Daisy Tyson sat quietly listening, uncertain of the fuss being made about her, as her great-grandson, Phoenix Geralds Martin, a sophomore at Zachary High School, played the piano.
Residents and staff of Northridge Care Center in Baker, along with some of Tyson’s relatives, were there to honor her on her 100th birthday Jan. 20.
Covered in a pink crocheted blanket with a faux crown upon her head, Tyson accepted a slice of birthday cake from her daughter, Willietta Geralds, of Baton Rouge.
“She was talking earlier, but she’s a little overwhelmed now, I think,” Geralds said. “I asked her this morning how she felt, and she said, ‘Today, I feel old.’ ”
Tyson was born in Woodville, located in Wilkinson County, Mississippi, on Jan. 20, 1915. She was the first black woman to drive a car there, Geralds said.
“She has lived an eventful life, you could say,” Geralds said.
Tyson owned a cafe for about 25 years, aptly named Daisy Tyson’s Cafe, and also worked as cosmetologist and dental care assistant. She attended school in New Orleans, a city she grew to love that eventually became her home, Geralds said.
The mother of four children, two deceased, Tyson has seven grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.
“She has always been very independent,” Geralds said. “Her saying has always been ‘They blame everything on age.’ ”
For years, every time a storm would approach New Orleans, Tyson was unwavering, never wanting to leave her home.
The one time she did leave, she returned the next day to blue sky and no storm damage.
So, the next time a storm — Hurricane Katrina — was approaching, she was reluctant to leave.
At her daughter’s urging, Tyson packed a bag and retreated to Baton Rouge to stay with her daughter and son-in-law. Tyson’s second-floor apartment did not survive the hurricane.
“I know my apartment is fine,” Tyson told her daughter. So the family drove south to face a devastating scene — the aftermath of Katrina.
“She couldn’t believe everything was gone,” Geralds said. “She lost everything, her photographs, her clothes, everything.”
For the next five years, Tyson lived with her daughter in Baton Rouge, but at the age of 95, she had a longing to return to New Orleans, so she returned to Claiborne Avenue to be near the streetcars.
“Everyone knew her in her neighborhood. This little lady in her suits, walking everywhere,” Geralds said.
One day, Tyson got up to answer the telephone and broke her hip.
“She had surgery, and we believe it was most likely the anesthesia that caused some memory loss,” Tyson said. “Since then, she has been a resident here at Northridge.”
Tyson’s relatives, who live in the Baton Rouge, Zachary and New Orleans areas, visit her often.
Northridge activities director Tanisia Wallace said the center tries to throw birthday parties for all its residents. “But turning 100 is pretty special,” Wallace said. “We had to do it.”
As Tyson ate her cake and vanilla ice cream, some of the residents dropped by to offer her small gifts they made themselves. One slipped Tyson a $20 bill. Another, Bernice Pitrie, 70, had written a poem about Tyson.
“She’s my friend, and I’d like to read this to her,” Pitrie said.
She refers to Tyson in her poem as “the jewel of Northridge.”
The poem’s name, her family says, is most befitting the fiercely independent, 100-year-old Tyson.