She reaches out with cool, fragile fingers — a thin, velour hand steadying herself with a gentle hold. It hasn’t been such a good month for her health But the old wicker chair on the Oak Bluffs porch is positioned in the sun to warm her and she gingerly negotiates herself into it. Pausing to catch her breath, she will chat about politics (“Gore is going win”), share opinions (“Oprah, please, do you need me to send you some Kleenex?”), and the perspective of many years. Isabel Washington Powell, decked out in smiles, red lipstick and every hair in place, is ready.

“I always knew I was somebody. I always knew,” says the onetime Broadway and Cotton Club star and former wife of civil rights activist, Cong. Adam Clayton Powell. “It was just there. I felt it,” an assertion confirmed by her natural dignity. “I never come from upstairs — and I’m 92 years old — and I never come from upstairs without my makeup on.” Crisp and emphatic, she continues, “Because I have to look at me. I know who I am. I know who I want to be, who, until I die, I will always be. And so therefore when people see me and they say, ‘Well, Mrs. Powell, you look so good,’ I say, ‘Well there’s no need of feeling bad and looking bad too.’<\q>” After enjoying a laugh, she adds, “So you make yourself look good for yourself first. And I do. You’d think I was going go somewhere.”

Although she has little inclination to reminisce, she accommodates a visitor’s interest and makes casual mention of her famous 12-year marriage. “He made himself the star,” she says. “But it’s a funny thing. People can’t understand me when I speak so highly of Adam, because I had to divorce him because of Hazel Scott. But my personal feelings have nothing to do with it. You know, it wasn’t about Hazel Scott or me; it was about the people — and he did many, many things for the people.”

Cars drive by the house, many drivers stopping to wave and call out greetings that Mrs. Powell can’t quite make out. But then, she is engrossed in the conversation about about the pleasures of show business, Vineyard fishing, her close family (“If one of us has a headache, all of us have a headache”), and about life: “To be alive and be a part of this world, you have to be able to handle everything. You’ve got to know who you are in order to have a good life.”

The phone rings often. Mrs. Powell directs her visitor inside to find the portable phone, “Look in the kitchen.” And later, “See if it’s upstairs in my bedroom....” And when it rings again, “Look next to the chaise.” It is not found. She puts her hands to her head. “You must bear with me,” she says, “because this memory — I can have a thought in my mind, then it’s gone.”

It was 1933 when Mrs. Powell, called Bel by her friends, started spending summers in the Bunny House — the large, 1700s house on the Oval named after the term of endearment used by her husband. “You could count the colored people then,” she recalls. “I say colored because we are colored. I am not black.” She repeats what she told the disadvantaged children she used to teach in Harlem, “God made the most beautiful flower garden in the world when He made the colored race. He made them from alabaster white to ebony black and all shades in between. And I was brought up to say colored....”

Oh yes, she has noticed the Island’s changes, and itemizes some recent disturbances. “I don’t know what’s happened to my paradise,” she says. “As a matter of fact, there’s a woman up here who sells dope....”

Gesturing up the hill behind her house where the famous Harlem Renaissance writer Dorothy West lived, Mrs. Powell says, “If there’s anybody that I could say I could hate, it would be Dorothy West. Because she used to feed the pigeons. They’d all roost on my house and in the summer it used to take the man hours to clean the guano off this porch....”

Her voice is strong, but she breathes with increasing difficulty. “I really am in love with life,” she says softly. “I’ve grown to be able to make something out of it. To be alive and be a part of this world, you have to be able to handle everything,” says this independent, fiercely self-reliant woman who has experienced fame, survived illness and met with dignitaries, including President and Mrs. Clinton.

“If I wanted to I could be going to a cocktail party all the time. I get calls coming in all day. Half of the time I don’t even hear the phone,” she says. “And everybody comes and gets me. I don’t miss anything. But I don’t like a lot of crowds. And when I come here, I do what I want to do. I can have the people I want, and have them right here on the porch of my house.”