While the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic significantly restricted Vincentian centenarian Michinson “Mitchie” James from having an elaborate 103rd birthday celebration last Tuesday night, it, clearly, did not stop him from hosting a bash on Zoom.
“It was good. It was well spent,” James told Caribbean Life in an exclusive interview from his East Flatbush, Brooklyn home. “I had some Zoom calls from my family and friends from all over — St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, Canada, Barbados and New York.
“It was well spent with the family,” he added. “I was able to see their faces. I was lucky to see everybody’s faces.
“They told me I was like Sobers –not giving up my wicket,” continued James, referring to Sir Garfield Sobers, the Barbadian-born long-standing, legendary West Indies cricket batting great and allrounder, who held the world record of 365 runs not out until it was broken by another West Indies batting star, Trinidadian Brian Lara, against England at the Antigua Recreation Grounds in the 1990s.
“What can I do? God gives me strength, and I will use it until He comes,” said James, a huge sports fan, including cricket.
When asked how many more birthdays he expects to celebrate, James erupted in loud laughter, blurting out: “This might be the last one, but I don’t feel so.
“It appears to me like I have more to spend,” he said. “Oh, my God — the way I feel — I feel very strong, no complaints.
“I had my COVID shot already,” the centenarian disclosed. “I’m supposed to go sometime this month for the second one — the 20th of this month.
“I’m in God’s hands,” James added. “He will tell me when to stay and when not to stay. When God is ready for me, I’ll go. I’m in his hands.”
His daughter, Hazel Morris, 65, who lives with him, chimed in: “I’m happy he’s still around. It’s a treasure that us, my children, his grand-children and great grand-children can still have him around.”
James, who was born on Jan. 26, 1918, had planned to have a big birthday bash, when he turned 103.
Morris — who just retired in December from the Billing Department at the nearby Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center in East Flatbush after 32 years — said the family had also planned to have a huge celebration for his dad in September but had to scrub it because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
She said the celebration, expected to take place in an unidentified park in Brooklyn, would have attracted relatives far and wide, including Canada and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
In late October, James told Caribbean Life that he was still going strong and that he was not going anywhere soon.
“My doctor was surprised with me” he said. “The doctor told me I’m alright. My heart is strong.”
James said he’s enjoying life, eating and sleeping well, and watching his favorite sports on television, which also includes boxing.
On eating, James said he loves “pigtail cook-up with rice” and “chicken wings in pelau.” Pelau is a favorite dish among Vincentians.
In addition, Morris reiterated that her dad loves his independence, and that he’s “very meticulous with his things.”
The son and last child of the late Weston and Adina James, James, as a boy, said he grew up in a “relatively poor and stringent environment” in South Rivers, a popular village on the windward side of mainland St. Vincent.
He credited his sister, Eulyn, for his upbringing after his mother’s death, when he was only five months old.
James said the elementary South Rivers Methodist School in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, together with the Methodist Church and the community, provided “love, strength and hope” in shaping his character.
On Aug. 10, 1942, James said he enlisted in the Royal St. Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force (RSVGPF), with the number, 29.
He was one of six young men in training at the time. The force had a complement of 59 policemen, led by British Police Chief, Jenkins. James served the RSVGPF for 23 years, reaching the rank of sergeant.
He said the high point of his career was working in all police stations in St. Vincent and the Grenadines but one, Stubbs, in South Windward
James said his father went to the Great Beyond in his 90s, and that most of his siblings – five brothers and two sisters – died in their 90s, as well.
As a boy growing up in South Rivers, James said he was very active in sports, particularly cricket. He was a middle order batsman and leg-spin bowler.
He said river fish – suck stone (sucker), mullet, macock, cray fish, among others – and root and other vegetables sustained him, and many others in the small village, as a youth.
After retiring from the force, he managed Sunset Blenders in capital Kingstown for five-plus years before joining the Ministry of Agriculture and Trade as a Price Control Inspector, working with, among others, former Prime Minister Sir James F. Mitchell.
In 1980, James migrated to Brooklyn and has been living in the same apartment in East Flatbush ever since.
He said he worked in security at Pace University in lower Manhattan for 10 years before hanging up his hat.
In the course of his life, he said he married twice: Both wives are dead.
He married Hyacinth Edna Nanton, who died in 1975, while serving in the RSVGPF. That union produced Angella, Gail and Hazel.
But Gail said the number of children her father “sired increased as he moved from one out-station to the next (as a police officer).” That is also typical of some, if not most, police officers in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
James told Caribbean Life that he has 15 children. He did not identify all of them.
After migrating to the US, James said he married another compatriot, Millicent Williams.
With retirement, Morris said she will now have more time to spend with her dad “and make him feel comfortable.
“This man is not going anywhere now,” she said.