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Seraphin Flowers, 101, fed other children before her own

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

Sunday, January 05, 2014    

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AS one entered the home of 101-year-old Seraphin Flowers, a sense of peace was the first thing that greeted you.

Later, we learnt that Flowers was an ardent believer in not just regular prayer meetings at her home, but scripture readings, over the years.

"Growing up, she was a very godly lady," Flowers's 75-year-old daughter, Icema Flowers, told the Sunday Observer upon a visit to their Mickleton Drive home in Linstead, St Catherine, last Thursday.

"Godly, but strict! When I say strict, I really mean strict. Rigid, man! We didn't get chances like what other children got. And then when you see evening come, everybody have to do Bible reading at nights before we go to bed. And make sure you are there or you going to get a whopping," the centenarian's daughter said.

"You had to read for everybody in the house because everybody would gather around. So because of that, even now we have regular family worship. On Saturdays and like yesterday - New Year's Day, we always have family worship at that time and everybody come together," she added.

Icema said that even now at the customary family prayer meetings, if Flowers is not feeling up to meeting in the usual meeting place - the living room, they will instead gather in her bedroom. Either way, she will not be left out, despite her challenges of impaired hearing.

"We go in her room and we put our mouths to her ear and whatever we singing she will hear and sing along," her daughter said. "And if we reading the passage of scripture and she knows it, she repeats it along with us. That's how we do it."

After declaring, before being asked, that she could not hear what was being said, Flowers graciously informed the team that she was born the 14th of October 1912, to parents Ezekiel Garricks and Adina Kirkland in the district of Bonnet, St Catherine.

"I started at Bonnet (Elementary) School and attended Mount Nebo Baptist church," the centenarian said.

She later moved from Bonnet to the nearby Guy's Hill community before moving to live with a cousin in Kingston where she learnt the art of seamstressing.

"She makes every piece of clothes," Icema said. "My father didn't have to pay to make clothes. She made from jacket right down. Everything Mama make. She would make all the nice wedding gowns and everything. Even now I have a dress that she made for me about five years ago when she was 96. And I cherished it," she said.

The centenarian told how her life as a seamstress began.

"I half grow in Kingston, with one of my cousins. Her name was Lydia Myers," Flowers said. "A very fine dressmaker she was. She stayed in Kingston and sew for people in foreign. She left from Kingston to come look for my grandmother who was her aunt. She saw me and ask whose child I was and my grandmother, told her, and she held my hand. She had three boys, no girls, and she ask if my mother would give me to her. And my granny said 'she has to give her to you so she can go learn to do what you do'. And that is how she took me to town with her," Flowers recounted. "And she never hide anything from me. If I was outside with any other children and she is going to cut a piece of work, she call me. And she don't call me gentle. She call me in a rough way and when I go to her upstairs - we were living upstairs - and when I went up there she say 'Seri, you black-face wretch you' - she was light complexion -' come cut you shift'," the centenarian said, laughing. "But she never hide anything from me. She was my mother's first cousin but she love me. She stayed in Kingston and make wedding dress for people in Panama," she said.

Flowers said that the skill of her cousin was of such that persons whom she sewed for who migrated would send to her to make their clothing which she would mail to them. Flowers was the one given the mammoth task of taking the finished products to the post office and ensuring that they were sent off.

"That time they nah t'ief things from pickney a road," Flowers said. "But she was a very fine dressmaker. That was the type of woman she was. Nice woman. She wasn't taller than me, but she big and fat! Because if she stay in Kingston and sew for people a foreign, she nuh good?" she asked.

And despite teaching her the art of sewing, Flowers said that her cousin also ensured that she furthered her education. This she did at the West Branch School in Kingston. Flowers recalled that the school's front gate was on West Street and the back gate on Matthews Lane near Charles Street.

Icema recalled that he mother was very kind and would ensure that the elderly were fed before they ate.

"But I tell you say she was very kind in the community and wherever she goes," her daughter said. "Sometimes, when we were small, and when she cook and everywhere the elderly were we had to carry dinner to them before we eat. And wherever place she sent us we had to go, especially me and my brother who passed on, because he was the eldest boy and so he had to go all around with us," she said. "But Mama was so kind and loving," she continued.

Not only was Flowers known for her kindness to the elderly, but also for her singing.

"She sings every part," Icema said proudly. "Soprano, alto, bass, tenor - but she was really a soprano singer. After she got older she started singing alto. She used to sing on Mt Nebo Church choir -- the church she attended before we came to live here in Mickleton. And then she was received at Jericho Baptist Church and she sang on their choir, too. She was a very good alto lady but she sang all the other parts," Icema stated.

Flowers was married "during the stormy weather of 1933" at the age of 21 to Walter Flowers, whom she met at church. He died 22 years ago and she has since been content to just going to church and focusing on her God. The union produced five children, one of whom died a few years ago.

"She remember everything," Icema said. "Only because she can't hear when you ask her questions. But if she go fi go tell you things, God help you because she not finishing," she said of her mother.

While Flowers is still able to move around the house, aided only by her cane, she no longer sees well.

According to her seven-year-old great-grandson Jaden Clarke, Flowers often gets up in the nights visiting all their rooms and ensuring that they are okay before going back to bed.

"She get up in the nights and walk around and ask for everybody. And then she go sleep back and in the morning she not waking up because in the night she walk up and down come look for us. She walk come look for me and for everybody," the child said.

As if answering the question as to why she believes she lives so long, Flowers responded without being quizzed ... "I don't know, only Jesus knows."

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