“Show some love, grace her with flowers, drive by, honk, shout.”

The message is simple. If you’re in East New York Thursday, let’s show Kathleen “Pumpkin” Dowling that we haven’t forgotten her 105th birthday.

Dowling as a young woman. Photo: Supplied.

Dowling’s family is holding a party to celebrate the Brooklyn great-grandmother, and will be bringing her outside her housing complex on Vandalia Avenue at 7:00pm to soak up the love from any well-wishers.

Great grandaughter Tiffany Stokes told BK Reader the family was inviting anyone and everyone to either drive by with honks, bring flowers, or come with a kind word.

“Sometimes I think, ‘Oh she doesn’t know her birthday is coming, but she does,” Stokes said.

“I was really shocked, my aunt told me, ‘You know your grandmother said, ‘I want my flowers, my balloons, my surprise.’ So she knows her birthday is coming.”

Stokes said this year was an extra-special celebration as the family wasn’t able to be together in 2020 due to the pandemic.

Dowling’s granddaughter and caregiver Relissa Smith was the one who suggested the family reach out to media to get a “pass-through” celebration happening for the Brooklyn centenarian.

“We figured we should reach out to local news outlets and include the community so that my great-grandmother can truly feel the love and to be celebrated after being isolated pretty much for two years,” Stokes said.

She described her great-grandmother as a very positive, loving, warm woman who “still has a lot of celebration in her heart, she just wants to celebrate.”

Stokes still remembers the speech Pumpkin gave when she turned 100, telling family members that she didn’t want her flowers “after I’m gone,” she wants them now.

Pumpkin on her 100th birthday. Photo: Supplied

“She said, ‘please don’t wait until birthdays and other days, just come by with the kids and make some noise.'”

The centenarian was born in the South, but spent all of her adult life in Brooklyn, between Bed-Stuy, Crown Heights and now, East New York. She worked as a seamstress, and has outlived both of her husbands, both of her children and one of her grandchildren, Stokes said.

“She has a very happy, uplifting spirit. If you sit and talk with her she’ll definitely highlight who she has lost, but she’ll also say if it wasn’t for the grace of God she wouldn’t be able to be here and actually still enjoy family.

“Its a little shocking, different age groups aren’t humble, and here you have a 100 plus-aged woman who lost everyone, and still doesn’t complain.”

Stokes said her great-grandmother was nicknamed by her great-grandson “Pumpkin” when he was about five years old. The name stuck, in a big way.

“I totally forgot my great grandmother’s real name was Kathleen, because I only called her Pumpkin,” Stokes laughed.

Pumpkin is known as being very family-oriented, and she loves to crack a joke.

Once, Stokes went to see her great grandmother after a long period of time, and to make up for it, took an item from each of the holidays she missed — Easter, Christmas, birthday and even Mardi Gras decorations.

That day, she also snuck her some wine, which Pumpkin — then 101 — got a taste for. “It seemed after that she just wanted wine,” Stokes laughed.

Dowling on her 102nd birthday. Photo: Supplied

For those wondering what Pumpkin’s secret to longevity is, she gave a clue in her 100th birthday speech, Stokes said. Putting God first and being grateful. Taking life one day at a time and enjoying family while you have them.

“Her big thing is celebrate life now,” Stokes said. “Living in every moment, appreciating every minute of the day. It’s not holidays she loves, it’s the just-because days.”

Dowling will be celebrating the momentous occasion with loved ones—and maybe you—at Starrett City, outside of 20 Vandalia Avenue, at 7pm.

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Jessy Edwards

Jessy Edwards is a freelance writer based in Bushwick. Originally from New Zealand, she has written for the BBC, Rolling Stone, NBC New York, CNBC and her hometown newspaper, The Dominion Post, among others.

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