Muriel: giving and active at 96
One look at Muriel Cynthia Branker and you would never think she was well past three score and ten –– the age allotted to mankind, according to the Holy Bible.
But this devout, witty woman, who can still dance, is 96 years old; and it’s for that very reason her firstborn and favourite Vic Fernandes rounded up over 50 family members from all across the globe to celebrate the grand occasion.
There was nothing more special for Muriel, who basked in the presence of her eight children, 18 grandchildren and ten great-grandchildren.
“If I didn’t have children, it wouldn’t mean anything to me. Because I have you all, you are all my whole pride and joy.
I love you all so much! I don’t ever want to lose any of you all,” she said with tears of joy in the first ever interview with her son, a veteran broadcaster.
“I have a lot of thanks to give, but it would take us all night,” she said Muriel, a St Lucian by birth, came from humble beginnings, and is not afraid to share details of her childhood.
“It was not an easy job for my mother after papa died; she had 16 of us to feed. She was a woman who had no education, did not go to school; she basically did it all on her own.”
Life would take Muriel from Castries to three other Caribbean countries. She grew up in Guyana where she was married; then moved to Trinidad; and later Barbados.
With a broad smile, she admitted she loved living in Guyana where “you can get all the food you want”, and Trinidad where she developed a life-long friendship with Johnnie Hanz Stetcher, a Jew, who had relocated from Austria during the war.
Stetcher later became the owner of a chain of respected jewellery stores in Trinidad and Tobago.
But it was Barbados that stole her heart.
“There is no place like Barbados. Barbados holds you with open arms. Because of Barbados we had a better life.
“Barbados is the place to be. All my children were born in Barbados,” she said, insisting she wanted to be buried in Barbados when she died.
For more than 50 years now, she has settled in New York with her husband, but is still an avid traveller –– not a bit afraid to take to the skies or cruise on the high seas, even though she is just four years shy of a century.
Vic, fondly described her as a “totally self-made individual, strong-willed, assertive, firm, but loving and a devout Catholic”.
But it’s her generosity and loving and caring nature that stand out, for Vic and his siblings.
“Mum is somebody who has over the years helped a whole set of people to establish themselves in the US; found jobs for them; that sort of stuff. She’s caring and giving. Mum would come down from New York in the days when you had the 70-pound bag. Somehow, she would manage to persuade BeeWee staff to let her get six bags coming down, and I would have to go up to the airport with a truck. And 96 per cent of what was in the suitcases was for other people.”
Fernandes is particularly proud that his mother has never been hospitalized and is still active.
He’s looking forward to celebrating many more birthdays with the strong matriarch.