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The 20th century was hers

Daphne Brann's life encompasses 20 presidents and nearly half of U.S. history. It has been lived peacefully, and with grace.

By COLLINS CONNER

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 28, 1999


The last time Daphne Brann welcomed a new century, she was living on a raspberry farm in Cumberland, Md., with her parents and her three sisters and six brothers.

She was a Twigg then -- one of the blue-eyed English Twiggs, not the black-eyed branch with its trace of Indian.

For her, 1899 was a momentous year. Sure, the 20th century was dawning, but more important was that she, Daphne Eden Twigg, a slip of a girl, was 9 that year and her parents had finally deemed her ready for grammar school.

She was a joyous and eager student.

"We, the people," she recites, these 100 years later, sitting on the couch in her daughter's living room, feet flat on the floor, restless hands in her lap, "in order to form a more perfect union . . ."

To make sure her guests understood that her recitation of the preamble to the Constitution was no fluke, she recited it again. Then she recited the names of obscure ancestors on her father's side of the family and the cousins on her mother's side. Then she recited -- with verve -- the Allegany High School cheer: "Rickaticka, Rickaticka, Rickaticka Boom!"

"I was a little dramatic," she said.

As of Jan. 1, this sweet woman will have lived in three centuries. She is a singular reflection of nearly half of U.S. history. Twenty presidents have served in her lifetime. The country waged two world wars, narrowed its doors to immigrants, opened its voting booths to women, then blacks. Farms emptied; factories filled. Citizens across the country hit the hard floor of poverty. Unthinkable crimes took place and astonishing explorations.

Through all, Daphne Twigg Brann and her family were sheltered and carried in the strong arms of faith.

It plays in her every memory.

In 1913, she took her first ride on a car -- one of Cumberland's eight Tin Lizzies. It altered her religion and her life.

A Methodist, she caught a ride to a Pentecostal church camp and joined that congregation. Years later, in the aisle of the church, she met a farm-boy-turned-minister, Oliver Brann, who had just finished preaching. She looked at him and, in her trilling voice, sang the hymn Get in Line.

When he ultimately proposed, she hesitated. She wouldn't have turned him down; she simply wasn't one to rush. He said, "Now or never."

There was nothing uncertain about Oliver Brann.

"He was on the spot," his widow said. "He broke Canada's record shucking wheat. My husband was a worker."

As for cars, she took the wheel only once.

"The first time I tried, they said I went too fast," she explained, "I was headed for the only tree in a big, empty lot. I never tried again."

In 1918, when her brother Claude was fighting in World War I, Mrs. Brann had a premonition about his survival in the face of jeopardy. At war's end, she and the rest of the townsfolk poured onto Baltimore Street as soldiers got off transport trains and swarmed the same street, flipping their hats in the air.

"Claude was there," she said -- unharmed, just as she predicted he would be.

She, her husband and their three children were fed through the Great Depression by Oliver Brann's flock, which tithed in produce, deposited on the Brann's dining room table.

With the advent of television she learned about politics, becoming so hooked that she would stay up all night to watch election returns.

A lifelong Republican, she mourned John Kennedy. She thought him a good president, though he was a Democrat.

She didn't hold much truck with Franklin Roosevelt. "Roosevelt was sort of a free-for-all man," she said.

Her favorite? Ronald Reagan. "I think he was a good man. He should have been a preacher."

Watergate and Kent State and all the brouhaha about Monica didn't engage her political passions. Long before those events, she had seen enough to form her view of humanity. She believes people to be basically good, no matter their foibles.

By many standards, she has had an uneventful life. Despite her dramatic flair, she has passed these 109 years with grace and peace.

She fulfilled her lifelong ambition when she was 104. She journeyed to Jerusalem and sang, "I will meet you in the morning, just inside the Eastern Gate" on that very spot. "Oh, the joy of that meeting," she sings now, in the southwestern Pasco County home of her daughter Margo Calabrese.

"Glory."

She says it like this: GLOW-ry!

"He has given me so many blessings," she said.

"God is good. God IS good.

"GLOW-ry! GLOW-ry!"

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