News

George Thompson, 104, still puffs away at his cigar

Father of 18 recounts a lifetime of struggle

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

Sunday, January 12, 2014    

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AT 104, George Thompson seems to be debunking medical beliefs that smoking kills, as he continues to puff away at cigars, a habit that he picked up over 47 years ago.

"Yes man, mi still smoke. When my wife left me, that is when I started the hard smoking," Thompson stated as he sat in his kitchen at Greenwich Town last Wednesday, six days after celebrating his birthday.

"That was when my last daughter was one year and two weeks. My daughter died nine years ago and she was 39," he said.

Thompson insists that he only smokes tobacco, and believes that smoking marijuana could be a killer.

"Mi nuh smoke ganja, but mi will drink the tea because I find use in it," he said. "You see why I might live so long? I don't mix myself with ganja, just tobacco mi smoke. And I will only smoke cigarette if I'm here now and I see somebody out the road have a cigarette I will take it and smoke, but mi not smoking it off, mi just take a draw and give it back. It is just a dirty habit," Thompson said as he reached for a small 'scandal' bag with tobacco which he was about to prepare for smoking.

"Now I just smoke when I feel like I want to smoke," he said.

Thompson gets his supply of tobacco from what springs up in various sections of the community or from a particular person who lives nearby.

The centenarian said that he was born in Kingston on January 2, 1910, and lived on what was then Pound Road, now Maxfield Avenue.

"I have no knowledge of my mother because when I was born they said she died shortly after. I was only told a name that they said they called her. That was Williams," he said.

Thompson said that his aunt raised him for a short time but robbed him of what was rightfully his, after selling his mother's property and moving away with the money from the sale, leaving him on his own and with nowhere to live.

"So I struggled along the way. I was nine to 10 years old at the time," he said. "So is me send myself to school because I always wanted to read. In fact, as a child I spell my name Tamson, but an advanced schoolgirl told me is not so it spell and she spell it tell me and from then I spell it correctly," Thompson said.

He said that his father was living in Clarendon but never played a role in his life as he only saw him once in awhile when he visited Kingston and the one time he went to Clarendon as a child.

"When mi go country for the first time, I was about four years old, I got lost in the track that led from my father yard to another yard and duppy carry mi away," he said. "Turn mi fool! Hold mi by my foot and carry mi weh. I believe I go up into a next yard and is them light a little tinning lamp and carry mi to my yard," he recalled. "That was the first I was going country."

The centenarian revealed that after his aunt left him at age 10 and with no relative to care for him, he started to work for a Chinese man in a store at the intersection of Spanish Town Road and West Street for one shilling and six pence per week.

At that time he rented a room for six shillings per month. He was 10 years old.

"Every Sunday, the people would come for their money. They collected the money every Sunday and give me a piece of paper. I was cooking for myself. But mi never know about furniture. Mi did just have a little something to sit on in the house. I didn't know nuh furniture. My bed now was a old policeman bed who did 'deh wid' my auntie. So mi did have that bed from longer time so mi hold on to it. And that was all I had in my house, which was big and it cost six shillings a month," Thompson said.

He said that he worked for the Chinese man for about two months before being offered two shillings by another Chinese man to work for him instead.

"So when mi hear 'bout the two shillings I feel big now you know," he laughed. "Is those two Chinese man dem why I know about green tea and Chinese food."

Thompson soon left the job in the shop and opted instead to attend school as he wanted more than anything to educate himself as best he could.

He started at Ebenezer Elementary School but left because of a nickname pinned on him because he stole a piece of cake from his teacher.

"I had to leave that school because of a name I never love. They call me 'teacher light cake', because mi pinch off one little piece of the teacher light cake," he recalled. "So the pickney dem always a call me teacher light cake. So mi beat pickney at school. None of them never beat mi. So when mi beat a pickney bad now and teacher going to beat mi, me don't go back to that school. Mi just find another school," he said.

The next school that Thompson attended was on West Street. However, the name had followed him to this institution and he again got into fights with other students as a result. Again he left.

He then found a school in Rae Town because he said his 'brain was good' and he wanted to learn.

Thompson ended up attending four elementary schools before the age of 15.

After leaving school, he apprenticed in tailoring, carpentry and masonry.

"Right now I can make any dress," he said. "I used to make my children's dress and send them to school. I used to make clothes for all the children around here for free. When the parents come and say 'how much money I should give you?', I just say 'go bring one penny cigar come give mi'," Thompson said.

"I always love to do things for small children for free. That's how I used to do it. And I live by it and get along. So right now anybody will come and say 'Papa T', 'Hosanna', 'Mr Doctor' take this," he added.

