'Mi never look too much woman'

'Mi never look too much woman'

Centenarian shares his secret to long life

BY SHARLENE HENDRICKS
Staff reporter
hendrickss@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, January 26, 2020

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CENTENARIAN O'Neil McKenzie was reflective on his 100 years of life when he gladly opened up on what has been his secret for long and healthy living.

“Hard work and rest is what keep me going. I never drink, I never smoke and, at the same time, I never look too much woman,” laughed the doting husband who, along with his wife Hyacinth, 74, welcomed the Jamaica Observer to their home in Fellowship, Portland last Tuesday.

“I never had any longing for those things, “he added. “My brothers dem used to always laugh after mi because I didn't follow dem. I just live, eat and sleep. And when I find my wife I just stick to her,” said McKenzie, or Mr Neil, as he is called by loved ones.

The couple of 48 years are both from the neighbouring Berrydale community, about two miles from Fellowship, and reminisced on days gone by when they would drive down to the rafting community for family visits or go as far east to Manchioneal just for the fun of it.

“This was well up into his 90s when he was still driving and he was physical in the farm same way,” said Hyacinth, speaking to her husband's agility even in recent years.

Save for a “prostate problem” that was rectified in surgery, Mr Neil attested to being as healthy as an ox.

“I don't feel any pain. When I go to bed I sleep right through the night. What I would say is I am moderate with everything. I don't eat too much. I just eat enough,” he said.

Also the owner and primary steward of some 60 acres of land, Mr Neil said that just some years ago, he was still tending to his farm and livestock, and described how he alone would wrestle new 'mother cows' to the ground to disinfect the navel.

“I used to run down di cows, drop di cow dem inna di grung (ground) when dem have calf and mi haffi catch di him (the cow) and throw gaze in the navel to run away the flies,” he explained.

But these days, since retiring from the farm, Mr Neil spends most of his time sleeping, spending time with his wife, or chatting with friends, whom he regales with stories of his youth.

His childhood years of helping his father in their farm back in Berrydale, instilled crucial life lessons of hard work and stewardship; values which served him during his time working in England and the United States.

Revisiting the time when he decided to leave Jamaica, Mr Neil shared his adventure of sailing to England in the late 1930's on a boat flanked by two British naval warships. World War II was raging in Europe and Mr Neil, like many Jamaicans at the time, went to Britain to work in the smelting industry.

“I did the farming as a young man and when I find say life was so hard in Jamaica, I get fed up and throw away mi fork and went to England to work,” he said.

“I used to do metal work in a foundry and when I got there first, I didn't know how dangerous the job was. One time when I was stirring up the metal with a cold ladle, the metal splash up and burn up my clothes and catch mi in my chest,” he added.

While the dangerous working environment and England's bitter cold took some getting used to, Mr Neil said that his encounter with racism was worse.

“All the coloured people where I lived in England end up live one place. As a coloured person move in somewhere, the white person next door would sell and move out.

“I remember one day I went to church and I was sitting beside a white woman and because she don't want mi to sit beside her she bend down and pretend like she fixing her shoes because she don't want to shake my hand,” he said.

Compared to his time in the United States, where he also worked as a farm worker, Mr Neil said back then being West Indian in America served as an advantage.

“My first time in America wasn't so nice because the Americans were prejudice. But after a while they got accustomed to Jamaicans. The white people felt that the coloured people in America were so different from us as West Indians, so they treated us different because we were West Indian. But the black people in America, they didn't trust them, but we as Jamaicans and West Indians, they trust us and treat us like dem,” Mr Neil said.

Having saved up enough, Mr Neil returned home to Jamaica and resumed life with his new wife, Hyacinth, and went back to being a tiller of the soil.

“Mi come home and pick up back di fork, start back mi farming,” said Mr Neil. “I came back home because I always love Jamaica. I think it's the best little island that we have here, and when you travel abroad you learn to appreciate Jamaica more because you see how people treat people with respect, we don't care 'bout yuh race like in America,” he added.

On the subject of respect, Hyacinth said she takes pleasure in caring for her husband because of how he has taken care of her. This, she said, has been the cornerstone of their marriage.

“I have a full-time job now taking care of him. Whenever I go out on the road, I am always thinking what he would want and he would always think of what I would want. I would come home with something for him, and he would come home with something for me. And because of that, it gives me pleasure to give him all the care and attention because of the kind of husband he has been over the years,” said Hyacinth.

Mr Neil has four children, three of whom he fathered with Hyacinth. Both are also proud grand and great-grandparents.

In the meantime, as his 101st birthday in April approaches, Mr Neil said he will be getting plenty of rest on his verandah where he listens idly to the radio.

“I play my radio sometimes, but what I do mostly is just sleep. One of my eyes close down because di nerve up here seem like it tired, so I just rest wid it,” McKenzie laughed.


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