A notable birthday

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 14, 2002

Messenger Publisher

Lorene Chapman Railey laughed as she looked across the table.

"My mother looks better than I do," quipped the silver-haired 81-year-old from Columbus, Ga. "Everybody thinks she’s my sister."

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Railey’s mother is Brundidge resident Ocie Shivers Chapman. And on Saturday, just one day shy of her 102nd birthday, she was dressed in vivid purple and smiling as her family gathered around for a birthday lunch "on the town" in Troy.

"This morning, she got up and was blanching peas in the kitchen," said Richard Chapman, who at 62 is the youngest of Mrs. Chapman’s four children. "She’d offered to cook for us, but we said ‘no, we’re taking you out for lunch.’"

And so they did. As five generations of the Chapman family gathered at the Barnhill’s Restaurant, they snapped pictures and swapped stories about the woman whose life has spanned three centuries.

"It’s amazing," Chapman said of his mother. "She was born in the 19th century, survived the entire 20th century and here we are in the 21st century and she’s still going strong … and thankful for every day she gets."

Ocie Shivers was born on July 14, 1900, "in the country" near Hamilton Crossroads, her son said. On Christmas Eve, 1916 ­ at the age of 16 ­ she married Henry Chapman, who was 18. They had three girls ­ Thelma Chapman Smallwood; Inez Chapman Thompson; and Lorene Chapman Railey, and 23 years after they were married Richard was born.

Henry Chapman was a ticket agent for the railroad, and the family lived in Pike County for 29 years. They left in 1949, but Henry and Ocie Chapman eventually returned to Pike County.

"She’s still active in the church down at Hamilton Crossroads," Chapman said. "We’ve got relatives all over this place."

Three of the couple’s four children are still living ­ "although it’s something when you’re the baby and you’re a senior citizen," quipped Chapman ­ and they came for Saturday’s birthday celebration with grandchildren and great-grandchildren in tow.

"We’ve got five generations here," boasted Sharon Railey Porter.

In all, Mrs. Chapman is "MaMom" to eight grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

"She had several brothers who lived to their 90s," Chapman said. "If it’s not the genes, it’s definitely something."

That "something" led Mrs. Chapman to ride a motorcycle in her 70s; to climb on her roof to clean rain gutters; and to continue to work in her yard and garden until recently, relatives said.

"She got locked of the house one day and crawled in through the kitchen window," Porter said, with a shake of her head. "You just never know about this woman."