106, but she’s no old woman

Imagine someone living in the 21st century in North America or the Caribbean but has never owned a television set or a radio, and she doesn’t know anything about the Internet, cellphones and computers. Amazingly, the woman follows what’s happening in the United States, the Caribbean and the rest of the world by reading her local newspaper every day without the aid of eye glasses—as Tony Best reports in this article for Barbados’ National Post.

She adores United States’ President Barack Obama, calls him “Bammy”. When Osama bin Laden, the notorious Arab terrorist leader, was shot and killed last year by United States special forces in Pakistan, her first reaction was a broad smile and a few words of delight: “I never thought I would live to see the day when he would be caught and killed. George Bush couldn’t do it when he was president but ‘Bammy’ did it.”

Welcome to the world of Iris Gibbs.

But there are some other things you should know about the affable woman with a sense of humour.

First, she is a 106-year-old Bajan and is among New York City’s longest living souls. Next, she is fastidious about her dress and appearance. Everything must be in order and she won’t welcome anyone to her home in Queens unless every strand of hair is in place and her clothes are immaculate.

Then there is the clarity of thought and her memory, both of which enable the centenarian to remember dates and events in her long life, some of which occurred at least 90 years ago.

Finally, it is how she views herself.

“I am 106 years, but I am not an old woman,” she said with a smile as she sipped on a cold non-alcoholic drink.

“I cannot hear as well as I used to, but apart from that I am fine. My memory is good and I thank God that everything else but my hearing remains. He hasn’t taken away everything.”

Gibbs, who grew up as a member of a Thorpe family of long-livers in St Michael, listed an aunt who died at 102 years; a sister who was 99 on her passing; her father Percival Thorpe lived to the ripe age of 96; a “baby” sister, Cicely, who will be 92 years old in August, while another sister, Montelle, died at 94.

“We grew up with a father and mother who were very spiritual,” she explained. “We had a beautiful upbringing in Barbados, a loving family, and that’s why my advice to young people today is to live a good life by serving God. My long life is a blessing from God and I believe living to 106 years is a gift, a blessing, from the Almighty.”

A former teacher at St Paul’s Girls’ School in Brittons Hill, St Michael, Gibbs recalled using a tamarind rod to “spank naughty” students and insisted that the floggings, meted out sparingly, didn’t do the children any harm. But she was quick to warn that spanking with a tamarind rod is a thing of the past.

“You can’t do that today. You can’t spank people’s children. Parents today are much different from those of my time. And the children are also different, vastly different.”

The deeply religious widow worships with the Plymouth Brethren, a practice that began in Barbados and has continued in the United States.

She was born in the Caribbean island on December 1, 1905, and knows more than a thing or two about World War I and World War II, the Korean and Vietnamese conflicts, the New York Stock Market crash of the 1920s; the days of the Model T Ford; the troubles caused by the Great Depression that began in the 1930s and the 1937 Riots in Bridgetown.

She went to the United States in 1953, landing at the then Idlewild Airport, now John F. Kennedy International, on a rainy summer’s day.

“As the plane was coming in I saw so many cars moving on the ground that they caught my eye,” she recalled. “I also remember getting soaked to the skin.”

Gibbs, who lived in Clapham, St Michael, before emigrating, realized quite early in New York that if she was to achieve any success in the land of opportunity, she first had to get some training and, secondly, go into business for herself. In essence, to be an entrepreneur.

So, the former schoolteacher went back to the classroom and learnt to be a top-notch cosmetologist. She set up her business in the downstairs area of her large home while her husband Simeon Gibbs operated out of another section.

“My husband and I were married in New York in 1957 and we lived in the house which he had built. I have lived here ever since,” she recalled.

“He was an excellent shoemaker who made leather shoes from scratch and repaired them too. He used a machine to make excellent shoes.

“I was a hairdresser and because of my training and orientation I did the hair of both Whites and Blacks. It didn’t matter to me, the colour of the hair or of the person’s skin. We were able to live comfortably.”

Gibbs’ husband died in 1980.

These days, her niece Ann Thorpe, whom she taught in Class 3 in Barbados, ensures she gets the best of care, and nephew Herbert Gibbs, a Purple Heart-decorated soldier of the Korean War, lives nearby, while a home attendant is at her every beck and call.

Gibbs, who doesn’t have any children of her own, is hoping that Obama gains a second term.

“I didn’t believe I would live long enough to see a black man in the White House,” she said. “I like Bammy.”

For the original report go to http://www.nationnews.com/articles/view/106-but-shes-no-old-woman/

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