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Westmoreland-based widow not letting go of her faithful pipe

Smoking for 85 years

BY HG HELPS Editor-at-Large helpsh@jamaicaobserver.com

Saturday, December 05, 2015



SHE now lives at Cold Spring in the hills of Eastern Westmoreland, but there is nothing cold about the way she approaches life as she nears her 100th birthday.


Agatha Thomas Samuels, 95, has no intention of quitting a habit that has stayed with her for a major portion of her life — smoking. Even with the protestation of her children and other relatives, the senior citizen insists that her life is not going up in smoke.


The diminutive Samuels, who stands at four feet, eight inches, reinforced her point by relating the view of her medical practitioner that her journey to 100 would have been cut short had she thrown down her loyal pipe and tobacco long ago.


"When mi go a doctor him say him nah tell mi fi stop smoke, because if mi stop, him a go lose mi," Samuels told the Jamaica Observer.


Samuels, who is from Prospect in North West St Elizabeth, and later Black River in the parish, became hooked on the habit of puffing when she was "baptised" in the practice by her parents, Mayron Lewis and Richard Thomas, both of whom smoked tobacco.


She would serve as the designated lighter by the time she was approaching age 10.


But she was having her own smoking episodes, outside of the knowledge of her biological elders.


"A because mi start light the tobacco fi dem why mi start smoke," Samuels explained.


All through elementary school she continued smoking and when she started having her nine children, seven of whom are still alive, there was no letting up.


Even while she sold wares outside Black River Primary School and worked at times at the now closed Holland Sugar Estate, she became known as the pipe lady who pulled no punches in defence of her habit.


Strangely, her husband of over 50 years, Martel Samuels, was one who stayed far from tobacco.


"Him never smoke at all, the only thing him do was drink beer, but him never try force mi fi stop," she told the Sunday Observer of the man who died eight years ago after making it to age 100 years, six months and 12 days.


There is no special reason for her being hooked on tobacco, although she will readily admit that smoking relaxes her and helps her to think more clearly.


With pressure mounting from family members, including daughter Patricia Samuels McFarlane with whom she stays at Cold Spring, to quit, she has proposed a compromise by reducing her smoking to once a day -- a far cry from when she would puff and puff for hours non-stop.


She had one setback recently while spending a week at another of her daughters in Farm Heights, St James. Samuels had to go through the entire period without a draw, as the man who supplied smokers with tobacco had died. She decided against staying beyond the week in a place where her favourite stuff was not available.


As a precaution, she is taking no chances with family and friends who want to cut off her puffing totally, as she hides the precious pipe in a nearby dwelling that formerly housed other relatives.


"Mi no waan nobody know weh mi hide mi pipe, because dem wi come tek it out and dash it wey," she said.


A strong believer in God, Samuels prays and sings religious songs with her family regularly.


Watching cartoons with her grandchildren and taking regular walks around the yard also account for her leisure time.


But deep down she insists that she wants to continue what she has been doing for almost all her life -- cutting up that tobacco, stuffing it in the pipe, and sending whiffs of perfumed smoke above her head.