News

Eleshia Bryan, 100, still has her 'full head of teeth'

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

Sunday, June 15, 2014    

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DESPITE never using toothpaste until recently, 100-year-old Eleshia Cleopatra Morgan Bryan can proudly state that she still has her 'full head of teeth', and has lost not one in all her years.

"I don't use toothpaste. Is chew stick I use on my teeth them," she declared to the Sunday Observer team as she showed off her teeth at her Ramble, St Thomas home last week.

"I don't use toothpaste and all them foolishness there."

In fact, it was only about six years ago, when the family could no longer source the chew sticks, that Bryan was introduced to toothpaste and toothbrush. Family members had to break her in slowly before the centenarian agreed to using them, and only after two days of going without brushing while they hunted for the chew sticks.

Bryan, whose memory is still very sharp, said she was born on June 14, 1914, in St Andrew, but moved to St Thomas with her parents in 1932. She attended Summerset Elementary School in East Rural St Andrew. She recalled with ease that she was married on June 24, 1946, and baptised on June 17, 1962.

Bryan, a former vendor who gave birth to four children, one of whom died at age two, is a strong believer in education.

"Mi nuh have nuh use for anybody who can't read," Bryan said after telling the story of how a man wanted to rob her from the sale of pimento thinking she was a dunce.

"Mi reach six book (senior level in elementary school) and study until mi head hot mi but now mi can't see to read," she explained. "And all my children them done high school."

Bryan said many times she would have opted to go to the family's farm with her mother, but was rebuked as her mother would not hear of it. Instead, her mother insisted that she go to school and that she could only visit the farm after school hours.

"So from mi a little gyal a go a school mi nuh want nuh man weh can't read," she emphasised. "Cause if mi couldn't read man woulda did rob mi. So mi nuh want nuh illiterate man. Mi see man a town have him big house and land and want mi but him can't read, so mi seh take you flight! Mi nuh want no illiterate man because mi nuh have nuh time fi read letter fi nuh man!"

She praised the virtues of her husband, Hurbert, a scholar, who died 25 years ago.

"I don't know what him couldn't read," she said of her husband. "Him could read everything. I never make up my mind to take up any illiterate. So I don't know what him couldn't read."

Bryan sold wares in a number of markets — Beef Market at the seaside in downtown Kingston; Coronation Market, West Street Market and Foster Lane Market in Kingston; and Brown's Town Market in St Ann.

"Mi nuh sof when mi go town," the centenarian said, telling stories of how she would fight in the market to the point where police would cart her off with the intention of locking her up.

Today, Bryan is unable to move around after losing her right leg in 1997 from poor circulation caused by gangrene.

The centenarian's daughter, Pearleata Bryan, 64, described her as an outstanding community member who was very strict.

"If she tell you to do something and you don't do it she would punish you," Pearleata recalled. "And when it come on to Sundays you had to go to church. And you had to go to school. School was the most important thing in her life, because she say she don't want any children around her who cannot read and write. She always telling us that when children cannot read people will take advantage of them. So I draw the same conclusion that kids must go to school. Even if you are a farmer you have to go to school 'cause farming is not like before where you just go to farm and weed plant. Now you have to read the package that you get -- how to plant, when to plant, how to spray, when to spray."

Pearleata said on Sunday mornings her mother would visit and care for the elderly in the community.

She said her mother had a strategy when the family had no food to cook.

"If she didn't have anything to cook she would make us laugh when she told us, 'Listen to me, you see when you don't have nothing to cook, keep yourself quiet, don't make the neighbour know that nothing is going on. Light the fire, make smoke blow, let neighbour say pot a cook'," Pearleata said.

One of Bryan's most treasured possessions is a three-foot pot passed down to her from her mother which, according to the family, is over 100 years old.

"She has a pot that can hold one zinc pan full of water. It's the old-time, three-foot pot and she say is five shillings my grandmother paid for the pot," Pearleata explained.

"Our pot go to America and come back to Jamaica. That pot is over 100 years old. Because I don't know my grandmother and it was my grandmother's dinner pot. That pot is very important in our family, we cannot give it away and we cannot sell it. My nephew came here from America and they were asking about Jamaican heritage and he came here and we lent him the pot to take with him and they offered him US$400,000 to let the pot stay in America and we refused it. It is our heritage. We just want the pot. This was our gungo peas pot. It served a lot of us," she said proudly showing off the pot.

"My mother and her husband used to use it cook dinner," Bryan interjected. "Five shillings she pay for it. And when I move from St Andrew to St Thomas I move with that pot. And I move here in 1932."

Elma 'Ema' Daley, Bryan's granddaughter who now cares for her full-time, also explained that her grandmother was a strong believer in education and would punish anyone around her who played truant simply because "she don't like dunce pickney".

"Around the community, if she sees a child two days don't go to school that would make her raise her voice very loud, even now," Daley said.

"Because once she see the child she wants to know whose child it is and why they don't gone school. At her last party her speech to parents was, 'Let your children go to school'. She's strict with that. We couldn't miss school, because if she once hear that you never go to school is trouble."

She described Bryan as a loving person who loves having people around her.

"When I was growing up every Saturday evening she would have two pudding pans of fish and she go by the river and scrape them and by Sunday morning you don't see one fish in the house," Daley said.

"Because she fry them as day break Sunday morning and she would distribute them. Every child come get a cheese trix and a fish. And she looked forward to that. So from then every child look forward to her 'cause they must get something from her," she said.

Bryan has raised a number of other children in addition to her biological family. Today she has eight grandchildren, 19 great-grand children, three great-great-grandchildren and three great, great-great-grandchildren.

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