BY DONNA HUSSEY-WHYTE Sunday Observer staff reporter firstname.lastname@example.org
DESPITE being stripped naked, tied to a tree in ants nests and beaten repeatedly by her father, Advira Gordon overcame all obstacles and has lived to see 101 years.
The centenarian, who now resides at the Salvation Army Francis Ham Residence on Manning's Hill Road, St Andrew, remembered the incidents of her life as if they were yesterday.
"Lawd Jesus! Mi batter, mi batter, mi batter," she said with emphasis. "Mi telling you seh mi batter, mi batter mi batter. My mother died and left four of us and I was the biggest one. So mi couldn't go school, so I could not read. Mi nuh know nothing. Mi can't read. Mi had to stay there to look after them because they were little," she said.
Left with one parent, life for Gordon was packed with abuse at the hand of her father.
"Mi father was a goosie (wild) man, him love girls. Him did girlie girlie. Lawd Jesus!" said the centenarian, whose last birthday was March 25.
"And then now mi was there wid mi father until he took up a brown girl. So mi did bright, even though mi couldn't read, so mi seh 'mi father, you shouldn't go take up nuh young girl, you shoulda take up a big woman that mi can respect and call her mama'.
"A did one big gyal but the gyal never want mi father, she only want what him have and when she get it she take it and look young boy," Gordon said.
"After mi father make up a two-apartment house and give her and tell her seh we and she can't live 'cause it don't look good, a that she did want. And she was there and my father kept visiting her until I said 'mi father that woman don't want you, you know. She only want to eat you out and you going disband wi for her'. And lawd God the man beat we! Mi tell you seh him nearly kill we for the old red woman! We hate har you see! Jesus Christ! One day when we puppa gone a ground and leave things wid her fi cook for us -- we had a auntie in St Ann's Bay — and mi tell my brother seh we going to we auntie. We say we going to kill her and leave her in the house. So we full some three-seam bag wid yam, potato, cane, all sort of things because mi father had about 14 acres of place but we never business with that. We plan to leave everything give them."
Gordon said that, along with the bags of food, she and her brother -- the other two siblings having already run away from home to another aunt in the parish -- packed 10 clothes irons that her mother owned and took them to Ann's Bay.
"I took away the 10 of them and don't lef none there," she recalled. "Mi tell you say we father beat we fi di gyal ... tie we up pon one plum tree in ants' nest and beat we. So that day when we planning to run way and him gone a ground (farm) him tell her what to do and all them things. When we know we father reach ground, Lawd God! We seh 'gyal, fi you life ina fi we hand now and we ago kill you and go way'. We say 'you see what we father do, tie we up ina ants' nest. Look pon we foot how ants bite we.' Two of the boys had already run away and gone to one of our other auntie because of the beating that them used to get," the centenarian told the Sunday Observer.
"Lawd Jesus, mi and my brother nearly kill the woman that day. She beg we, she beg we, she run, she run, and we run her down. We say 'you see what you mek we father do we?' My brother was about nine, but don't ask if we never give her some good lick. Den my brother him wicked more than me, you know, even though you see him little so. Hear him, 'gyal you see how you mek we father tie up mi sister ina ants' nest? Look on my sister foot how ants bite her up' -- boop! lick drop! Hear her 'do! do! 'But mi brother still a lick her, until me sorry fi her mi tell him not to bother with her and she run gone. We were not going to kill her, but I had to mek her feel pain like what I was feeling. Ants bite mi up and the bump dem burn mi bad."
She said that after they ran away from their home in Bethany, Alexandria, St Ann where she was born, not once did their father come searching for them.
"Look fi we? Look fi we? Him never come and we never want to see him either," Gordon said. "All the 14 acres of place that he had, we don't get anything. But mi tell you seh, you see this God?"
Gordon said that two months after living with her aunt, she got a job at a 'Chiney' shop washing, ironing, cooking and looking after a boy.
"I was 15 but mi could work, man," Gordon said. "And I worked for about six months and somebody came and told me that my father met in an accident and said if we saw our father we would be sorry for him because he was crying for us now and that the gyal a give him hell. Mi seh 'the gyal fi beat him because him did beat we for her."
While in Alexandria, Gordon attended Bethany Elementary, the only school she ever went to, although she dropped out after her mother died and instead busied herself with domestic chores.
