Old age may have robbed 101-year-old Pearl Hummel Cline of most of her hearing and sight, but the years have done nothing to dim her wit or dull her tongue.
A Colorado spitfire--who describes herself as a Socialist, atheist and vegetarian--Mrs. Cline has spent most of the 20th Century writing searing essays, letters to newspapers and poems denouncing war, organized religion and laboratory experiments on animals.
With her 102nd birthday only two months away, Mrs. Cline has decided to spend her remaining years with her last surviving sibling, a 100-year-old sister, Violet Curtis, at a convalescent home in Culver City.
The two were among nine children born to one of the pioneer families of Montrose in western Colorado and have not seen one another in 40 years or "maybe 20, I lose track," Mrs. Cline said.
Mrs. Cline, a 5-foot, 85-pound, white-haired dynamo, arrived in Los Angeles Saturday night from Montrose, a conservative outpost of 9,000, where her politics will not exactly be missed.
"She's a Communist--that's been a known fact for years," said a disgusted Montrose election official who asked that she not be named. "I don't know her personally, but she's a local legend around here."
The reunion with her sister was somewhat disappointing, Mrs. Cline said. Mrs. Curtis, who has suffered several strokes was unable to speak, but seemed to recognize her sister.
"I wanted to find her in better condition than she is," Mrs. Cline said. Mrs. Curtis is an author in her own right, though of a decidedly different brand. She has published three books on education, is a Methodist, and is politically conservative, according to her son, Wayne Packer. Mrs. Cline said her four brothers were Colorado farmers, while her four sisters taught school in Montrose.
"I was the only one who didn't become a teacher," Mrs. Cline said. "I knew I'd be teaching the wrong thing--off the curriculum."
Asked what she would have taught, Mrs. Cline responded, "Socialism--with a capital S." Mrs. Cline predicts she will outlast the world, which, she says, is decaying rapidly under the evil influences of capitalism.
"I'm sad to leave my friends," she said Friday at a going-away party at her nursing home in Montrose. Then she added with a laugh, "I don't have that many."
One Montrose resident who expressed sadness over Mrs. Cline's move to California was her longtime friend Pearl A. Shepherd, 84.
"She was never too popular among people who took her philosophy to heart," Mrs. Shepherd said. "I never did. I was always tolerant of Pearl. I just felt that her influence wasn't going to make a whole lot of difference--one person in the whole town of Montrose.
"Life will be a little dull without her."
Officials at Marina Convalescent Hospital in Culver City will have their hands full with Mrs. Cline, who was admonished two years ago by nurses at her care facility in Montrose to stop distributing Socialist literature in the halls.
"They think I'm a subversive here," Mrs. Cline told a Montrose reporter at the time. "They raise hell with me about my subversive writing."
Among the belongings she boxed up to bring to California was a stack of literature from liberal groups to which she belongs, including the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors, National Coalition to Ban Handguns, National Mobilization for Survival, Animal Kingdom Fund and Medical Aid for El Salvador.
Also included was a campaign brochure and button from the 1920 presidential campaign of Socialist Party candidate Eugene Debs, for whom she worked as a volunteer. The button pictures Debs behind bars after his 1918 arrest on sedition charges for his vocal opposition to World War I. The brochure outlines Debs' political philosophy:
"While there is a lower class, I am of it.
"While there is a hungry child, I am not fed.
"While there is a soul in prison, I am not free."
Mrs. Cline said that she and Debs were kindred spirits.
"I liked him because of the sacrifice he had made upholding his principles," she said. "They were my principles too. Naturally, there's a feeling of brotherhood there."
Mrs. Shepherd recalled that Mrs. Cline has always been a champion of the underprivileged:
"She'd go pick apples in the orchard, dry them and take them to the welfare office. She was always talking about the poor. That was always her theme--that our government keeps the poor so downtrodden."
Mrs. Cline said she has been a Socialist "all my life. I was born a Socialist. Capitalism has failed. It's decaying and won't last long. We have to have something to take its place--and damned quick."
She recalled that she marched in peace demonstrations during World Wars I and II and the Vietnam War, and joined draft-registration protesters just four years ago. In the late 1960s, she wrote a series of poems attacking the Vietnam War and organized religion.
'Mourning for Dumb Mankind'
The collection, which she titled "Mourning for Dumb Mankind," includes a newspaper political cartoon picturing a man on a toilet seat. The caption reads, "One man in Washington, D.C., who really knows what he's doing."
In an introduction to the poems, Mrs. Cline wrote of a 1963 peace march near Montrose, which she attended with her dog, Beauty, who died several months after the demonstration. In a tribute to her loyal companion, she wrote:
"I will join her before too long, and I hope we will be remembered as Peace Pals, Pearl and Beauty."
Of religion, Mrs. Cline said in an interview: "I wanted a safe and sane religion and was raised with too much hell and damnation in the churches. I was opposed to that and to the unscientific part. It isn't scientific to believe that man comes to life after death. I don't believe anything you can't prove."
Married Three Times
Mrs. Cline, who began the interview by saying "I'm not in a confessing mood," later revealed that she had been married three times. Explaining why the marriages had failed, she said:
"It was mostly on account of my beliefs. They tried to make something out of me, and I was already molded and couldn't be changed. There was none of them a rascal."
Her legal guardian, Arlyn Macdonald of Montrose, said Mrs. Cline, whom she described as "fiercely independent," remains convinced that she can live on her own and feels trapped in a nursing home. But Macdonald said diabetes claimed most of Mrs. Cline's hearing and sight three years ago, forcing her to seek full-time care. Visitors must stand next to Mrs. Cline and shout in her ear.
At her going-away party, however, Mrs. Cline overcame her infirmities to entertain other residents of the nursing home by singing and dancing. When presented with a pearl necklace and a card from the group, she told her friends with characteristic wit:
"If I hadn't lost my voice along with most of my brains, I'd say something intelligent to you. I'd have a nice little speech made up. But I've mostly gone to the bow-wows. I can't hear or see any of you. But I can feel your presence, and I thank you.
"You're not the only ones who will be missing someone. I'll be missing all of you too."