News

Tabitha Stewart still sprightly at 104

Century-maker does not need a stick to move around

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

Sunday, March 16, 2014    

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SHE sat with a broad smile on her face.

Her sprightly movement could easily be mistaken for a much younger woman. However, according to her birth certificate, Tabitha Stewart was born on December 22, 1909, making her an amazing 104 years old.

Stewart was an only child who grew up with both parents in Brown's Town, St Ann. As a result, she was prevented from doing a number of things that other children were allowed to by her over-protective father.

"Mi couldn't go party," Stewart said, after giving out a loud 'wooh!' as a bright smile lit up her face.

"Mi father wouldn't allow me to go them place deh. I was an only child so him never allow me to go to those places. But mi never have any mind to go," the centenarian told the Jamaica Observer at her Summer Hill home in St Ann recently.

Stewart laughed heartily before admitting that another benefit of being an only child was not getting beatings - well, not unless she did something considered extremely bad back then, like getting into an argument with an adult. For that, her father would let her have it.

Stewart moved to St Mary after getting married in her early 30s but moved back to Summer Hill to care for her parents after her husband passed away shortly afterwards.

She later met and married Samuel Stewart, whom she said loved her as much as she loved him. She refused to state how they met.

"Well, him love me and me love him so we married," she said, after yet another 'wooh'. "He was very nice. We never separate until death. But mi nuh want talk 'bout that. Mi only know seh mi never need fi love more than one man," she went on.

Stewart's husband cultivated the field while she would sell the produce from the farm. And after Stewart's father passed away, she took over the reins as a butcher while her husband helped with the job passed down to her.

Her husband died in 1982 after falling ill.

Stewart gave birth to two children, a boy and a girl. But according to the centenarian and her grandniece, Enid 'Adassa' Millen, no one knows where her son has disappeared to up to today, as he has not kept in touch with his mother. Stewart's daughter, however, resides in Miami, Florida, and ensures that her mother is properly cared for.

Millen, now 69, said that Stewart has raised her since she was a baby and she has come to regard her as her own mother.

"My mother used to go out and work and sometimes never come in," Millen explained. "So she used to leave me with her mother (Stewart's mother) and afterwards she took up the reins and grew me. And then she also grew my children," she said.

Millen explained that the 104-year-old worked as a household helper, then as a labourer breaking stones for the building of roads, since this was what was used in road-building back then. She played an integral role in the building of the road on which she now lives.

"They used to gather the stones in heap and then break them," Millen said.

But while Stewart is still very sprightly, not needing a stick to move around, she is still not as active as she was a few years ago, due to a fall which resulted in her breaking her hip.

"About 2005 she went up at the gate and fell down and broke her hip, so she walk but she don't walk so good," Millen explained. "And she not as active as she used to be," she added.

Stewart, who is a member of the Brown's Town Tabernacle Church, said that she has always loved going to church and this could be one of the reasons that she never fussed when her father prevented her from going to parties as a young girl. She got baptised in the1950s.

Stewart said that things were much easier in Jamaica then, compared to now, as all she had to do was go to school and return home to find everything prepared for her.

And despite having to walk to school from her home in Summer Hill to Brown's Town a mile away, twice a day, she still considered things better back then.

Millen said that up to when her grand-aunt broke her hip at age 97, she could still be seen in the yard weeding and tending to the flowers.

"Even now when she comes out she will use her hand and try to break them and tell you that if she had money she would pay someone to cut them lower because she is afraid that thieves will hide behind them and enter the house," Millen said.

"She used to plant her peas, her corn, her yam and things like that, right up to the time when she broke her hip. But she has it in her nature to work because from I know her she has always been doing something," Millen stated.

Millen's daughter, who also grew up under the care of Stewart, described her 'grandmother' as "a very strict person" who never allowed them to keep company.

"She was very, very strict. We couldn't keep company. No one could visit us at the yard because she never believed in idling," Janetta 'Cherry' Campbell said.

Campbell also recalled her grandmother as a hard worker who would journey from St Ann to Coronation Market in Kingston on Thursday, only to return home on Saturday night when her produce was sold-out.

"And a milk truck would come to the district from the condensery and she would be the one to collect the milk and issue it out to community members. They used to give out the milk free," Campbell recalled.

Millen said that up to recently, Stewart received a medical check-up and was found to be quite healthy for her age.

"The doctor checked her the other day and she don't have any 'pressure', any 'sugar', she just had some cold and we got some prescription and she got rid of it," Millen said.

"But there are times when she will rub her hip and when you ask her if she feeling pain she will tell you 'no'. But sometimes when I see her rub the spot I will give her a painkiller. Whether it help her or not I don't know because she not admitting to feeling any pain, and her memory go and come so she remember some things," she said.

While laughingly stating that she does not know what has contributed to her living over a century, Stewart said that she loves yellow yam, St Vincent yam and potatoes. She admitted to still eating dumplings but this has to be cooked with baking soda in order to make it soft.

"She also loves pork, beef and tripe," Millen interjected. "Maybe because her father was a butcher and she was exposed to all types of meats. But she does not eat chicken. She has never eaten chicken," she added.

"I don't know why I don't eat it. I just can't take it," Stewart volunteered, after letting out her customary 'wooh!' before responding. "Wooh! Mi nuh worry over that," the centenarian said drawing laughter from those around her.

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