A Day with Osapha
About the documentarian
A New Family
by Debbie Dean
HER COTTON CANDY PINK SWEATER stands out among the haze of grays and blacks worn by others in the room. She sits alone at a table by the TV, the noise from the morning news above a comfortable volume level, but not bothersome enough to distract her from her WordSearch. Other individuals dive into their breakfasts at tables around her while she remains content in her puzzle, not eager to give her breakfast order to the nurses serving the food.
I sit down and she looks up and smiles, not stopping her work on the task in front of her. Sometimes she hums or mumbles inaudible words, but she never ignores me or ceases to acknowledge my presence. She doesn’t feel the need to keep a steady stream of conversation flowing. Her words are intentional and she speaks in a way that makes me feel the sincerity of what she’s telling me, while lightheartedly laughing when appropriate.
Her name is Osapha Gumbs. Next month will mark her third year living in Newport News. While her few years here have been enjoyable, she longs to return home to Florida where she spent much of her life up until this point. Born in the Virgin Islands, her life was full of people and a close community where “you could walk to the store or walk to see friends… not like here where you have to drive everywhere and walking isn’t safe.” She moved to Newport News with her daughter in 2010 when her daughter was joining the service and needed someone to care for her child. It was a hard move to make, especially when Osapha’s other children have families down south. “I can’t say I’ll be able to go back, and I can’t say I’ll stay here in Virginia forever either… No one can say.”
Good Ol’ Family
Osapha’s daughter, Stephany, now works at a hospital in Richmond, commuting over an hour everyday. Her daughter – who recently turned eight years old – attends school and is looked after mostly by her father, Stephany’s husband, who was laid off from his job a few months ago. Osapha spends her nights in their home in Newport News, but almost every waking hour of the day she spends at the P.A.C.E. center, only 10 minutes away from her family’s home.
P.A.C.E. is a facility that gives daylong care for elderly adults. P.A.C.E.’s desire is for older individuals to maintain life in their homes while still participating in community. Members can come to the center throughout the day and enjoy meals, games, activities, and medical care. I glance out the window behind Osapha’s chair as another P.A.C.E. van pulls up, carrying members from around the community. I’m impressed and intrigued by this glimpse the full van provides into the personal nature of the center.
A worker comes over with Osapha’s breakfast, a simple tray containing a banana-nut muffin, a banana, coffee and cranberry juice. She scrapes off the nuts on the muffin’s top, muttering that she only likes one kind of nut and it’s only found in the Virgin Islands. I catch a glimpse of her Caribbean-like accent as she asks the worker for three creamers. Stirring in the creamers, she lets out a sigh and says she hopes the food at my university is better than the food here. I think to myself that it doesn’t look much different.
We chitchat while she eats, and I learn that family has always been important to Osapha, especially growing up. Part of a family of eight brothers and three sisters, she tells me there was “always a’hair to be combed, a’feet to be washed, a’pot of stew to be stirred for the hungry mouths.” A wiry smile slips from her mouth and she avoids my eye contact as she adds, “Ohhh, but none of us were’a from the same two parents… All different, all mixed up.”
Trouble was always nearby Osapha and her siblings. Osapha tells me they were quite the tricksters. “We would do silly t’ings like kick a cane out from a’under an elderly person.” She tries to hide her laughter as she recalls this memory but out it comes, causing her beaded gray hair to shake and jingle. I ask her to tell me more stories but she just says through her laughter, “Oh, you name it, we done it… yes, we done it.”
She finishes her breakfast and suggests we go into the quiet room off to the side of the breakfast area. I follow her as she maneuvers her wheelchair through the tables, calling other eaters by name as she passes. “How are you today, Patsy? Miss June, can you move your purse, please?” We make it into the quiet room and I take a seat on one of the many chairs around the room. Osapha greets a guinea pig in its cage by one of the walls, and I hear her whisper that he seems to have gotten fat.
Church in the Virgin Islands was never a place for trouble making, Osapha tells me with a look of sobriety after settling herself comfortably. “When we was’a younga, as children, we went whether we wanted to or not… But as I got olda, it became something I couldn’t live without.” She loves Wednesdays at the P.A.C.E. center where they have a church service with the chaplain. “Singin’ them songs is something I love ta do… I love ta sing,” she tells me. I almost ask her to sing one of her favorite praise songs but my timidity gets the better of me and I decide against it.
