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Politics lover Clarice Burton is 100 today

Rose Hall, St Elizabeth resident described as hard worker

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

Sunday, June 01, 2014    

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CLARICE Burton, who celebrates her 100th birthday today, is well known in the district of Rose Hall, St Elizabeth for her delicious cassava pudding, coffee with coconut milk, kindness to everyone, and hopping onto trucks heading to political meetings islandwide.

"She love politics meeting," said Patricia Spencer, 55, Burton's youngest of seven children.

"Every politics meeting she would go... every truck she would jump on to it. The last election we had (December 2011) she had to vote. That time she was blind, but she was determined that she had to vote. She say we must make her vote before she dead," Spencer told the Sunday Observer from their Rose Hall home recently. "So we had to take her up to the school so that she could vote."

Burton was 97 years old at the time.

"We had to mark the X for her because she is blind, and she said remember when you marking put it beside so and so. I don't know if she will live to see the next election so we made sure to carry her," Spencer added.

Although she is unable to see, Burton's hearing is quite good and she is able to move around using her stick. She recalled her days growing up.

"I was born right here in Rose Hall. Mi never move and mi nah hope to move again," Burton said. "A must death going move mi."

Burton said that she had "one whole heap of brother and sister" who have all passed away.

This 'whole heap' consisted of six brothers and five sisters.

The centenarian attended Rose Hall Elementary School, but left before doing her exams and before graduating because she had to help care for her siblings while her parents worked on their farm.

"I didn't finish out my lesson but even if is my name mi can spell it still. It was old-time days and parents never interested in education more than so," Burton stated.

Burton said that she did a number of different jobs.

"If I tell you how much work me do you wouldn't have space to write it," the centenarian said with a smile. "Mi wash for people, mi sell mango in Christiana, sell eggs in Southfield, sell fish, walk around and work for people and work for myself. Up to now mi a work for myself do what me can do!" she said.

Spencer confirmed that her mother was a hard worker who would often sleep on piazzas when her load was not sold off, before returning home.

"She used to go Craig Head (Manchester) and Christiana market to sell mangoes, and she used to sleep on the piazza when she couldn't get anywhere to sleep. She used to carry the mango on her head to Christiana in Manchester, so is a whole heap of miles that she walked," Spencer disclosed.

Spencer said that not only would her mother walk and sell, but did her own farming rearing pigs and goats, and planting her food garden.

"She dig the biggest Mozilla yam in the district," Spencer said proudly.

She said that her mother would also bake and sell corn puddings and bammies. Whenever there was a death in the community, her mother would be the one called upon to make her famous coffee at the 'dead yards'.

"Those times you used to boil coffee to feed everybody at the dead yard. It used to be coffee and hard crackers every night until the funeral. So people used to look forward to her coffee. She is a good coffee boiler," Spencer said.

Burton gave birth to seven children and would feed them goat's milk and bammy religiously. Three of her children have died.

Though she was never married, the choice was totally up to her.

"She was planning to marry. She buy her goat and buy her ring, and one morning she wake up and find out that the goat was dead, so she say she not getting married again because it was a sign of bad luck, and she never married," Spencer stated.

For Spencer, Burton was a good mother who believed in educating her children.

"She was a good mother. Good, good mother," Spencer said repeatedly. "She believed in school. We had to go to school. But I never like sewing at school and every Wednesday we had sewing, so one Wednesday after lunch time we were going to do sewing and I decided that I was not doing it, so me and my friend leave and go hide.

"Thursday morning I went to school and the teacher call me up and punish me. After she punish me and send me back to class, I run home. When I reach home mom ask me why mi come home and I told her my belly was paining me. She grabbed me and carry me up to the school to find out what was wrong. The teacher told her, and she told the teacher to beat me but she must save my eye. When I reach home that evening I apologised to my mother and told her I would never do it again, that's why she never bother beat me because I apologised. But she was a good mother, kind and loving. I couldn't desire better," Spencer remarked.

Among her many good qualities, Burton was also known for her gungo peas soup with cornmeal dumplings.

She loved sharing, loved attending wakes and loved visiting the doctor.

"She never visited church on a regular basis but always declared that her church was her heart. But she love 'set up'," Spencer recalled. "Even now if she hear that somebody is dead she will tell you to get her ready so she can go to set up. We have to tell her she can't go again because she blind now. But she still would want to go," the daughter said.

