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Mother of 16, now 106, watches TV for hours despite lack of hearing

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

Sunday, April 06, 2014    

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BEATRICE Nelson Byfield sat smiling on her verandah. Her small frame defied the fact that she had given birth to 16 children, including one set of triplets.

But with the exception of her pleasant demeanour, the only words spoken by the 106-year-old as she held out her hand in greeting, was "mine you bruk mi hand", followed by an even broader smile.

This, the Jamaica Observer team soon learnt has become one of her favourite statements after she fell and broke her leg in 2007, just before her 100th birthday, and her arm two months later. This landed her in the hospital for five weeks, her first stay at the institution in 100 years.

"Now she is very afraid of hospital," the centenarian's son, 64-year-old Franklin 'Mass Joe' Byfield stated.

"These are people who were never sick. They might go doctor with any little minor things but they never sick. So when she went to the St Ann's Bay Hospital she was there for three weeks with the broken leg and she wanted to come home, so she got confused and restless," he said.

"They sent her from Bay to Kingston and she did another two weeks there. Two months after she pin the leg and came out of the hospital, she was sitting down on the verandah and a little baby was about to fall and she reached to grab the baby, lost her balance and broke her hand. So now she afraid of breaks.

"If you hold her hand to shake it, she will laugh and tell you to mind you break her hand, or that she going to break your hand. But both her arms and her leg are okay now," Franklin added.

Of her 16 children, only six are alive today, some having died young from various ailments, while others passed away up to a few years ago. The eldest living child is now 81 years old.

Born on June 24 in St Ann, Byfield moved with her parents to Rhoden Hall in Clarendon while still a child, where she grew up and did farming as a livelihood.

Byfield was married at a young age before she started having her children. However, her husband died in 1973, so she took to caring for her children on her own, and never showed interest in another partner.

Franklin described Byfield as a good mother who did not put up with nonsense.

"You know them people there who don't put down their stick?" he asked rhetorically. "They will beat from this week to next week — a she that. But the fact is she would always fill you up with food. It was poor days but you would always get food to eat," he said.

Franklyn noted that respect for others was at the top of the list for his mother. He recalled with humour, as a boy growing up, a neighbour walked past his parents at their home, took his dinner out of his hand, pulled out a whip and gave him a good spanking in front of his parents, all the time asking "a man you a turn?"

At the end of the beating, and without asking any questions, his father took up a piece of rope and headed towards him for another round. However, the neighbour told him not to, as she had given him enough.

"Is when she done she telling me that after she sent me to look wood for her and I came back with the wood, when she look 'round she don't see me. So she beat me because I left and did not wait for dinner. When she done beat me she hold me and carry me back over her house for the food. That was all that she beat me for. And my mother said to me, "is because you nuh have no manners, because if you did tell her that you leaving she would have told you not to leave yet, but you at the people dem house and you just step away and leave without showing any manners to say you leaving," Franklin recalled.

"So that was the type of person she was, she would more tell you you deserve a flogging. And if she ready to beat you, if you fly to the moon, you going to get it. You had to respect people," Franklin said.

Family and friends who gathered in the yard admitted that it was after Byfield broke her foot that she stopped beating. This included persons as old as in their 30s. In fact, her last granddaughter, who received a beating to her hands, was in the middle of planning her own wedding.

Today, Byfield has been given a clean bill of health and is able to move around on her own, unaided.

"She does not have any pain," her son said. "You don't hear her cry for any pain. The only thing is that she is deaf and we can't communicate with her. Because of that we don't bother to take her to church anymore because she not hearing."

He said that up to six years ago when she was 101, her hearing was still intact, but it started going bad after she was discharged from the hospital.

The younger Byfield said that in 2007 when his mother was 100 she would walk from her home in Kellits to Cross Hill or Fort George, some six miles away because she did not like travelling in vehicles.

"She never like vehicle, because when she was younger anytime she took a vehicle she used to vomit when she drive. So she just used to walk go everywhere," he explained. "So now we say maybe it's a good thing she had her foot broken, because she is so deaf that when she walking on the road all that distance she couldn't hear the vehicles and some of them drive so bad sometimes. So we were concerned that vehicle would knock her down," Byfield said.

He said that despite the privilege of a family vehicle, his mother would head out on foot before the rest of the family on Sunday mornings and they would have to drive and catch up to her before she got to the church, over a mile away.

But though she is not able to walk for miles, Byfield is still independent in many ways.

"She does everything by herself same way, go bathroom, everything," Rebecca, the centenarian's daughter-in-law said.

"The only thing we do is bathe her and plait her hair. And she not wearing any pampers because she is not urinating up herself or anything like that. So even though she is 106, she really doesn't need it," she said.

Despite her lack of hearing, the centenarian loves to watch television and will spend hours sitting in front of the equipment.

"She not hearing what the TV saying, but she watch it until she ready to turn it off," Byfield's son said. "Sometimes she would be up so late at nights watching television that in the mornings she cannot wake up."

He said that she also has an interest in books but would only look at the pictures since she is "not really a reader".

According to her family, Byfield's favourite term is "I'm waiting on the big man. Anytime him ready mi ready".

Today she has approximately 44 grandchildren and an uncountable amount of great grandchildren, according to family members.

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