When Granny D Walked Across America
NOTE: Doris “Granny D” Haddock died in Dublin, New Hampshire, March 9, 2010, at the age of 100. This article is from Yankee Magazine November 2000.
The rising sun brings veils of mist out of the damp soil, and the rain-swollen stream tumbles jubilantly behind Doris Haddock‘s Dublin, New Hampshire, home.
Into this new morning, Doris steps from her front door, her walking shoes on, the long sleeves of her denim shirt buttoned at the wrists to discourage biting insects. “Which way shall we walk?” the five-foot-tall great-grandmother asks. I’ve come to walk with my neighbor, Granny D, our local hero, the 90-year-old woman who recently returned home from a very long walk.
When she was 88, Doris said she’d walk across the country to call attention to campaign finance reform, the effort to stem contributions that slip through not-quite-illegal channels from corporations and special interest groups into the pockets of political candidates. To Doris, this so-called “soft money” is the root of all that is wrong with our democracy.
Starting in California, she planned to walk ten miles a day for one year and to enter the nation’s capital on her 90th birthday, on foot. Like many women her age, she had arthritis and emphysema, but this did not stop her. Her son (and next-door neighbor), Jim, said more than once, “She’ll die trying,” for he knew better than any of us her stubborn spirit.
With Jim’s guidance, she began to train for her journey. On our back roads we’d encounter her, this diminutive lady, a heavy pack on her back. For months she walked the winding, hilly roads of Dublin, logging nearly a thousand miles. She slept on the ground to prepare for what she imagined might lie ahead. All the while, she was trying to get newspapers and magazines interested in her mission.
“No one seemed to believe that I could do it,” she says now, as we begin our walk down the gravel road.
The idea had come to her when she was visiting with Jim in Florida one year. “We were driving through the Everglades, and I saw an old man walking along the roadside. He was carrying a bag in one hand and a cane in the other, and it looked as if he had all of his worldly possessions with him. I said to Jim, ‘What on earth do you suppose he is doing?’ And he said, ‘Well, Ma, it looks like he’s on the road.’ And I said, ‘You mean on the road like Willie Nelson?’ And he said, ‘Yes.’ ‘Like Jack Kerouac?’ ‘Yes!’ So we discussed this for a while. My husband died in 1993. He had Alzheimer’s for a long time, and I took care of him. After that, I just wanted to go, go, go. To get away! And so I said to Jim, ‘Haven’t you ever wanted to walk across the country?’ And he said, ‘Well, yes, but I have to earn a living and you’re too damn old!’ And I said, ‘Says who?’
“Jim knows me pretty well. You get to a certain age and your children start to act like they are your parents. So he thought about that for a while and then he said, ‘Well, you cannot go across the country without a cause.’ And I said, ‘Well, what do you think I’ve been working on for the past two years — campaign finance reform!’ And he said, ‘Oh my God.’ ”
Doris was a long-time member of what is known in these parts as the “Tuesday Morning Academy,” an informal gathering of older women who come together on Tuesday mornings to focus on literature, art, and politics. For the Tuesday academy, Doris had researched the issue of campaign finance reform and the academy had been following the weak attempts Congress had been making to fix the problem — rather like trying to change a flat tire while the car is still rolling. This was long before the issue had become a common phrase on the nightly news.