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Mother's Day and Elizabeth McKnight's 105th birthday

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

Sunday, May 11, 2014    

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Like most mothers, Elizabeth McKnight will today be taken to dinner by her family. That is, of course, after she goes to church.

But today is an even more special day for McKnight. She will celebrate her 105th birthday.

"She is very sharp for her age," said her caregiver, Jacqueline Rowe. "I have worked with other persons in homes and so on and you will find some persons her age not remembering, hearing or things like that. Not so with her, the things that she is doing, those who are 70, 80, and 90 cannot do that."

As if to prove Rowe's point, McKnight names all 66 books in the Bible in their correct order in less than two minutes, without hesitation. She is still able to read large prints without glasses and takes pleasure in reading the headlines of the newspapers.

"Business confidence fell sharply..." McKnight read from last Friday's Caribbean Business Report in the Jamaica Observer.

"She reads without glasses and she can hear and see very well," a proud Gloria Laing, McKnight's niece, told the Sunday Observer at the centenarian's home in Claris Brook, St Elizabeth, Friday. "And she does not take any form of medication; the only thing she takes is aspirin."

McKnight interjected: "I was born in Cameron Hill on May 11th, 1909. So Sunday is my birthday and Mother's Day -- nuff tings in one!"

She attended Glen Stewart Elementary School and completed the Jamaica local exams, which she said was a big deal during her time.

"After that I learnt dressmaking with my sister-in-law. People would bring material come give me and I make their dress and shirt. When it comes onto shirt, you call mi name!" McKnight said then laughed out loud.

She said persons would journey to Claris Brook from as far as Montego Bay with material for her to make shirts with her hand-operated machine. When they returned home, others would see her work and come to her.

"That time mi did name Lizzy! But mi nuh Lizzy again because mi can't sew anymore," she said jokingly.

Laing said her aunt was still sewing up to age 99.

McKnight said she never got married, and reflected on that with great humour.

"So, a bad mi did bad mek no man never si seh mi coulda wear one ring?" she asked rhetorically, drawing laughter from family and friends gathered in the yard. "Nuh man nuh put on any ring on my finger," she said before bursting into laughter herself. "I don't know why. Mi si man weh mi did love but mi never married. Mi was too good and kind to them and treat them too good and it never work out. So mi done with treating them good now, mi dear."

McKnight, who worships at Claris Brook Moravian Church, was a Sunday School teacher, a member of the choir and served as an officer in the church.

She said she became a Christian at the age of 16 and was never one to go to dance, as many young girls in those days would do.

She gave birth to one son, but unfortunately he died before he was two years old.

She grew with two brothers and one sister, she being the youngest of the lot. But her brothers died at age 67 and 70, while her sister died at age 98.

"So the girls live longer," said Neville McKnight, the centenarian's nephew who journeyed from the United States earlier in the day to spend the weekend with his favourite aunt. "And I told her she has another 15 years to go. She says she batting well and they not catching her."

"The last time we celebrated her 100th birthday I was away in Iraq and I decided that I wasn't going to let this one miss me. I just came for her birthday and Mother's Day," said McKnight, who will be returning home tomorrow.

"I lost my mother nine years ago on Mother's Day, so it's something dear and great to my heart to be here. I call her the matriarch of the family because she has outlived everybody. And my wish for her is that she will be living until she is 120. Her favourite words are 'I'm batting well, I'm covering up and they not going to catch me, I'm not hooking, I'm just playing forward'," he said.

McKnight attributes her long life to the directives in Ephesians 6:2-3: 'Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honour your father and mother so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.'

"Mi honour mi parents, especially mi mother," she said. "All when mi daddy beat mi and wail up mi leg, mi mother cry! Mi daddy did wicked, you know. Wicked brute," she said, eliciting laughter among the group of persons with her.

"Him did name George, and the least little ting him beat mi. The least little thing mi do as my daddy come in from work mi sister gone in him lap and begin to whisper in him ears hole. She was his pet. She would tell him what mi did do and where mi did go and him not asking me any question, him only catch mi and throw mi crossway him leg and oh Lord... him dress mi up!" she recalled.

But she said she never held any grudges against her sister.

Today, McKnight admits to being "peculiar" about her diet.

"Mi don't eat chicken and mi don't eat pork. Mi a more vegetarian and I eat fish," she said.

Up to a few years ago, McKnight was still walking up the steep hill that leads to her church a half-mile away.

"I don't walk go too far again. When I'm going to church I will drive, but I will walk from here to the post office (1/4 mile), if mi feel to walk go down there," she said.

"The church is on a hill and she sings on the choir and she has never been late," her nephew interjected. "And when they come for her now she fuss at them if they don't come early.

Laing described her aunt as very loving and pleasant.

McKnight's favourite songs are Draw Me Nearer Blessed Lord and What A Friend We Have In Jesus, while her favourite Psalm is Psalm 27.

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