Seventy years after journeying from North Carolina and settling in Bay Shore — sending for her four kids weeks later — Mamie Holmes celebrated her 103rd birthday Friday at her Third Avenue home.
Mamie Holmes, who’s lived in the same house for the last 63 years, was born in Clinton, N.C., in 1914.
She decided to move to New York for better opportunities than she would find as an African-American woman living in the South.
“I heard that you could pick money off of the trees [in the North],” she recalled.
Down in North Carolina, she had been living in a house gifted to her by her grandfather.
But at 32 years old and with four children, she wanted more for her family.
“My mom had on her Sunday’s best, green hat, green high heel shoes, and here she walked down the highway,” one of Mamie Holmes’ three daughters, Mary Reid, said of her mom’s trek. She left “food for a month,” spare money, and a promise to return in six weeks to get her children.
Mamie Holmes walked down the highway, took a few buses, and hopped on a train from Washington D.C. headed to New York.
At that time, one of her uncles was living in Bay Shore, where she stayed.
Within weeks she found work as a therapist aide at the now-closed Pilgrim Psychiatric Center. She would go on to work there for the next 28 and 1/2 years.
Before returning to North Carolina for her children, she would send them a dime a week.
“I would tell them to save one nickel and spend the other one,” she said. “so they can help pay their way back to New York.”
After six weeks, little Sheila, Mary, Daphine, and George journeyed to Bay Shore.
A lot has changed since.
“You used to be able to walk across Sunrise Highway,” she recalled
Property prices were different, too.
“You can buy one street to the other for $300,” Mamie Holmes explained. “But I said I’m not going to stay out here that long.”
Decades later, she still lives in the same home she had built in the 1950s.
As far as racial issues in Bay Shore, Mamie Holmes said there weren’t much, perhaps because they were one of few African-American families in their area.
“Coming in Bay Shore High there weren’t many black families,”said Sheila Land-Stewart, another daughter. “So as we grew we never looked at people as black, white, or any other color.”
But whenever a new black family came to town, they made it a point to welcome them to the neighborhood. Mamie Holmes would always invite them over and give them welcome gifts.
As a Bay Shore resident, Mamie Holmes was very active in the community. She was a part of the mother’s club at Bay Shore High School and a member of the First Baptist Church on Second Avenue.
“She has been a strong role model for all of us,” said Sheila Land-Stewart.
For tips on living past 100, Mamie Holmes says to eat well and keep the faith.
It also may run in her blood, as her grandfather lived to 97, while his sister lived to 102 years old.
Top: Mamie Holmes with her four children: Mary, Sheila, Daphine, George, along with her ex-husband, George.
Editor’s note: Some of the dates were changed to better reflect the story.