Alexandria, VA/ August 22, 2019/ Alexandria Times — 1912. The year Titanic struck an iceberg and sank in the Atlantic Ocean. The year Woodrow Wilson was elected president. And the year Carletha “Nana” West was born.
West, who has been known as “Nana” for more than half her life, celebrated turning 107 last month. A resident of Brandywine Living on the West End, Nana spends her days watching the Redskins, socializing with other Brandywine residents and visiting with her many grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren.
Nana was born on a farm in Robeson County, North Carolina on July 18, 1912. One of four daughters, she spent her teenage years in Newport News, Virginia, before moving to Washington D.C. around 1931.
A D.C. resident ever since, Nana spent her adult years working as a budget analyst for the Department of the Navy within the United States Department of Defense until she retired in the 1970s.
“I was working for the Navy during World War II,” Nana said. “You worked hard. You worked seven days a week, Saturday, Sunday, every day, because everyone was busy working for the war effort. … I remember World War II very well.”
Nana has lived to see wars, women’s suffrage, the Great Depression, the civil rights movement and countless other historic events.
She said one of the major historic events she remembered attending was Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream Speech” at the Lincoln Memorial in August 1963.
“When he spoke down at the memorial, I heard that speech, ‘I Have a Dream,’” Nana said. “It was so crowded. You just tried to find a place to stand and listen to the speech.”
Nana had two sons, Lloyd and James. After getting pregnant and having James at a young age, Nana gave him up for adoption. She gave birth to her second son, Lloyd, in 1931 and raised him in D.C.
It wasn’t until almost half a century later that James reentered Nana’s life. At 50 years old, James tracked down his brother, Lloyd, and the families were able to reunite and get to know each other later in life.
On Lloyd’s side of the family, Nana has four grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren and four great-great-grandchildren. On James’ side, Nana has five grandchildren and even more great- and great-great-grandchildren.
One of Nana’s great-great-grandsons was born on her birthday. The two are exactly 95 years apart.
Lloyd’s four children all live in the DMV area and are able to visit Nana frequently. James’ children, who live in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and other states, also travel to Alexandria to visit Nana regularly.
Both of Nana’s sons died before her, James about 10 years ago and Lloyd four years ago. Her husband of roughly 15 years, Richard, died in the 1970s.
“That’s the hard part, I think, for her, is seeing everybody go on,” Nana’s granddaughter Tammy Dunham said. “But I’m like, then you get to see your grandkids, your great-grandkids, and now your great-great-grandkids are old enough to come visit you, and you still know who they are, they know who you are. How many people can say that their great-great-grandmother is still alive and you can go and hang out with her?”
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