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A 99th birthday at the 99 Cents Only Store

August 17, 2013|By Nita Lelyveld
  • Emelia De-Four, 99, holds the receipt from her free shopping spree at the 99 Cents Only Store. She picked out 135 items valued at $143.88, including tax.
Emelia De-Four, 99, holds the receipt from her free shopping spree at the… (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles…)

Emelia De-Four, who is 99, grew up poor in Trinidad and Tobago. She was one of 16 children and got only three years of schooling.

She had 11 children of her own and she raised them with few creature comforts. She sewed clothes for them out of flour sacks and used corncobs to scrub the clothes clean in the river.

Every Sunday after church at Our Lady of the Rosary in Paramount, De-Four heads to the 99 Cents Only Store nearby. Recently she won a 99th birthday party there, complete with a shopping spree.

The store told her she could fill a shopping cart with any items she wanted.

A shopping spree at a store where nothing costs more than 99 cents might not sound like much to people who grew up with plenty. To De-Four, it was a major event. She arrived at 7 a.m. Friday in her Sunday best with more than two dozen family members and friends in tow.

She bought napkins and plates and detergent and cabbage, deodorant and socks.

But she started with the religious candles, gently placing 20 in the bottom of her cart.

De-Four, known to most people as Mama, says she prays for three hours every morning. She prays for her children and their children and their children and so on.

De-Four has never been rich in cash, but she is rich in other things, she says.

She often told her seven daughters and four sons when they were growing up, "Children are poor people's riches."

Read my story about Emelia De-Four, and see the story in photos that I sent out on Twitter from the scene.


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