IT took a nasty fall for centenarian Stephen Wright to give up drinking white rum.
And while it is common for many Jamaicans to mix the strong liquor with water or beverage, Wright, up to 16 years ago needed no 'chaser'. It was the norm for him to gulp a quart on its own.
But all that changed when he fell from a building while under the 'influence', and damaged his back. Upon recovery, he said that he lost all interest in what was for him his "medicine".
"In my young boy days, the white rum can't stand up before mi man. Mi drink all a quart bottle just like how it stay in the bottle -- raw! Mi dis drink it. A fi mi medicine that! Is 16 years now mi stop drink white rum."
This he said came about after he fell from a building.
"Mi friend wife died in town and we were preparing coffin and grave for the funeral," a witty Wright told the Jamaica Observer from his Sanguinetti, Clarendon home on Wednesday. Wright says that he is celebrating his 112th birthday today.
"While we were preparing to bury the wife, gunman come and kill the husband too. So we were preparing to bury the two of them one time. This building was one that I worked on too. But mi drink up couple of the liquor and one of the pretty gal come from town and mi start to fool round the gal. So after mi drink up the liquor and ready to go home mi a go where the gal is fi tell her seh mi a go home, but the back of the building high, so mi step off thinking it was the front and lose mi balance and drop."
If Wright's recollection of his date of birth is correct, he would have been 96 at the time.
"A since mi drop and lick off the old back why mi nuh fool round gal again you know. Since mi drop off and lick out the back! So is that make mi nuh fool round woman again," Wright said with a loud laughter.
"And after that mi get the fall from off the building and get the stroke in hospital. November coming is 16 years since I got a stroke right in the hospital. The whole of this side (pointing to his left side)."
He said that he was instructed to go to the specialist, until he decided that he would not visit anymore.
"Is some rubbings my daughter sent from America give me and mi use. Is it help me. Up to now this hand (left) don't have much use. It can't stretch out," he said.
According to Wright, he was born on August 25, 1901. Checks with the Registrar General's Department revealed that Wright's mother did give birth around that time. However, a representative from the department said that further checks are under way to prove the exact year.
But Wright is adamant that he knows exactly when he was born, despite not having his birth certificate in hand. He is the eldest of 20 children for his mother. He said about 10 of them have since died, while many are living overseas.
"Mi older than the first car that come to Jamaica!" Wright said. "The very first car that come to Jamaica land at Black River, St Elizabeth. That was in 1902 and mi born 1901. And when mi look at how Jamaica cover with pure car and mi older than the first one that come here," he laughed.
Since he was only a year old at the time, Wright said that his mother and grandmother later told him that the first car that drove into Junction, St Elizabeth, saw everyone rushing to the side of the dirt roads in excitement and saying that a chariot was coming without horse.
And because cars were scarce commodities as a youngster growing up, Wright said that he would walk from Sanguinetti in Clarendon to deep rural Manchester to "look" girl.
"When mi a young man mi walk all 20 miles through rock stone go where woman deh. Because that time we nuh know car. One of the night I was going over there to look gal and rain start wet mi," he burst into laughter. "But mi nah turn back you know. When mi go there is a slip mi sleep inna 'cause mi clothes wet up! But those are days of the past."
The centenarian remembers everything.
He was born in Junction, St Elizabeth, but left when he was seven years old to live with his mother's grand uncle in Low Wood, Clarendon.
"After mi mother carry mi from St Elizabeth come up here (Clarendon) -- those times nuh water was in any pipe nor nothing was in Junction -- everything was just pure red dirt. And when mi come up here and see everything green, mi say mi nah go back. Mi tell her mi nah follow you go back down there. Mi a stay with mi great-grand uncle. The place did green and have whole heap of breadfruit and those things and I never see anything like that down [Junction]. So mi nuh go back."
Growing up, Wright went to school for one term and stopped.
"The nearest school was over three miles," he said. "And those times you walk barefoot. People nuh wear shoes. It was pure barefoot! And when the Rio Minho come down mi affi sleep over neighbour yard because mi can't cross to go over. So mi go school like January and when school get holiday (July) mi tell them seh mi nah go back a dat deh school. The school was over three miles. Mi seh mi foot a cut up on rock stone! So mi nuh go back."
