Iris Sterling 'drop lick' on Cornwall 'Bigga' Ford as a boy

100 not out

BY DONNA HUSSEY-WHYTE Sunday Observer staff reporter

Sunday, January 19, 2014    

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BORN in Milford, St Ann, months short of 100 years ago, Iris Sterling refused to admit to the one thing that she is renowned for, 'dropping some good licks' on anyone who crosses her path whom she believed was out of line.

First, it was her four siblings whom she had to care for after her mother died when she was very young. Being the eldest of the five, she took control of her father's home and was the one the other children looked up to. And as the eldest, Sterling would not make fun to beat her siblings when they got out of line.

In fact, all her nine children, 33 grandchildren and 30 great grandchildren and even some of her 13 great, great grands, have at some point been on the receiving end of Sterling's whip or her fist.

But her beating did not stop with her own. It was extended to others whom she felt were 'rude and bad'.

"She beat all of them," Sterling's 54-year-old grandson Eralda Hanchard told the Jamaica Observer during a visit to their Spanish Town home last Thursday.

"Mi know that you beat them countless times," he said, even as his grandmother openly disagreed.

"A lie him telling," she said. But after careful thought she added: "Well, when them rude mi rough them up yes. But mi never discipline them. Mi rough them but mi never beat them."

Neighbours and friends were not exempt from the lot who felt the long arm of Sterling's law.

Among them was now police superintendent Cornwall 'Bigga' Ford whom she had to babysit after school and when his parents were absent in Hannah Town where Sterling resided after migrating from St Ann.

"She used to beat all Bigga Ford. She used to babysit him and..." Hanchard was cut short by Sterling's loud response.

'A lie dat man, damn lie!" she interjected.

"Mi remember," Hanchard said. "She used to live next door to him in Hannah Town and when they come from school him and him brother used to stay with her and she used to touch up him bottom ... both him and him brother. She used to take care of them because their parents and her were good friends, so like when they come from school they stayed by her. And she love beat. So even if him (Ford) say she don't lick him. Mi say him get lick from her."

"Him did bad man," a smiling Sterling now admitted.

"If I get somebody to beat right now, is no trouble," Sterling said as family and friends who had gathered around laughed. "I would chop 'behind'!"

Sterling's youngest son, 55-year-old Franklyn Sterling, who was sitting in a wheelchair beside his mother, recalled how his eldest sister received a good spanking after she got married.

"I don't even know why she got beating, she must have stepped out of line," Franklyn said. "But she did just married and she beat her."

As a child, Sterling attended the Lower Boston School in St Ann before moving to live in Kingston where she met and married Esdell Sterling. However, the elderly woman refused to speak about her husband but instead declared:

"Cut out that part. Take knife and cut it out! Life never run how it fi run, so cut that out." Again laughter erupted, but Hanchard quickly declared that this was not so, as the two had a good relationship after being wed in 1935. He died 41 years ago.

Sterling was a seamstress who sew for her three daughters.

"Yes, mi do little sewing. But mi nah sew again. Long, long time mi nuh sew because mi nuh have nothing fi sew," she said.

Her role as a seamstress ended over 40 years ago.

Sterling said that all that she can recall doing as a young girl was looking after her father's house and being kind to others.

"I can't remember anything from back then, but all I know is that I used to be very kind to everybody," Sterling said. "Mi get big now and don't even know some of the people them. But they know me and come point me out."

Hanchard attested to Sterling's kindness.

"I can confirm that she was very kind. Very, very kind," Hanchard said. "She doesn't have to know you to give you things or do things for you. I remember as a kid growing up that she was a hard worker. She did days work, and sold things at the market. She was always working. Her husband was a farmer and she helped him out. I never saw it for myself but I heard that she was always carrying things on her head. She carried a lot of weight," Hanchard said.

Hanchard spent the first six years of his life with Sterling in St Ann before she migrated to Kingston and left him with one of her daughters.

"She beat mi from day one man. And even now, if I go beside her and talk anything that she don't like, mi get a punch. And if you don't get it she tell you 'bout it," he smiled.

Sterling loved to cook, bake and especially to roast beef -- a treat that family and neighbours enjoyed.

When told that she had 30 grandchildren, a jovial Sterling responded: "A so mi reach far? Lawd of mercy, dem ago kill me? Lawd God," to the amusement of others.

As a younger woman, Sterling loved Michael Manley and was an ardent supporter of his People's National Party.

As a result, she would be among the large following attending political rallies in support of the man she loved so much.

"When him dead, mi mourn for him because he was a nice person. I can't explain but he was a very nice person, very nice man," she said as she shook her head.

Born on October 28, 1914, Sterling said that she has done nothing special that she would credit to her longevity. And not in a position to answer, she redirects the question.

"I don't know how I live so long, you have to go ask God that. You and God talk? Well talk to him," she quipped.

Sterling said that even when she was a young girl she had no desire to go out to parties or street dances or any form of entertainment. She was only interested in church. Today, she is a member of the Spanish Town Church of Christ in Willowdene, which she became a part of over 20 years ago. However, she is no longer able to attend as she is not able to walk as well as she once did.

Another of Sterling's grandsons, Conrad Hunt also recalls getting a number of beatings from her.

"I can remember getting quite a few beatings from grandma," Hunt said. "I used to step out of line by 'back chatting' and you would hear her say 'you know who you a talk to bwoy?' and you get it good and proper," he recalled.

"There are times when our parents would go off to work and she would be the one to babysit us and you dare not step out of line. That was when she was living in Kingston. You dare not step out of line because she was a strict disciplinarian. But outside of that she was a very loving and caring person, very hardworking and very kind. Once you come to her house, as you step through the door you would hear... 'you want something to drink? You want something to eat'? And you dare not tell her no, because she going to tell you, you have to eat it or you have to drink it. She was always extending herself to people and she is still doing it. That is one of her standout traits. That epitomises this lady. And she is an ardent Christian, a firm believer in God," he said.

Charles Powell, one of Sterling's church brothers who was at the house when the Jamaica Observer visited, said that the soon-to--becentenarian loved history and would talk about happenings during World War 2, among other things.

"I have known her going 15 years and she loves history. She would tell you about the war and the hard times that she had. She is very good at that," he said. Adding that she is a very clever woman.

But Powell had one thing in common with just about everyone else that came in contact with Sterling. "Mi get nuff thump and nuff threats from her," he laughed.

Judith Caballero, yet another of Sterling's church sisters, revealed another side to the woman sitting and listening attentively to the chatter around her.

"She always sending me to go have more children," Caballero, mother of three ,said. "She always asking my husband how you make she get way from you so? And she would go to my husband and ask, 'you don't see how she look? You can give her a next one you know. Knock her up again'," she said. "I have a twin and she tell me that don't count. I need to go three times. So my husband must put on one more."

Caballero said at church they have a special nickname for Sterling -- 'Livewire'.

"Once she comes church you know, you feel it and you see it. You can't escape her. And she is the hottest dresser. Valentine's Day everybody knows that she coming in her red and white, everything red and white - from her hat to her shoes. She is hot stuff!"

Aston Kelly, who was a tenant in Sterling's home for 21 years, said that the only reason he escaped her beating was because he did not go close enough to her to be hit. He too described her as loving and kind, adding however that she was also miserable.

"Come close to me let mi box you," Sterling responded upon hearing Kelly's description of her.

"Overall, she was a nice person to deal with," Kelly continued amid laughter. "You could deal with her. But I never go too close to her for her to hold me and beat me."

Sterling has travelled to Miami and New York and admitted that she would have stayed overseas if she was not forced back home.





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