You’ve made it! You’ve scored your century! Good for you, you have defied all the odds – medical, social and biblical (three-score years and ten was your life-span).
You were born in 1911 in the Islands – another age, another time, another continent, another century. You were born on Granada of parents, who themselves had literally been born into slavery, toiling in the cane fields on one of Governor Horsley’s estates. (W.H. Horsley, the Colonial Secretary of Granada, who was a few years later, profitably ruined by the emancipation of the slaves – serve him right!)
When you were twenty, your family was among the first wave of immigrants to Britain, settling in the east end of London near the docks in a small damp terraced house. How you hated it at first, the cold damp climate, the chilly indifference of the people. But you soon got used to it and got a job in a local sewing factory making up uniforms and blankets for the military. Later, at a Saturday night bash at the local community hall, you met Lucas, a fellow Grenadian, who lived in the next street. He was shy and so you had to make all the running and finally got married in 1938. The next year a baby girl was born – Shirley. How you and Lucas cherished the little mite, marvelling at her tiny hands clutching yours and, like all parents, how you gloated over her first drooling utterances.
When war broke out in 1939 Lucas surprised everyone by going down to the nearest depot and enlisting in the London Yeomanry. In vain did you beg him not to, but he had a stubborn streak, did Lucas, arguing that it would validate the citizenship of their adoptive country. You weren’t convinced, were you Rosie, and the telegram that you had been dreading came in 1942: Trooper Lucas Johnson had been killed in action in courageous defence of his country.
(What you never found out was the grim reality of Lucas’ death on the sands of El Alamein, trapped in his burning tank screaming with fear and panic before being engulfed and carbonized by the flames).
After the war you carried on with your life, still working at the same factory and still living in the same bomb-damaged street. The years went by, difficult years, years of privation for the neighbourhood (and indeed for the whole country). Then your dad suddenly died followed, a few years later, by your mum who had been crippled by arthritis and a broken hip.
Those were sad days for you Rosie, losing first your husband in the war then both your parents like that, but your warm and irrepressible nature pulled you through and the fifties saw you (and the country) start to flourish again. Shirley, as strong-willed as her mother, was now in her late teens and was running around with a rough crowd, first generation British, torn between two cultures and fitting into neither. In due course (just as you predicted) she became pregnant with the gang-leader’s child – he just didn’t want to know and left her.
Thus Shirley became an unmarried mother at a time when it was still quite a social stigma but you supported her and brought up the baby (little Amy) virtually as your own daughter.
Your unhappy Shirley fell victim to drug addiction during the sixties and, during the Notting Hill Riots, she died of an overdose of heroin. This was the lowest point of your life, this was the absolute pits, wasn’t it?
After that things slowly improved. In your early fifties, you met Gary and lived happily with him until the rest of his life. (That’s the trouble with getting so old, your loved ones keep on dying on you!)
Amy flourished at school, went to university, married, had twin boys, one of whom has a little baby.
So here they all are today, your granddaughter, your great grandsons and your great great granddaughter, as well as all the carers and staff nurses of the Home. You received your telegram from the Palace this morning and now they are all standing round your table singing Happy Birthday.
Once again congratulations, Rosie!
(Oh, and by the way, watch those cigarettes, one day they’re going to kill you).