Thompson recalled having to singlehandedly look after two of his daughters 46 years ago when his wife walked out and left them. The younger girl was one year and two weeks old at the time and the other three years old.

"Since that, I don't tell a next woman that I love her," he said. "I didn't know why she left mi. Is about six weeks after that mi know why she really left mi. She and my first pickney was the same age. My first pickney born 1935 and she born 1935. So I understand that she and someone were on the road and they were talking and she say she was not going to be sitting down and a breed up more pickney. She had three children for me. So she left. And mi just go on by myself since that," he said.

Thompson said that he fathered 18 children, 13 girls and five boys, but while some have died, he does not know where the others are as none of them has kept in touch with him over the years. Today he lives alone, although a grandson visits and spends time with him on occasions.

The centenarian, who has been living in Greenwich Town since 1961, is a lover of pork, which he describes as his favourite meat.

"But mi eat everything name food," he said. "Mi nuh nyamie nyamie but mi eat everything. And mi love mi coffee," he said.

But although he lives alone, Thompson said that he gets food more than anything else, as neighbours and friends ensure that he never goes hungry.

"People just treat mi good," he said.

And for many in the community, Thompson is simply known as the doctor.

"From school days if I take up a piece of paper and I look on it I always say 'the doctor's diagnosis shows so and so'," he said in amusement. "But outside of that I have done a lot of things that cause me to get that name. I deliver a whole lot of births around here you know. I have done nine deliveries."

Thompson said that after he delivered the first baby at Ralph Lane he was called by a doctor who told him that he had a job for him. However, he did not take up the offer.

"If I had money, I would have studied and become a doctor. But the money business never work out so mi never have the money to advance myself in that way," he said.

Ironically, Thompson said that he has never been sick not even for a day in his 104 years and never visited a dentist.

"Four teeth I have leave in my head and bone crack them. All the rest of them is me drag them out ... all of them," he said. "Sometimes mi just ketch it and tie it (with a string) and make one drag when it a shake. Sometimes mi feel it man," he laughed.

"I know Mr Doctor all of my life," neighbour Martina Rowe said. "And I am 38 now. Mi know him all of my life but I became really acquainted with him 'bout nine years now. I started helping out from him daughters pass on."

Thompson's two daughters were gunned down together as they stood at a section of their community.

"Mi and him rap good, good," Rowe said. "Him love pork so when him call for pork, mi always find pork and give him. Pork is one of his favourite dish," she said. "But you see sometimes him stubborn when him ready," she added.

A smiling Thompson, who was listening attentively to Rowe, responded in a deep tone: "Yes, mi is a very cute man," as laughter erupted from the number of neighbours who had gathered in his yard. "Very cute," he repeated, ignoring the adjective used by Rowe to describe him.

"But otherwise, everything else is good about him," Rowe continued. "And him don't romp to walk 'bout at nights. Him love walk at nights."

Rowe said that even at 104, Thompson is still cooking very tasty soup and still being 'doctor' in the community.

"Him don't romp to cook and call and give me my soup ... but him naa tell me what kind of soup. When papa cook him soup him call mi and mi have to come sit down and drink soup with him. And you know what, everybody around here who feel sick, them say 'papa mi belly a hurt mi'. And him just say 'wash out' and then go make wash out and give them. But him not telling you is what him put in it until you done drink it. And him telling you to drink it because you know that him not poisoning you. Everybody around the surrounding, him make wash out for. And him don't ramp to take wash out himself ... Salt physic and Epsom salt," Rowe said laughing. "Him don't play with him wash out," she added.

Thompson explained that he takes his 'wash out' four times for the year as it does well for him. But added that he begins his cleansing with Senapod then Epsom Salt.

"Well George is just a good man and God a continue to keep him for his goodness," Rowe concluded.

Another neighbour, Iona Masters, 71, said that for the past 10 years she has become close to Thompson and found him to be a loving man to everyone, especially the young people in the community.

"From I know him I just attached to him. So I help him out sometimes too," Masters said. " He is always a loving man, and give a lot of jokes. Him always come and sit with my husband - my husband died four years now - and mi and him and my husband used to talk. And him and all the young people down here well acquainted 'cause I never hear of him and them fuss or anything. I am just attached to him like is my father," Masters said.

Thompson said that the only complaint that he has is a sticking feeling in his left knee. However, he has tried his own remedy in getting rid of the problem.

"One night I just sat down and start thump the knee and say, 'come out you dutty bitch, come out!" he said laughing. "Just like that and in the morning I didn't feel it again. But it take the other foot now. So it look like the two knees them did lean on each other and it jump over in the other one," he reasoned. "But right now is that alone give me all the worries. Nowhere else don't hurt me you know. I sleep comfortable. I eat everything," Thompson said.

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