News

Cislyn West, 100, taught herself to sew from the newspaper

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

Sunday, April 27, 2014    

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A bright smile lit up the countenance of Cislyn West last Thursday, as she sat on her veranda greeting family members and friends who showed up to wish her happy birthday.

"I feel very good, very good," West said, a wide smile still plastered across her face. "I have my family around and we live so good so I feel very good today. I never imagined I would live to see 100 but all the good that I have done the Lord bless it," she stated.

While family and friends were on hand to celebrate the day with West, Ingrid Hardy, parish organiser for St Andrew at the National Council for Senior Citizens, congratulated and presented her with a centenarian's cup to mark the milestone.

West told the Jamaica Observer that a part of the good that she has done, involved taking care of a number of children, although she never had any of her own.

"I raise a lot of children ... a whole lot of them. I can't even count," West said. "Even some of them you see around here now, I take them and school them and church them, send them go Sunday school, get job for them - everything," she revealed.

Muriel 'Lily' Givans, one of the many children raised by West, explained that the senior citizen took her from her family when she was 10 years old because things were rough with her mother, financially.

"She hasn't got any children and it was a little rough with my mom and then she decided to take me and that's how I end up with her," Givens explained.

"I'm her brother's child. She didn't ramp wid the 'buss mi cock' as she called it. I got nuff licks from that buss mi cock. She didn't ramp," Givens laughed. "She was very strict. But I wasn't in need of anything. I was well treated. And I never missed a day from school unless I was ill. She worked hard. Very hard. Everything was good. She treated me like her own daughter, even now she does that. I live in Clarendon now, but I left her in 1962 and went to England and I used to visit on holidays and even when I came with my two children she seem to forget that I am grown up," she added.

Givens said that going to Sunday school was a must for her, as West would not have it otherwise.

Fay Duncan, 69, another of the children whom West raised, spoke to the kindness of the centenarian.

"She didn't have children of her own but she had children," she said. "My family lived next door to Mrs West family and she was the mother for all of us. It was six of us plus our parents. On Sundays we all had to go to church. It was a must for St Luke's Anglican. She encouraged us to go to Sunday school. When it was time for confirmation, we all had to be confirmed at St Luke's Church," she said.

"She was very kind all the time. I remember when it was time for me to go off to England to study nursing she came to my family and she said to my mother 'what is left for Patsy to get?' Because those days things were tight, people didn't have a lot of money and it was a big deal to be sending someone off. My mother said she did not get her watch for nursing school yet, and the following day Mrs West went downtown and she came to Pembroke Hall with this lovely watch from Swiss Stores and she sent me off to England with her blessing. That was about 55 years ago," Duncan laughed. "And I went and came back and I'm always with her each time I come. She is really good to us. We love her. I wet her bed many a day," she went on.

West said that she also raised her young sister-in-law and her three sons.

"The boys born in my hand, because my sister in law come visit me and didn't want to go back to her mother," she said.

"She was small and she said she wanted to stay with me and I took her and sent her to infant school with her little ABC book and she come give me three boys. I raise the three boys and school them and they have they trade. You see that God is good? "She never rude to me. She die here and she never rude to me. She was a good girl but she met misfortune," she said.

Born in Goshen, Clarendon on April 24, 1914, West grew with her mother and grandparents. She explained that her mother gave birth to her when she was in her early teens. She had three brothers and one sister, all of whom are now deceased.

West attended Briston Hill Elementary school in Clarendon but said that she became ill before she graduated, as she was asthmatic and could not complete her education. As a result, she turned to other things to make a living.

"I tried something else," she said. "I went into business and would buy and sell."

She said that she was a businesswoman in the May Pen Market, selling readymade bedspreads, sheets, dress length (material) etc. Afterwards she started making and selling clothes, even though she never learnt to sew.

"I could not sew but I buy newspaper and cut pattern," West explained. "I cut off the front of the shirt, cut off the sleeve and cut off the collar and I measured it against the newspaper. Then I cut the newspaper and measure it against the material. And I cut and sew and sell and make my living." she said. "They look good. People used to buy them man."

