TAMPA — Idelisa Olivera got up at 10 a.m. on Wednesday and brewed herself a cup of Cuban coffee, like she always does, then she put on a brilliant purple blouse with a scrolling vine print, and then she spritzed herself with perfume.
Olivera, 97, doesn't leave home without perfume.
"You can smell when she's been around," said her daughter, Borja Magro.
"Ma, please, I'm dizzy here," Magro tells her and rolls down the car window when her mother gets in. Then her mother tells her: "Oh no, my hair!"
Olivera likes to dress up and was excited to be the toast of a party Wednesday, saluting her as the oldest person living in public housing run by the Tampa Housing Authority.
Authority staff honored her and four other residents who are in their 90s at a grand birthday party. Many of their neighbors, who live in the J L Young Gardens complex, came to salute their eldest friends.
Two days earlier, Olivera had wanted to go shopping and called her daughter. Olivera loves bright clothes. Family members dote on her, giving her necklaces, earrings and, of course, perfume.
"You need to take me to the store now," Magro remembered her mother saying. "She had seen a new bra advertised on TV at Walmart. I told her, 'You're 97. Who cares if you lift your boobies or not?' "
Magro laughed and agreed to take her mother, who had argued: "I need to lift whatever's left!"
Olivera was born in Cuba, one of 15 children — 12 girls and three boys. Last year in Cuba, one sister turned 100. Another is 95. Olivera worked in Cuba collecting bus fare while she raised Magro alone. She worked in Miami as a seamstress until age 67, then moved to the complex in Tampa. Magro wants her mother to move to her home in Carrollwood, but Olivera likes living on her own.
Her daughter, son-in-law and a grandson sat up front at the party with her and the other honored guests.
City Council Chairman Charlie Miranda joked with them about odds for longevity: There were four women and just one man. The complex has about 500 residents, half female and 70 percent Hispanic, said Vivian Gonzalez, property manager. The five eldest are each Cuban.
"Your eyes are bluer than the sky," Miranda said to Olivera.
She answered him in Spanish and he translated.
"She says she's looking for a younger guy."
But he was persistent and invited her to City Hall. There, he would dance with her, he said.
He blew her a kiss.
She returned it.
It seemed the perfume was paying off.
Elisabeth Parker can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3431.