News

109-year-old man still tills the soil

BY DONNA HUSSEY-WHYTE Sunday Observer reporter husseyd@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, March 10, 2013    

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TODAY marks the 109th year of Mathias McDonald's life.

His birth certificate cannot be found, but the plaque hanging on the wall beside his bed states that his date of birth is March 10, 1904, and his expired national identification card corroborates this date.

The centenarian attended school only seven days in his entire life, but choosing the life of a farmer may be the key to his many years on this Earth.

As such, to this day, McDonald, popularly known in his community of Smithville, Clarendon, as 'Brother Man', is happy to not only still be among the living, but to be healthy, strong and still doing what he does best -- farming.

"I have no regret," McDonald responded when the Jamaica Observer's question was loudly repeated to him by a visiting church sister Ardene Russell on Friday.

"If I say I have any regret, I would be charged by the Lord," McDonald added. "For is He who is keeping me. Is not me keeping myself. I don't must go to my bed and live to see daylight. Is Him keeping me, whether in the night, in the day -- is Him keeping me. So all I have to do is give Him thanks for his goodness to me."

McDonald fathered 10 children, two of whom predeceased him. His youngest child is now 67 and the eldest still living offspring is 84. The eldest of the lot died two years ago at the age of 86.

While he could not recall what year he got married, he said his wife died 22 years ago. His daughter later confirmed that she had died at the age of 81.

Many would expect that at 109 McDonald would be bedridden and dealing with various ailments, but this is not the case, as the Sunday Observer team watched as McDonald dragged on his water boots and headed out for his farm behind his house and tended to his banana trees, coffee and other produce as he does every morning.

"Every day him in the bush doing something, whether dig up banana, plant coffee, something," said Pauline Fearon, who has been cooking for McDonald for the past 20 years.

"Him not leaving out the cultivation. Every day him go to the field and spend a hour or so, and then go back inside. Right now, if you give him money him jump on taxi and go May Pen Market to buy what him want and come back," she said. "Yes, him strong, man."

The produce from McDonald's farm goes towards his children, most of whom visit him on a regular basis, while his son who resides in England ensures that he receives a monthly allowance. Other produce supplements his own meals or his neighbours.

Though McDonald lives on his own, Fearon, who lives a short distance away, said he is in need of nothing.

Living alone is his choice, his daughter, 70-year-old Cotilda Goffe explained in a telephone conversation following the visit.

"He doesn't want to live with us because he said up there (Smithville) is cool and he is healthy," she explained. "We just go there and take care of him."

She described her father as a "real, real good father".

"He cares for his family and is a hard worker," Goffe told the Observer. "Him don't smoke, him don't drink, nothing like that. The strongest thing he will drink is a little wine once in awhile," she said. "His memory is very, very good. He doesn't have Alzheimer's or anything."

Fearon, who is also McDonald's cousin, was at his home along with church brethren and friends, Pastor Nicholas Russell, Racquel Rose-Hinds, Patricia Walters, and Ardene Russell. They were cracking up from jokes being told to them by the chirpy senior, who took great pleasure in talking about his childhood.

He recalled at the age of nine, his mother found a man she loved, and took him out of class so he could stay with his four younger siblings and she could be free to see her lover. That was his last day as a student and his first as a stand-in parent for his absentee mother.

"I only went to school for seven days. Seven days in my entire life, because on the seventh day my mother came to the school and took me out and I never went back," he recalled. "She seh her husband send call her, so she wanted me to stay with the little ones dem 'til she come back. But it wasn't so. A go she a go home to her husband in Milk River. That was 1913. Is four smaller ones at the time. I stayed with them alone for a long time -- until 1914," he said.

"There was a man from St Elizabeth come married her. So all her mind was on the man. She never business wid we. So she carry me to one man and give me weh. She carry me to her uncle and leave mi. Give she give me weh."

He spent six weeks there before returning home.

Because he felt his mother did not care much for her children, McDonald left her home to live with his aunt in Peace River, another district in Clarendon. He stayed for nine years, selling ground produce for her in the May Pen Market.

"It was good living with her, as far as how good living was concerned," he laughed.

McDonald said he never took part in regular games, like other young boys his age did, nor was he the going-out type. In fact, he said he'll "never allow night dew to fall on him".

"I never stay out. As night come mi gone to bed. Dew never catch mi a road. Sometimes all four different dance would be going on and I didn't go to none. Mi nuh do nuh sporting. Mi just work," he said. "Sometimes mi go mi bed before night come. Mi never do any sporting. No matter how the sport deh near mi yard mi nuh go deh."

He said he loves to eat and didn't "ramp wid food".

"Mi eat good man! Now that mi nuh joke wid!" he said in his humourous fashion. "Mi body well fed!"

He said he loves mutton and would buy up to 10 lbs at a time.

"A dem deh nyamming mi love," he said as everyone around him laughed.

On Sunday mornings, McDonald, who is a member of the Pentecostal Lighthouse Apostolic church, sometimes journeys the one mile to the church on foot after traversing the hilly footpath that leads to his home. He can also be seen from time to time heading to the neighbourhood standpipe with a five litre bottle to fetch water.

The centenarian encouraged young persons to be good to each other as this could lengthen their days in this world.

"Keep yourself neutral among your brother and sisters. Live good with everybody because the Lord create us to live good with one another, for that is how I live," he said. "Me and nobody don't have nuh talking. Nuh body don't trouble me, I don't trouble anybody. I prefer to give a person things more than a person to give me. I don't love freeness. That would be my advice."

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