"As a child, I used to like to wash and iron and cook," she said. "Lawd, up to now that mi blind mi can do it. Mi can't see. Not even mi hand mi can't see. But you know the Lord leads the way for me. "
Gordon said that she worked with the Chinese man for a year, before moving, along with a cousin, to Kingston.
"I had my money saving up in my grip and she said 'come, we going to town and you will have a better life'. Lawd Jesus! I thought we were coming for a better life, but my cousin didn't have a penny, is my money she was going to depend on. I saved up my money in my grip.
"When we get to town she took me to the room that she said she rented. All she said she had was one month rent. She know that I had my money knot up in the grip. So it was a empty room. No bed, no nothing. She said I should give her money to buy a single bed, pot, stove, coal, food. Lawd Jesus! Mi begin to cry. That time you could get single bed cheap cheap, because when you go market they sell the food by the heap. Nothing go on scale or anything, is just a heap of yam, heap of potato, and so. So I had to buy everything. Mi stay there till mi money start done."
She said that as fate would have it, she ran into one of her sisters' who was living in Kingston since age five who invited her to live with her. She also got a job working with another Chinese man.
"Mi work wid one Chiney man washing and ironing," she said. "I worked with him for about three weeks, and one day [Alexander] Bustamante come in the office that I was washing and said to me 'what you doing here?' And mi say 'mi working, sir' and him seh 'how much a week? and mi tell him.
"Busta seh 'drop the clothes and come right out'. When mi come out him carry we go out King's Street and give one lady one whole heap of money and seh the lady must go boil tea and breakfast and dinner give we and after dinner time the lady must carry we come out at King Street right at the statue. When we went he was talking to us and told the woman that in the morning she must take us out there and he would give her some money for her to look after something for us. I was about 14 at the time. But because we were so young he didn't want us to be doing that type of work."
Though she was never married, Gordon had one son, while losing a second in a miscarriage.
Her son, Father Howard Rochester, was killed by gunmen in 2000.
"He could preach, you know, mah! If you ever hear him preach!" she said. "From him 15 him preaching and said he wanted to become a priest."
News of the young priest's death rocked Jamaica after he was found dead on October 26, on the main road in a farm community outside Kingston. He had been shot in the head, the left side and hand. At the time, the United States Catholic community mourned the passing of the feisty young priest, noted for opposing random violence.
As Gordon recalled the incident, she came to a pause noticing that even now, 13 years later, the matter was too painful for her to speak about.
"Like he was going to be 41 tomorrow, they kill him today," she said. "The Thursday night the boy dem tell him that one of the member in the church was on dying and that him must come quick to give him the last prayer. Him come and tell me. But me say 'don't go, is kill dem going to kill you because of how them promote you too quick. Because they did say they didn't want no more preacher around that church and you go take it and fix it up. Don't go'. But him say 'Mama if mi fi dead on the battlefield mek mi dead. But I have to go give him the last prayer'. And mi seh him kiss me and turn way," she recalled. "Lawd Jesus! The next day mi hear Ms Gloudon on RJR say 'is who they say they kill? Father Rochester?' Then I heard bells ringing all 'bout. And I heard them [persons at home with her] saying they should turn off the radio and don't let me hear. Is like mi done mad already. The boy dem strip him. Take away him shoes, take way him socks, take way him phone, take way the car -- Lawd God! I don't even like talking about it," she said.
Gordon said that because of her father's "girlie girlie" manner, after her mother died, he had nine more children, totalling 13. She was the eldest.
She never enjoyed any sporting activities and didn't like going out. Along with domestic work, Gordon also sold ground produce at the market from a handcart.
Today she enjoys eating pork chops and canned fish.
Though a member of the St Richard's Catholic Church, Gordon has been at the Salvation Army Francis Ham Home from 11 October, 1996. She was left there by Father Rochester.
Major Elaine Wedderburn, administrator at the home, said the home accommodates retired members of the Army, along with the blind.
"It was specially for the adult blind and Salvation Army retired officers, but then they open it up to anybody," Major Wedderburn explained. "So she has been here for a long, long time: 17 years."
Gordon was diagnosed as blind after being stricken by glaucoma many years ago.
"People come here and say mi don't blind, but is because mi have sense, you know," she said.
Though she is completely blind, Gordon hears and speaks very well and explained that she also suffers from periodic cramps in her legs, knees and hip. Nothing that painkillers can't help, she explained.