Burton, who is still able to bathe, dress and feed herself, enjoys drinking Malta and passion fruit juice. She loves chicken, bammy and sweet cassava dumplings.

"For years she never used to eat dumpling but a couple months ago she started asking for it, and we have to give her sweet cassava dumpling," Spencer said.

Burton's kindness was extended to all.

"A breadfruit truck used to come around and she would make sure she buy breadfruit and walk around the community and give it out. Everybody had to get their breadfruit," Spencer said. "She love go to doctor... as she hear about doctor she ready," Spencer said.

"Yes man, mi love go doctor," Burton interrupted. "Mi nah tolerate nuh pain and bad feelings so mi gone a mi doctor."

Her long, soft hair hanging from beneath her head tie was said to be testament of years of consistent bush care applied by Burton.

"You can't take pure water wash her hair, you have to boil bush," Spencer continued. "You have to use some bush they call Yellow Saunders, Rosemary and Fever Grass and boil them together and wash her hair. That is what she always use, and as soon as it starts scratching her I have to wash it."

Merville Spencer, 72, another of Burton's children, admitted that this is something she grew up seeing her mother use to wash her hair.

"From mi growing up she don't use anything else wash her hair," Merville said. "She not using any clear water and she don't use shampoo, she uses regular cake soap and is Castor Oil she use in it," Merville said.

Merville said that while her mom "was not a bad mother", she was sometimes miserable.

"If she beg you do anything and you don't do it, she would quarrel and tell you she not giving you anything to eat. But she not cussing bad words though, and you see if she gone somewhere and the plate don't wash, you better know that the load staying on her head until you wash the plate. She not taking off the load because she say she not putting it down in the dirty kitchen. So unless the kitchen stay good she not putting it down and you better look after it fast. Anytime you hear that she gone anywhere you better do you work before she come home," Merville recalled.

Burton was also well known for plaiting straw and selling by the foot to persons who would then use it to make hats.

Joan Thompson, Burton's niece, remembered her aunt for the cassava puddings that she baked.

"Auntie Clarice was a good cassava pudding baker. She would scrape the cassava, grate it, dry it then she sun it for several days, then she beat and turn it then make the pudding," Thompson said. "And she would cut that pudding slice by slice and share it up in the community. Everybody must get a slice. She was very kind," she said.

Not only was Burton kind, but she was firm.

"She raised six of us for my mother, so she grew me," Thompson explained. "I was the smallest child, so one day some of them hide from school but because I was small I was in the company as well. So when 12 noon came the three of us come home for lunch. But someone had already told her that we hide from school. So when we come home for lunch -- gungo soup and bammy -- she feed me because I was small. But the other two, she took them and carried them right back to school without lunch and when evening come, the lunch they were suppose to get they get it for dinner. So they got one meal and I got two. But she was so affectionate. She was the referee for all of her 11 brothers and sisters," she said.

Thompson recalled her aunt packing a basket of fruits, putting it on her head and walking with it to her daughter in New Forest some 20 miles away.

"Anything she get she never take it for herself, she would share it with everybody. That was the aunt I had. Good aunt," Thompson said.

Another of Burton's nieces, Janet Thomas, said that her aunt would help her siblings grow their children while they went off to work.

"Aunt Clarice is like my second mother. She raised us and helped the sisters to raise their families while they went out to work," she said. "I have some fond memories of her -- one of them being the delicious puddings she used to make, the cassava puddings and the corn puddings. She would soak the dry corn and use it to make puddings. And she used to give us coffee in the mornings. So each morning when she baked we would get a cup of coffee with coconut milk and a slice of pudding. I think she was one of the best bakers of those puddings. We don't get those anymore. She was gentle and quiet," Thomas said.

Miguel Spencer, one of Burton's 19 grandchildren, described her as a nice, loving person who was always there for him.

"She always took care of me from I was a little boy growing up. I always lived with her. I was born in her hands. She would both beat and talk to me and I always listened to her. She little but she tallawah," he said.

For Burton to reach 100 is a great achievement for the family and something persons like her grand-niece Joanie 'Paula' Turner is thrilled about.

"She is the first one in the family who lived to see 100 and we are all very excited," Turner said. "Her last sibling who died was 99. That was her brother, and a grandaunt died last year at 94, so she is the first centenarian we have in our family and we are really happy about it!" Turner declared.

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