They call her "Granny," this small bundle of humor, wit and strength, who stood up after a bone fracture and walked to her 101st birthday party last week in Lutz. She sat on a striped couch, holding the hand of her friend Phyllis Dent as a soloist serenaded her and her guests with old standards and spirituals. She tapped her black loafer-clad feet and clapped her hands along with When the Saints Go Marching In.
"We have a very special lady here today, Harriette Gurney," the soloist, George Spero said. "Happy birthday, dear!"
"Thank you!" Gurney said.
Special indeed. In a state with few natives, Gurney is an exception. She was born in 1909 and raised as an only child in Tampa's first official suburb, Seminole Heights.
Gurney worked as a cashier at Maas Brothers, Tampa's homegrown department store that eventually became Burdines. She clocked in at the local grocery store until she had two children and became a homemaker. She moved to Horizon Bay, an assisted-living facility north of Tampa, in 2007.
Gurney lived during some colorful times in Tampa history, its cigar industry boom times, devastating fires, factory strikes and organized crime. She once told Horizon Bay residents that her most memorable moments were her wedding and her 90th birthday.
But on her 101st birthday, what does she remember?
"All of it," she said.
How's she doing?
"I've been worse, I've been better," she said.
What's changed the most in Tampa since her birth?
"Me," she said simply.
Her words flow a bit easier when talking about Dent, whom she met at dinner one day and hasn't separated from much since.
"I don't like her at all," Gurney joked, then leaned to grab Dent's hand.
"Well, see if I do anything for you anymore," said Dent, 85.
"She's one of my best friends," Gurney declared.
Ashley Gordon, Horizon's resident program director, put on the party.
"I'd do anything for her," Gordon said. "She's such a delight."
At moments during Spero's performance, Gurney happily sang along with tunes that dated to the early years of her marriage, some ditties that sparked full-scale sing-alongs. She nibbled on pizza rolls and sipped punch. She said she enjoyed herself.
"I'd be bad if I didn't," she said.
Jessica Raynor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.