been in two centuries. Now she is poised to step into a third.
Brown said the secret to longevity was to love everybody. "I love people," she said.
With 15 children, 85 grandchildren and 250 great-grandchildren, "Big Mama" has plenty of love to dole out. In May, most of Brown's offspring celebrated Mother's Day with a big family reunion and by worshiping together at Greater Mount Nebo AME Church in Upper Marlboro.
When asked then what the occasion meant, she told a Washington Post reporter, "It just means a lot of love. That's all that I can say, I got a lot of love around me." Big Mama's children said that she really wasn't up to talking to a reporter on a recent day, but then she surprised everyone by reciting one of Dunbar's poems.
"Lias! Lias! Bless de Lawd! Don' you know de day's erbroad? Ef you don't git up, you scamp, dey'll be trouble in dis camp," said Brown, who played poetic tag as a reporter read passages of the poem only to have Brown finish the sentence from memory.
As she recounted in the May interview Big Mama was born April 17, 1894, in Brandywine, one of three children of Samuel and Georgiana Jones. In the early 1900s, the Joneses moved to the Upper Marlboro area. Unlike many of that time, Georgiana Jones made sure her children learned to read.
Brown was sent to T.B. Church School, where she first displayed her talent for memorizing and recitation. As a young girl, Maude attracted white and black audiences in outdoor gatherings near the tobacco market in Upper Marlboro, where she would recite the work of John Greenleaf Whittier, Dunbar and others.
Even though Brown left school after the seventh grade, she went on to a teaching career. At Galilee Elementary School, across the Patuxent River from Upper Marlboro, and in her church, Greater Mount Nebo, she often coached others on how to speak and recite.
Brown was 22 when she met William Thomas Savoy, of Upper Marlboro. They married March 22, 1916, and had four boys and 11 girls. Maude and William Savoy raised their family in Hall Station, which today is Bowie. In 1938, when Maude was 43, William died and she raised the 14 children who were still at home by herself. Despite the hardship, recalled Maude's daughter, Daisey Stith, "We never lacked for anything."
In the 1940s, Maude married Harry Francis Brown, whose wife had died and left 13 children. At that time, most of Big Mama's children were grown and married. Brown died in 1952 in a car accident. Maude has lived longer than nine of the Brown children and four of hers.
Glenda West, one of Brown's grandchildren, described several months ago the origin of Brown's nickname, Big Mama. It originated a day after her mother--one of Big Mama's daughters, Sylvia Brown Myers--had moved back in with Brown in the 1940s. "One day I was saying 'Mama,' and both answered." West and her siblings began calling their mother, Sylvia, Teeny Mama, and Maude, Big Mama. Those names quickly spread through a family that now numbers about 400 across the United States, including so many locally that they have their own choir at church, the Mount Nebo Gospel Singers.
For the last 44 years, Big Mama has lived in the same house--one that her children bought for her and that she shares now with her daughter Laverna Jackson and granddaughter Geraldine Young, who look after her.
Even though Brown can't move as quickly as she once did, she still counts her blessings because, "I still eats well."
"I don't think my life has been too bad. I had 15 children," said Brown, who when asked whether she was looking forward to Christmas responded with, "Oh boy."
She then did a call and response with a reporter on " 'Twas the Night Before Christmas."
" 'Twas the night before Christmas," called the reporter.
"And all through the House," she replied.
"Not a creature was stirring."
"Not even a mouse," she said.
"The stockings were hung from the chimney with care."
"Because soon they knew that St. Nicholas would be there," said Big Mama.
And as for a resolution for 2000, Brown summed it up in a few words: "Try to live a good life."
CAPTION: This picture from 1951 shows Maude Brown, right front, then 57, outside Mount Nebo AME Church in Prince George's County, with relatives and friends.
CAPTION: Maude "Big Mama" Brown with daughter, Daisey Stith, one of 15 children. Brown had 13 stepchildren.