Growing up, Annabelle Brown remembers Fourth of July family picnics with barbecue chicken, potato salad, baked beans and — especially for the kids — hot dogs, ice cream and cake.
It was her birthday, too, but the fireworks weren't for her. It was like being born on Christmas Day. Everyone was focused on the main attraction.
It may have taken a century, but the hoopla is finally for her. At least that's how it will be at Miss Annabelle's St. Petersburg nursing home and among her collection of nieces and nephews and church folk she's known for a lifetime. Today, they're gathering to celebrate her 100th birthday.
The woman they'll honor will fall easily into the role of celebrity. She may be hard of hearing, but she'll carry on a conversation, offer opinions and advice without a jot of contemporary political correctness and, if asked, reminisce about her long life.
Born July 4, 1910, in St. George, S.C., Miss Annabelle has marked time with World Wars I and II, the Great Depression, the launch of Sputnik, a presidential assassination, the Civil Rights movement and the election of the country's first African-American president.
"I always wished that I could see it, and it happened. I'm glad I lived to see it," she said one recent Saturday at the Pinellas Point Nursing and Rehab Center.
She is the only survivor of four daughters and two sons her parents brought to St. Petersburg in the 1920s in search of a better life. In South Carolina, her father trapped otters, foxes, minks and raccoons for pelts.
"That's where he made his money. He wasn't too much of a farmer," she said.
St. Petersburg presented better opportunities.
"My daddy was a fireman at the gas plant, and my mother did housework," she said, telling her story in her nursing home room. A portrait, taken almost 60 years earlier, showcased the stylish, sophisticated woman her nephew Henry Oliver remembered.
"She was a fabulous, fashionable dresser," he said, recalling a childhood visit to his aunt after she moved to Cleveland. She was a suit presser and tailor there. Her late husband, an accomplished tailor, designed his own patterns and made his wife's dresses and suits. They had no children, but Miss Annabelle is close to her nephews and nieces.
"This is a sweetheart here," she said, pointing to Oliver and going on to tell of his accomplishments as a school superintendent in New York — actually, it was New Jersey, he whispered — and a university professor.
"They've all grown up to be professionals," she said of her young relatives.
The centenarian learned her values from her parents. "They taught us to be honest and work hard for what you get. Don't cheat. Respect people, especially the older people," she said.
She's not one to mince words about some of today's generation. "They want to have children before they get married. I don't think it's right," she said.
"So many children don't have any parents, have somebody to call mom and dad and somebody they could look up to. I know some of them have three or four, and they aren't even married, and a lot of them have different daddies."
And this long life of hers, is there a secret formula? "I didn't run around. I didn't eat a lot of fatty food. I ate a lot of vegetables. I didn't stay up all night. I took care of myself."
This July Fourth, "They're going to hold a nice little party for me," she announced.
Perhaps there'll be short ribs, steak and pound cake. They're her favorites.
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283.