He recalled that his father died in 1914 after which his mother remarried, moved into Sanguinetti and he left his grand-uncle to live with her.
"As a matter of fact is me she did come look for when she find this man that she remarry. So she take me from mi great-grand uncle and we live same place at Sanguinetti. So mi live with her and mi work and work until 1943 mi go away to America on farm work contract. I would go there June and leave the 15 of November. I worked with one man and every year him request me until he died in 1959," Wright recalled.
But while he was in Jamaica he worked as a farmer, a chef and a mason.
"Mi used to do mi big farming. Mi did have mi nuff land. In those days you could rent land. And everywhere people deh they call me to cook for weddings, parties and any other functions like that. Anywhere they were is me them come find," he said.
In 1945 he married Alvera who bore him nine of 10 children, since he had one with another woman a year before he was married. She died 18 years ago.
"I got married the 9th of August 1945," Wright said. "Well I got baptised the Sunday morning on the 9th of August and the evening mi go married. So mi take the one stone and kill two bird. And on the 12th of August mi go back a New York. But mi leave mi wife out here because she did start have the whole heap of pickney dem man," the centenarian said with his usual laugh and wit.
"But mi never worry that nuh other man would a take her way because the woman that I was married to, she was one of God's chosen. Is God chose that woman for me. I am 10 years older than my wife and is a God bless woman."
Three of the lot have since passed away.
Wright prides himself on the fact that he has never been sick a day in his life.
"Mi don't have nuh form of sickness. Mi nuh have nothing name sickness. Mi nuh feel no way further than when mi get the stroke when mi in the hospital and it a come on well now. Mi can walk, talk, see -- is just since the stroke it kinda hard to hear out my left ear. But other than that no sickness. Mi can feed myself, bathe myself, mi do everything for myself same way. But apart from that mi nuh feel nuh way," he said, his voice strong and filled with laughter.
"You know how some people sick with bellyache and headache and all kind of aches, dis boy nuh know how none of them feel you know ma!"
He said in January his granddaughter took him to the doctor for a check-up and he was given a clean bill of health.
"When him check and check and couldn't find anything I told him I had a little cold in my throat so he gave me five pills. All now mi don't take them," he said chuckling.
"But mi have to give God the praise still. Because let me tell you something, when I just left hospital the doctor told me I cannot make the grade and it was better I go home and let my family take care of me. Right now I don't know where that doctor is if he died or not, but mi still deh yah!" he said. "Let mi tell you this straight. No care what you going to do in this world you need to remember the man name God. Is him come first."
Wright recalled a visit by the death angel eight years ago.
"I remember one night I was laying down on the bed, it was like a man pushed the door and him come and look at me on the bed. And him seh him name 'Mister'. After him seh him name Mister mi hear the man seh 'a di wrong place mi come'. So mi tell myself that the man name 'Mr Dead' because tell you plain I wasn't sleeping, and it wasn't a dream. That was about eight years now. So the morning I got up and was telling my grandchildren them. By the time I finish tell them what happen, I hear a woman up the top of the road bawl out that her mother dead. So when mi hear them bawl out mi seh 'Lawd God dis man did come fi me but it was the wrong person', is that woman him did come for," he said. "Mek mi tell you something, God nuh ready for me yet."
He is a member of the Seventh Day Adventist Church.
"If you belong to God no matter what you do in the world you will still be God bless and God bless this yah boy!" he said beating his chest firmly.
While he does not eat rice and flour, Wright loves chicken and soup of all kinds. He also enjoys ground provisions.
"Him don't have any sickness," said Shannae Dyer, one of Wright's great-grand daughters who shares the home. "And him kind. Him very kind. He cannot eat alone. He has to share with somebody. He has never been in trouble with anyone, No police ever have to come here to him, the only time we see police here was when him start have great-grand children. And he likes having children around, he said they keep him going."
Today he is surrounded by a number of grands, great-grands and great- great grandchildren.