St. Croix woman celebrates 108th birthday


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ST. CROIX - There is an old saying that goes, "hard work never killed anybody," but at 108 years old, Zephrine Antonia Thomas has adopted the saying "hard work makes you live long."

Today, the native Dominican and mother of nine children will celebrate her birthday with her two living sons.

She still loves her independence and busies herself helping out with small chores in and around the house whenever she has the energy to do so.

On Monday afternoon, Thomas sat in her favorite recliner at the home she has been sharing with her sons, Lloyd and Lennox Daley, for the last few years. She passed the time throughout the day talking to them, telling old stories and laughing - and she has a very hearty laugh.

When she is tired of sitting in one place or has awakened from a nap, she pushes her feet into her black rubber slippers and takes her time walking up the wooden staircase to her room several times a day. Lloyd said she is particular about doing so without help to prove that she still has some of her independence.

Thomas enjoys picking and eating fresh fruit from the yard, and on her recent doctor's visit she had no complaints but was given a low-dose medication to normalize her blood pressure, according to her son.

Thomas usually has a big breakfast and sleeps most of the day, resting on her reclining chair.

Thomas was born on Aug. 26, 1906, in La Plaine, Dominica. Her mother died when she was just 3 months old, and her older sister and her father cared for her most of her life. The sisters left their tiny east coast village when Thomas was about 9 years old and walked for more than 10 hours to Roseau, the island's capital.

Thomas never attended school and worked all her life, cleaning and cooking for prominent families. At one time she even worked crushing rocks from the river that were used for buildings and road work.

"I work for many years, but that was a long time ago," she said Monday afternoon, before throwing her hands in the air and dismissing the question asked about her other jobs. Her son Lloyd said she never attended school, but she made sure all her children had an education. He said she was always a hard worker and made sure her children were educated, had strong faith in God and worked for their own keep.

Thomas raised nine children - three girls and six boys - and some of her 38 grandchildren, 20 great-grandchildren and 10 great-great-grandchildren over the years. She has outlived seven of her children, with Lloyd and Lennox at ages 68 and 66 as the only two left.

Thomas left Dominica 35 years ago at the age of 73, moving to St. Croix in 1979 to help care for her grandchildren.

She has always been known as a disciplinarian, and even at 108 with her voice sounding a bit strained, she tries to invoke her authority to get her way. She barks commands in English and French patois, giving stern looks and waving her hand with each order.

Monday she paused to take pictures with her sons, but not before ordering Lennox to "go put a shirt."

She waved him off as he tried to explain that he was shirtless because of the heat. He soon complied and she smiled, falling back comfortably into her chair.

Lloyd Daley said although he has the help of his wife, and Lennox, who recently returned to St. Croix, taking care of his mother at such a fragile age is hard work but very rewarding.

"Every year it's becoming more and more taxing on us," he said. "Every year she is a blessing because she is slowing down, and we don't know how many more years we will have."

He said her long-term memory is still intact, as she tells stories and remembers people from her days growing up in Dominica, but her short-term memory is not as sharp, not uncommon at her age.

Lloyd Daley said his mom, who is affectionately called "Mama" by most of the people who know them, has a strong spirit and love for life that has allowed her to stay active into her old age.

He said it takes very little to keep her happy, and her one birthday wish is to go swimming.

"She changes her mind based on her feeling, but the last two days she has been talking about it, " he said.

"I guess it will be a few hours at the beach tomorrow as she celebrates her day."

Lloyd Daley said there is no big celebration like she had last year to mark the milestone, but she will take her annual cognac shot, and he has begun making plans for her 110 birthday, when he will celebrate his 70th and one of her grandchildren will celebrate her 60th birthday.

"We pray we will all be around, but that is the plan, for a big reunion in two years," he said.

- Contact reporter Fiona Stokes at 714-9149 or email fstokes@dailynews.vi.

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