Centenarian wishes for day out on birthday

Rena Mae Alexander celebrates her 100th birthday with niece Sheila Minzett-Henry, caregiver Tracy Johnson and daughter Hazeldeen Solomon. - Photo: Jewel Levy

Bedridden, unable to walk, Rena Mae Alexander wanted just one thing for her 100th birthday – a new wheelchair to get her out of the house.

“Just borrow a wheelchair, and take me … nowhere special, just take me out. Every week I used to go out, now all I do is lie here,” said Ms. Alexander on her big day.

Getting her white hair brushed back, she called for her special dress in anticipation.

“I want to get out, even if it is only for one time, or even two times to see people,” she pleaded.

“Just borrow …”

“We going tomorrow,” said her niece, Sheila Minzett-Henry.

“It should have been today, put on my clothes and let’s go, I’ve been lying down too long,” said Ms. Alexander, joining the laughter but with tears clouding her eyes.

“I not got lots to tell you no more, I just want to dress and go … just a-straight town and a-straight back … it just for today,” she continued.

The thought of maybe not getting a drive out did not keep Ms. Alexander’s spirts down for very long, as she was bent on enjoying the company of those around her. Soon she was all smiles again as her daughter Hazeldeen Solomon, niece Ms. Minzett-Henry and caregiver Tracy Johnson gave her a bunch of balloons and told her to smile for the camera, while asking her if she was happy about reaching 100 years old.

“I thank the Lord I lived to see this age, just bring me the chair, I ready to go,” said Ms. Alexander, trying to move herself into position in anticipation of getting out of bed.

“I feel more like 22 than 100,” she giggled, laughing at the fuss they were making over her.

“I want to say something on my birthday, just something short,” she said.

“What’s that?” asked her niece.

“I never used to be so slim, it’s only now that I have gotten older … don’t they see I get very tired of sitting up in the bed, and where is the wheelchair?” she asked once again.

The eldest of seven children born in Sandy Bay, Nicaragua, to parents Alvert and Amanda Solomon, Ms. Alexander grew up on Manse Road in Bodden Town. She attended an all-ages school and was taught by Teacher Hill. Then at age 16, she returned to Nicaragua to find work as a housekeeper.

The long-retired seamstress and housekeeper, who now lives at the top of Northward Road in Bodden Town with her daughter Hazeldeen, 79, said she spent some 40 years in Nicaragua working, returning to Cayman when she was 77.

Ms. Minzett-Henry, said she once got the opportunity to visit Nicaragua with her aunt and Ms. Alexander’s grand-nephew, Johan Carter.

“Mama appreciates the things that Sheila has done for her over the years,” said her daughter.

“We visited the family but never visited the town that my aunt grew up in because we had to travel to it by boat,” said her niece.

“I don’t like boats either,” said Ms. Alexander, as her daughter added it was the only mode of transportation they had available to travel to the outer island Ms. Alexander had once called home.

When she returned to Cayman, Ms. Alexander found more work as a housekeeper while raising her grand-nephew.

“Where is he anyway? When he comes by he only stays for 10 minutes … don’t know if he is afraid of people or what,” said the sharp-minded Ms. Alexander with a giggle.

Upon her return to Cayman, Ms. Alexander also participated in services at Webster Memorial United Church, and was well-known by the community for her sewing talents, among them making uniforms each year for children attending Bodden Town Primary School.

“I am alive right now, oh yes! I am really glad to be alive,” said Ms. Alexander, turning her head to glance longingly out the window at the overcast day.

“It looks like it will rain today,” she said to no one in particular.

“Although I have problems with my foot, I am still alive … I can still remember and talk about where I lived and things like that … I love to see people come and visit,” she added.

She said she knew lots of people who would have been her age who did not make it.

“Are you Miss Hope?” she suddenly asked a visitor.

“No, she belongs to Mr. Cedric,” said her niece.

“Oh, yes! Cedric, I remember him, and Ms. Ariel too,” said Ms. Alexander, recalling people she knew from earlier years.

Again, the subject of the wheelchair comes up.

“It’s been over a week that Aunt Rena has not been able to go outside because her wheelchair is broken,” said her niece.

“I visited the Bodden Town clinic and put her name on the list for a wheelchair, but so far we have not received one. Every time I come by, she asks where is the wheelchair so she can go outside,” said Ms. Minzett-Henry, expressing her disappointment at not being able to fulfill the promise.

“Every week she quarrel she wants to go to Pease Bay, Bodden Town, to purchase Scotch bonnet peppers,” said her caregiver Ms. Johnson.

In a twist of good fortune, less that 30 minutes later, the centenarian had her special birthday wish granted. An anonymous donor issued a check for her to get her day out on the town in a special wheelchair-equipped vehicle.

Unfortunately, according to Ms. Minzett-Henry, her caregiver said she was tied up with other engagements. And by the afternoon of her birthday, the 100-year-old still did not have a wheelchair.

In the end, Ms. Alexander did not get her special day out on the town, after all.

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