News

Ima Jane Brown just loved children

Dressmaker, 106, ran a tight house in her heyday

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

Sunday, February 16, 2014    

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SHE would take away any child whom she fell in love with while that youngster visited her home.

So even while she gave birth to only one child at age 26 and then lost her, Ima Brown's home was never void of the laughter of children.

"If you came to the house and she saw that you have little children and she fall in love with them, she would want to take them away," the centenarian's granddaughter Loleta Mott told the Jamaica Observer from their home in St Ann recently. "So she grew six children, separate from her three grandchildren and her daughter. They weren't there all at once though," she explained.

"There is one girl that she grew; when she got older and visited and brought her child, 'Mama' said to her 'you not taking back this one with you you know, and she ended up keeping that child. She just loved children," Mott recalled.

Not only did Brown, who lost her speech last year after a stroke, love children, but she would spoil them "rotten".

"When I started having children, she is the one who introduced them to sweets because I never gave my children sweets," Mott said. "Every Saturday when she coming from the market she would buy a new dress for my daughter and bought her sweets," the mother of four disclosed.

The centenarian, who sat having her hair combed by her caregiver, Latoya Myles, was born on October 26, 1907, in Milford District, Brown's Town, St Ann to Rebecca and Benjamin Wilson.

Brown grew up with both parents, two brothers and four sisters, and attended the Lower Buxton Elementary School in the parish. All have since predeceased her.

After leaving school, Brown went to learn dressmaking but never sewed for a living. Instead, she would sew for herself and the girls whom she raised, and even taught them the skill.

Mott, who herself is a dressmaker, recalled being the one turning the handle on the machine back then. That was her first introduction to sewing.

"She had a little machine where you turned the handle and I was the one who would turn it," Mott said, with a touch of laughter. "So I used to help her. She would sew us some nice little dresses. But my mother used to sew too I understand, so maybe it's in the genes," she said.

Of Brown's three grandchildren, two girls and one boy, two learnt sewing. This included the boy.

Brown's only child passed away after complications with her pregnancy in 1952.

Mott, who was three years old at the time of her mother's death, was the eldest of the three while the youngest was only 10 months old.

"But she was pregnant again because she had us quickly," Mott said of her mom. "So now Mama had three of us to look after."

Though she loved her grandchildren, Brown was very strict as she tried to protect them from life's adversities.

"We couldn't go anywhere as we feel like," Mott recalled. "We would just go to school and come back - that sort of thing, and we didn't keep a lot of friends. She was strict to the point that I couldn't even stay with relatives. She said we were not supposed to sleep out, that we must always come back home, which means I have never slept out," Brown's granddaughter said.

"It was not until I got big. And even when I started working and I boarded near to where I was working, one weekend when I came up she said I'm not going back because she saw some little bumps on my skin. So I still worked but I had to travel," she added.

Mott recalled that while growing up, the yard had to be well kept as Brown loved to see everything in order. She was also the one called upon whenever children had sores, to dress them.

"One thing I remember, we had a neighbour with a lot of children and they usually get sores and they would take the children to her to dress the sores and so on. She was a people person," Mott said.

While Brown was a dressmaker for her family, she would till the field along with her husband and sold the produce at the market. Her produce included yam, corn, potato and peas. Brown would dress up her grandchildren and take them along with her to the market while she sold her produce.

Brown's family regards her as a very hard worker in her younger years and this continued way up into her senior years, as despite her age, she continued to do everything for herself until she fell and broke her hip at age 99.

"She is a kind individual who gave freely of what she gathered from her farm," Mott recalled. "As a child I can remember three old men who used to come to her house for dinner every evening and when they did not come she would send the food to them. Even when she got old, and people came to visit her she would enquire if they had something to eat and if I had anything to give them to take home," she said. "Maybe because of the way she treats the people with whom she interacts she is 'Mama' for a lot of us."

Brown and her late husband Zachariah, who died in August 1988, loved to play with the children. They would help the children to build a hut in the yard with sticks and coconut leaves, complete with a makeshift bed, and the two adults would go inside the tent with the children and they would all sing songs together.

Today, except for Alzheimer's disease, Brown has been diagnosed as healthy and hindered only because of 'old age'.

"The doctor said the only problem she is having now is that she is old," Mott explained. "He said the heart, lungs, (blood) pressure and sugar are okay."

Mott explained that up to last year, Brown was able to move around and use the commode on her own and asked for whatever she wanted. However, a mild stroke in July last year has left her without her speech and mobility.

"She had a very good memory. Even at 104 when others could not remember names of persons from the past, she would. When relatives come to visit or so, she would start to talk about things from way back when," Mott said.

Known to many as 'Sister Jane', Brown is a member of the Brown's Town Tabernacle Church. Even in her 90s she would visit church religiously every Sunday and stopped going only when her sight began to fail her.

"As children, we would watch her kneel by her bedside morning and night to pray. She loves to pray," Mott said. "She would also pray with the children and made certain to pray for them before they left the house," she added.

Before the stroke left her speechless, Brown would sit in her chair during the days and sing hymns that she remembers. One of her favourite hymns was Let us Watch and Pray and Labour Till the Master comes.

She also loved to recite Bible verses, poems and gems that she had learnt in school.

"Sometimes in the nights I would listen to her repeating her Bible verses and praying," Mott said. "She could even be heard repeating her tables (two times right up to 12 times). And she would never eat or drink anything without first giving God thanks for it - even if it was a drink of water. Then she would thank the provider."

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