“When I was your age, I wanted to be an evangelist,” she goes on to say. “I wanted t’go round them Islands and spread the news about Jesus and help people believe. But tha’tis not what worked out.” I take this opportunity to tell her that I’ll be spending the year after college in East Asia doing missions work. Osapha’s face lights up, and you can hear the smile in her voice as she says, “Oh, wow… Oh, so wonderful. That is wonderful.” Her faith is clearly something that has only grown with age, and I’m inspired by her growing passion as we talk about God.
I glance up at the clock in the quiet room and see its hands read 9:42. Osapha follows my eyes and announces its time to go over to a different room and begin beading. “I spend everyday in there,” she says as she wheels across the lobby. “Every morning from 9:30 to noon, then one o’clock to t’ree o’clock.” I walk close beside her while she moves through the P.A.C.E. entryway and into another open room on the other side of the building. There’s a sterile smell to the air and I’m struck by all the exercise equipment throughout the room. I watch as one P.A.C.E. worker assists a woman in simply walking from point A to point B across the room, while another elderly man pedals hard on a stationary bike. Osapha greets all with a “Good a’mornin!” followed by their names. She wheels herself up to a table where another few “beaders” sit, waiting for the P.A.C.E. worker to hand them their trays of beads.
Today, Osapha is working on a necklace with green beads. There are a variety of shapes on her bead tray, ranging from pebble to marble size, all the color of deep green grass found in fields during spring months where water and rain have worked their magic. My eye catches the loosely beaded, white bracelet on my friend’s wrist. When I ask her if she made it, Osapha responds, “This? Oh, no, my granddaughter made this for me.” The chuckle that follows makes me wonder if I’ve insulted her expertise bead-making talents by thinking this bracelet was a product of her skills.
“We sell the necklaces, bracelets and earrings we make at the front desk,” she tells me. “Any a’money we make goes to buying t’ings for the center, like a piano or new television… Or nicer beads for more’a beadin.” I make a mental note to pick out a piece of jewelry to buy from the plethora on display at the front desk on my next visit to P.A.C.E.
The beading continues, and I sit next to Osapha listening to her mumblings and comments to other beaders. She jokes and laughs to the physical therapists as they pass her chair doing exercises with other members. I look at the joy in Osapha’s face and can’t help but smile.
Later, I ask my dear friend what keeps her going every day. Without missing a beat, she says, “P.A.C.E. Da people here are my family. I wake up every mornin’ very happy to go spend the day at P.A.C.E. I don’t know what I would do without it.” She looks up and greets her pharmacist friend who stops to plant a kiss on Osapha’s cheek. “The people here are’a real nice, a’real nice indeed,” she says, releasing the pharmacist from a hug. “Some of da people who come here are crazy, but overall, every’ting and everyone real nice. They are m’family. I m’really blessed to be here.”
Born and raised in Northern Virginia, Debbie Dean is a student at Christopher Newport University, majoring in English with a minor in Journalism. Debbie’s passion for journalism has influenced her love for photography, as she seeks to capture the raw, candid emotions and moments of individuals in her photos. Debbie plans to take her photo and journalism skills to East Asia for a year following graduation in May of 2013, with plans to study culture and do mission work. Other pastimes of Debbie’s include running, learning guitar, spending time with her six siblings, participating in watermelon eating contests, and studying the Bible with friends.
Osapha Gumbs does bead work at the P.A.C.E. adult daycare center in Hampton, Va. P.A.C.E. is an acronym for Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly.
"A New Family"
by Debbie Dean
Slideshow: New Family at P.A.C.E.
"A New Family... at P.A.C.E."
11 - 12
Osapha Gumbs and Friends
For You, I Will
When I ask Osapha if I can take photos to go with a story, her initial reaction is, “Ohh, I don’t like photos…” but adds in the same breath, “But for you, I will.” Throughout the rest of my time with her, she insists on me including her friends in the pictures.
“She’s wonderful.” “I really love her!” she comments as she hugs and smiles with friends. I can’t help but grin as I observe first-hand how P.A.C.E has touched her heart.