When the groovy chorus to Stevie Wonder’s “Happy Birthday” started booming through speakers in West Berkeley on Wednesday, 100-year-old Eddie Mae Eddings wasn’t content to sit and watch the revelry. With some help, she got up to dance along, and picked up the mic for a short speech.
“Happy birthday to everyone, everyone’s got a birthday anyway. If you don’t have it now, you have it pretty soon,” she joked, expressing her deep gratitude for the group of family, neighbors and longtime neighbors gathered outside her home of over 60 years on Tenth Street across from George Florence Park, which she lobbied the city to establish.
Eddings grew up in rural area near Houston, Texas, with 10 siblings, and moved to the Bay Area during World War II. Her first job in Berkeley was as a nurse’s assistant for Berkeley Unified School District, and she later worked in a local church.
She has a lifelong love of photography that she picked up in high school, and she held a show at the African American Museum and Library of Oakland in 2008 where she shared historical photos she’d taken throughout her life. A book of the exhibit is now in a museum in Houston. She also covered events at her local church, took wedding photos and had a portrait studio set up in her home.
Her first photography teacher from West Berkeley Senior Center in the early 80s attended the celebration, and said Eddings was her best, and most persistent student.
Lauretta Adams, Eddings’ daughter, watched her mom enjoy the celebration on Wednesday, commenting on how fit she remains at her age, eager to chat with everyone and share stories. Eddings had three children, including a son who passed away, and several of her grandchildren were in attendance to share well wishes.
Having a birthday party in a pandemic that requires precautions to prevent contagion is difficult, and many visitors held up signs and honked for Eddings as they drove by on Tenth Street. Others reminded family members to socially distance and keep their face coverings on, admitting to Eddings that it may be hard to recognize them in their new masked getups.
Eddings shared her gratitude to be surrounded by family several times. Dressed immaculately in a lime-green skirt suit and pink birthday tiara, Eddings neatly patted away tears as she listened to their speeches and memories.
Sitting on her stoop, she told Berkeleyside that much has changed over her years in the city, especially the cost of purchasing a home, but she always made sure to stay involved in her community.
She also shared some advice on living a long, happy life to the gathered group, reminding everyone to say their prayers, attend church and drink water if they want to grow old, like her.
“Anybody like food? Let me see your hands,” she asked, to laughter and raised hands from her family members. “Well that’s good, eat healthy food!”