West said that even today, she still owns the machine that the sewed with some 70 years ago which is still in working condition. This she praised as a 'good good machine' that she bought for 12 pounds at Singer in Cross Roads. She said that she was in her 20s when she bought the machine.

"Is sewing took me where I am today. Is it buy this place, along with my husband, who was a contractor and is him build the house," she said. "Mi coulda work man. Yes man. Mi love mi own money. My mother was a worker too you know. If mi never work mi wouldn't be at this house, because mi husband one couldn't manage to get here. But is the both of us."

West said that while she taught herself to sew, she also did domestic work for reputable members in the society like doctors, lawyers and plantation owners.

While she could not remember when she got married, West clearly recalled one thing:

"I was a nice young girl and him did like me," she said. "I was married for 26 years. We didn't have any children, but he had a daughter name Monica and I took her and send her to school. She is a nurse. She was at UC (University Hospital of the West Indies) but she is in Canada now."

She said that she met her husband while working with a family in Mandeville and remembered his approach and her response.

"He said 'hi, you don't cold'. I said 'I don't come down here to look man, I come to work'. And is that man I married to," she said with a wide smile. "But him still fool around me until afterwards we get together and I went to the family home and they accepted me and that's where it started from."

She described her marriage as a happy one, partly due to how it started.

"It work you know, because the first thing is that he took me to his parents and I took him to my home and when we live together we make it well," she explained.

But she said that marriages nowadays will not work as they did during her time.

"I don't think marriage can work so well because some of these young ladies not straightforward like in our days. We just stick to one person but not so these days," West said.

Her husband died over 25 years ago.

West had one advice to young couples:

"I would say carry the person to you mother and you father and ting, but they say that is old fashion so it's not like my days."

She said that having a good relationship with your spouse's parents is what helped to make a happy marriage.

"I buried my husband's mother and the father. They both lived with me and died right here," she said.

West said that ever since she was a child, she never enjoyed going to parties but was more inclined towards the church. Thus she was confirmed at St Luke's Anglican in May Pen as a young girl. However, she has not attended church for the past three years as a result of what she described as a 'bad foot', which prevents her from moving as briskly as she would like. However, church brethren visit her on a regular basis and give her communion.

However, she quickly added that she still walks around and does just about everything for herself.

"I have washing machine now and the young lady is here staying with me so she do the washing, but I keep my house tidy and nice myself. I like nice things," West said. "I still tidy up. I can still cook but I don't do it again, I have her."

The centenarian explained that she left Clarendon when the family she was working with moved to Kingston. After awhile, that family moved to Nigeria and so she went on her own.

"They wanted me to go with them but I told them no, I was not going to Nigeria. I never liked the idea," she said. "So I get another job with a judge and I worked in camp (Up Park Camp) for about three months.

"Afterwards my aunt come to me and asked me why I don't come to May Pen and sell and I said is true you know and she told me to meet her at Parade at the big tree and she showed me how to cut underpants. So I would go May Pen market every Friday and return on Saturday."

Now West eats a lot for vegetables and said that she also loves mutton, yam and sweet potato.

"And mi drink man. Mi drink a little wine sometimes. But I went to the doctor a month ago and him say I must not drink any strong drink. So now I drink soft drinks. But otherwise mi alright," she disclosed.

Herma Russell, 56, who journeyed with her son from Clarendon to spend the day with West, said that the centenarian played an integral part in her life.

"I can remember the days when my mother didn't have anything, and when we come back from school she (West) would tell my mother to send all the children come - all 10 of us," Russell said.

"She suits us all out for school. She bought the clothes and sent everybody to school. I know she raised my mother as she was going through a rough life and Mrs West took her in and grew her up as her own. I can't forget her. She is like a mother to me. Sometimes when I want to talk and I have nobody to talk to - because my mother died, I just spend my fare from Clarendon and just come and sit with her for the whole day and talk with her and she encourages me," she said.

"So I am happy to leave my work place to be with her here today to celebrate her 100th birthday. She is a good woman. She is a woman of God. And if she didn't have God in her she wouldn't live to this age and she is still going strong," Russell said.

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