A West Bay woman who celebrated her 102nd birthday in May says she wishes she could still do the things she did when she was young.
For Florie Hulda Ebanks’ 100th birthday, more than 300 people attended her party at the West Bay Heritage Field, at which the Swanky Kitchen Band played. Her 102nd birthday was more low key, with her son Roy taking her for dinner and a drive through East End.
During her lifetime, she enjoyed travelling. She visited the Statue of Liberty, the Museum of Natural History and the World Trade Centre in New York City, where she met Bob Marley’s children when they were performing in Central Park. She also flew to New Jersey to watch a soccer match between Brazil and the rest of the world, visited the Trump Casino in Atlantic City to play the slot machines, and rode around Disney World.
Like many Caymanian ladies of her time, Ebanks made a living twisting rope while the local men went to sea.
“Thank God, I can still concentrate on plenty of the things I used to do,” she said.
She recalls growing up in a time of hardship, with meagre meals, and backbreaking work searching the back lands for Silver Thatch Palm tops which were used for making rope. She raised four children on her own, long after her husband died, but despite the difficult times, she recalls those days with nostalgia and happiness.
“Walking to South Sound for tops, cooking, washing clothes and playing ball were some of my greatest joys,” said Ebanks. “There weren’t too many activities those days, it was more of doing the things to survive, but we enjoyed what we had.”
Football was also one of her joys. “Mummy did not miss a football game,” said her son Roy, who treated her to a trip to the US for her 80th birthday to watch a soccer match.
Asked by this reporter about her longevity, she said with a laugh, “I won’t tell you my secret to a long life because you won’t be able to do it. There is no secret, child; it’s only what the good Lord bless you with.”
As for more details of her early life, she said, “It’s nearly impossible for me to remember that long ago.”
Her father’s name was Leslie Lorraine Rivers and her mother was Beulah Jane. Her father, a seaman, died on the ship, but her mother lived well into old age. Ebanks has four sisters and one brother, now deceased.
“I didn’t think I would be here until now,” she said. “Not too many live to my age, like how God spared me – so many died in their 50s, 60s and 80s – not too many went to 102.”
She misses the simple things, like cooking for hours and washing. “I cannot do nothing like that again, but my mind is on those things constantly,” she said.
She lives today on Hell Road, not too far from where she grew up.
Ebanks attended school in Boatswains Bay and finished school at 14, before starting work.
“Now that’s a story,” she said. “I walked from where I lived in Boatswains Bay with my mama, up to Smith Barcadere and into South Sound top land to cut tops to haul back to West Bay to make rope. The rope was exchanged at the shops for corn meal, flour, sugar, coffee, lard, a little beef or fish, and most other basic staples.”
Ebanks also washed clothes and worked in people’s kitchens.
Her mother owned a caboose, which Ebanks said was located in an outside kitchen. The kitchen was separated from the main house to keep the smoke outside.
“We made all types of cakes – cassava, sweet potato, papaya, yam, breadfruit, pumpkin and cornmeal. We cooked all types of meals, fish rundown, turtle stew, beans and rice, whelks, sweet potato dumplings and much more in the caboose,” she said.
She misses the old days of simplicity, when there was no sound of cars rumbling past, and when neighbours dropped by for a visit and the cooking was done outside, but most of all, she says she misses the sharing and caring ways of the Caymanian people.
“Cayman’s gone, I say that over and over. No more Cayman like it used to be. Everything has changed in my 102 years,” she said.