Meredith Knight

Women’s Studies

Dr. Moira Baker

Oral History Project



A Look at Life Through the Eyes of A Wise Woman:  Pokie Cottrell



            As I sat down in her living room to do the interview, she offered to take my coat.  After I thought about it, not many younger people have the generosity of older ones.  Her name is Pocahontas Cottrell but everyone calls her “Pokie” for short.  She is an older woman who is a member of my home church.  I had never really gotten a chance to talk with her before I did the interview.  People said that she would be an interesting person to talk to.  So I did…

            Since Pokie has been around for 84 years, I figured that she would have a lot to tell.  Pokie grew up in downtown Newport News, VA, my hometown, during the depression.  During that time people did not have many material things.  She said, “We had lots of love in the family. [. . .] It always helped us get through the tough times.” 

            The expectations set for her as a child are very similar to the ones that today’s generation has placed on their shoulders.  This includes doing your best in school, respecting your elders, being loved by and loving your family.  She did not feel that her parents treated her any differently than they treated her brother, Jamison.  Her family thought that getting a good education was the way to go, to stay in school and make something of yourself.  One experience that she does remember being treated differently happened when she was climbing a tree and her grandfather said, ”Don’t be climbing trees, you’re a young lady.”  This really upset her because she was the only girl on the block, so all of her friends were boys.  Naturally she wanted to do everything that they did.  Even as a teenager her guy friends would come to her for advice.      

Pokie went to Virginia State University and received her B.S. in Secondary Education.  As an adult she lived in Washington, D.C., and taught middle school in Maryland.  The principal at school said that she should become a guidance counselor.  Pokie received her Masters Degree in Counseling in Charles City, Maryland.  She either taught or counseled until her retirement 35 years later.  You can tell that she is a very strong woman to have taught public school for that amount of time.  These days, many teachers don't stick to the profession until retirement. 

            She raised two children, a daughter and a son.  Her daughter lives in Northern Virginia and works in Washington D.C.  Her son died tragically in Korea fighting in the Korean War.  I really did not want to ask about her kids anymore because I didn’t know if she was comfortable about talking about her son.  I did not want to get her upset.  Pokie feels that she followed pretty much the same pattern raising her children as her parents did raising her.  She believes that the only difference is that she exposed them to more cultural opportunities since as they lived in D.C. 

            Pokie said that helping others is what makes her happy.  It is what makes living worthwhile.  “I always am there by someone’s side when they need me.  I have helped many of my neighbors out when they were ill or just going through a tough time,” she told me.  One of her friends said that she wanted her by her side when she woke up from a hip replacement and she said, “Why do you want me there when your whole family is going to be there with you?”  The neighbor said that she wanted Pokie there because they had been good friends for a long time and she would feel better if Pokie was there. 

            Pokie says that she likes being old.  She uses her experiences to make comparisons about how things have changed in her lifetime.  She is glad that she grew up when she did and has no regrets.  Pokie loves to travel and does so frequently.  Last spring she went on a cruise and really enjoyed herself.  Also, to keep busy she volunteers at church two days a week, doing things such as answering the phone, sorting mail, and getting the church newsletters ready for distribution.  I definitely want to have her love for life and enjoy what I do when I get to be her age.  She definitely does not look her age.  She looks younger.  Pokie believes in predestination, and wanted me to be sure to include this detail about her life.  I don’t really believe that God controls everything that happens to you but everyone has a right to her own opinion. 

            In closing I will include the advice that Ms. Cottrell would like to tell all young people.  She says to respect your parents and listen to them.  They will always believe in you and be there for you when you fall.  Get a good education because you need skills to survive.  Be fortunate enough to get a good job and love what you do.  Pick your friends wisely because you never know whom you can trust.  “It is better to have a few good friends than many acquaintances.”  Again she believes that your family will always be there for you so you should love them and let them know that you do. 

            Since she loves company she said that I could “drop by” anytime just to chat.  Even though I had not really talked to her before this interview, I would really like to spend some time with her because she is such a fun lady and she has loads of energy.  I believe that her spirit is what keeps her young and active.  I would not be surprised to see her live to be over a hundred years old because she can definitely carry her own and stand up for what she believes in.  She does not hold anything back.  Pokie tells the truth and she is not afraid to have a voice.  I will be sure to visit this wonderful woman during my semester break.  I think that I might have just made a new friend.