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Esmie Fredericka Johnson, 100, loves horse racing

100 not out

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

Sunday, June 22, 2014    

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AT 100 years old, Esmie Fredericka Johnson gets all excited about horse racing, having spent her younger days as a rider.

Growing up at Alpha Cottage in Enfield, St Mary, with her aunt and uncle, horses were a common factor, and so Johnson perfected her riding skills after already learning to ride donkeys in Jack's Hill, St Andrew, where she grew up with her mom and dad Almira and James Agustus Taylor until age 13.

"She was a good horse woman," Johnson's younger of two daughters, Dr Lilieth Johnson-Whittaker, stated. "She is a lover of horses and she will tell you all about her riding days. She will tell you that as girls they wanted them to ride with saddles but she didn't ride with one most times, she would just swing a crocus bag over the horse, and they would want her to sit lady style on it but as she got out of the yard she was right across the horse and she was gone," Johnson-Whittaker said.

An animated Johnson, who celebrated her 100th birthday on June 6, recalled one incident with one of the family horse's called 'Charlie'.

"I carried the horse to give him water and I was riding on a side road, and when I give him the water, according to him, him didn't want to go back home," the centenarian said with a wide smile.

"The horse determine that him not going home, him determine that him going back down the main into the town. But I hold on to him and I say 'no, row Charlie row. I beat him and him say', nuh put nuh cane on me'. Him vex man. Him got the water yes and him say', I'm not going home is down me going and him head down the village with me on him back. I didn't have any saddle you know. But I hold him and turn him around, and when him turn up the hill you see - one speed! Him never stop until him reach beside the yard, but I wasn't scared. I was a rider!" Johnson laughed.

"I think she really enjoyed horse racing, it gave her a sense of freedom," Johnson-Whittaker interjected. "It was something she enjoyed and she admires it now. Years ago she would have gone to the races and she would have loved to have worn her hat and so on, but I don't think she got to do it as much as she would have liked because I don't think dad was much into horse racing. It's a passion she has. Right now if she sees a race going on it gets her very animated and excited," Johnson's daughter said.

For the first 13 years of her life, Johnson grew up with her parents, her brother Eric and sister Muriel, both of whom have predeceased her.

Johnson attended the Woodford School in Jack's Hill before leaving for St Mary to live with her aunt and uncle, Rev William Samuel Taylor, whom she said was the first black native Jamaican Anglican priest to preach at the synod.

She moved back to Kingston to attend the Kingston Technical High School where she studied commercial arithmetic and book-keeping.

But Johnson explained that her original dream was to become a pharmacist or dispenser, as they were called then.

"I missed the opportunity because my people couldn't afford to send me any further," she said. "So mi vex man. I was really disappointed. That's all I wanted to do but the opportunity didn't afford me."

Today, Johnson is happy that her daughter is a medical doctor and in some ways get a chance to live her dream through her.

"If somebody came to see me and they say, 'oh you know Lilieth I'm having this problem or that problem' and I say, 'well, I think you should do so and so', mama would intervene and say, 'no no, no, no I don't think that is the right thing. I think you should take this and you should take that'," Johnson-Whittaker said with a laugh. "So in her days she would be there trying to prescribe for my friends. So she has been dispensing all her life vicariously through me."

After completing technical school, Johnson moved back to Enfield in St Mary where she worked as a postmistress and met and eventually, married Edwin Johnson, a Mico Teachers College graduate. The union produced two girls -- Claudette, a retired teacher now residing in Canada, and Lilieth. Along with her two girls, Johnson also took care of her stepson, Hugh.

"He (husband) had his own school. He was a first class teacher," Johnson said. "I was in the post office and he used to be at the school. He came to the post office one day and he saw me and he went back and he called me on the phone. He said he saw me at the post office and I had on a dress and he said it would charm the eyes of a rat bat!" she laughed. "You know them old-time, fool-fool people," she said.

The young teacher was so smitten by the postmistress that he asked her mother for Johnson's hand in marriage. They were wed in 1947 and after 52 years of marriage he died. That was 15 years ago.

"She passed that down to us," Johnson-Whittaker said. "Couple times after my husband visited she said to him, 'I notice you are coming around my daughter Lilieth, and I would like to find out from you what are your intentions'," she recalled. "I promise to pass that on to my kids."

Having started out in the post office as a post mistress, Johnson was promoted to the role of postmaster serving the parishes of St Mary, Portland and St Thomas for 40 years.

Johnson said she taught a number of girls in the service who eventually went on to operate their own post offices. Despite it not being her first love, she eventually fell in love with her work.

"Since retiring she has done a significant amount of travelling back and forth each year between Canada and Jamaica," Claudette Turner, the centenarian's older daughter, said at Johnson's birthday party held recently.

"One of the proudest days in her life was when she became a Canadian citizen. She stood out as one of the best dressed in the room in her hat and a brilliant smile... something that was commented on by the judge in charge of the ceremony," Turner said.

"Although she was proud to be a Canadian, she was also a proud Jamaican, never forgetting her roots and wanting to reconnect often," she added.

She explained that her mom never missed a graduation in the family and at age 97 travelled alone to Philadelphia for her granddaughter's graduation and again to Pittsburgh at age 98 for another.

Turner also described her mother as energetic, a woman of strength, motherly, independent and one who possesses everlasting unconditional love.

Johnson had a few words for people planning to get married.

"Love your wife, live a good and honest life, be good to your children, be a father to them and don't run up and down like these I see running up and down like hooligans," she said. "Take care of each other and be faithful to each other, and communicate," she stressed.

Johnson, who credited serving the Lord and living a good life for keeping her alive, still walks briskly up and down the stairway in her home and is still able to see well, though she has hearing challenges.

Johnson-Whittaker said there are three things that characterise her mother - having faith, being faithful and demanding accountability.

She also described her mother as being everlastingly loving and someone who never holds a grudge, yet not afraid to say you are wrong.

Johnson has six grandchildren and one great-grand-child.

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