Few people can say they’ve celebrated their 100th birthday.
Even fewer can say they’ve celebrated their 100th birthday in the middle of a pandemic.
On May 23, Mercer Islander Melba Jamerson did both. And with the milestones came a surprise.
In the days leading up to the occasion, Jamerson had planned on spending her centennial at home, given the social-distancing guidelines for COVID-19 (coronavirus).
Jamerson’s granddaughter, Tina Jamerson Charles, wanted to mark the occasion — especially given that before the pandemic had essentially put the world on lockdown, they had been planning a family reunion/surprise party at a friend’s house.
“We had reached out to her family, [who are] spread out all over,” Charles said. “We had reached out to them about flying in. So, when this all happened, trying to still do something to celebrate 100, we had to get creative.”
Charles saw on the news that a woman in her 90s had her birthday commemorated with an emergency-vehicle procession. She texted Jamerson’s neighbor, Julie King Hately, who also wanted to celebrate Melba, and told her about it.
Hately, an independent insurance agent who is also a trained volunteer with the city’s Emergency Preparedness Program, used city connections to help coordinate a similar procession, connecting Charles with relevant personnel to pull it off.
Around 1 p.m., Hately estimates that two fire trucks, a detective car, three police cars and a police towing vehicle lined up in a procession on Jamerson’s street for a surprise drive-by salute.
Jamerson knew that something was going to happen — Charles told her ahead of time that family would be stopping by and also had balloons delivered Saturday morning — but not to this extent.
Neighbors gathered while adhering to social-distancing protocols. Soon, the neighbors and emergency personnel were singing “Happy Birthday” to Jamerson, who sat on her front porch draped in a wool blanket.
“I just thought it was amazing that they pulled it together,” Hately said. “I think we were all shocked at the amount of participation, and how amazing it was from our community, police department and fire department to do that for someone. I was really floored.”
Charles said that Jamerson is someone who “doesn’t like any attention at all.” Jamerson acknowledged that it was difficult to be put in the spotlight.
“I did have a hard time with it,” Jamerson said. “It was a shock and a surprise, and I certainly wasn’t expecting it.”
It took some time to process — she had a hard time sleeping that night — but Jamerson ultimately appreciated the gesture.
“It means a lot,” Jamerson said. “It was really kind of overwhelming…I’ve never had that much attention paid to me my entire life.”
For Charles, who considers her grandmother her best friend, it was exciting to do something that “paid it back” to her grandmother, with whom she ordinarily spends every Sunday.
Jamerson, who has lived on the Island since 1948 and has lived in her current home since 1952, said with a laugh that if there’s a particular “secret” to making it to 100, it’s not one she’s aware of.
“I just live my days one day at a time, trying to be a good person,” Jamerson said. “I don’t know if I could attribute it to anything special.”
To watch the procession, go to the city police Facebook page.