BY DONNA HUSSEY-WHYTE Sunday Observer staff reporter firstname.lastname@example.org
WHEN asked what she did as a young girl growing up, Victoria Elizabeth Williams, who turned 101 on September 20, quickly admitted that all she ever did was "mind people pickney".
This included her seven siblings, and other relatives.
"Mi wash and iron and mi cook people food and mind people pickney. That's all I did," she said in response to the Jamaica Observer inquiry.
Because she was the eldest of the eight, Williams said that the onus was on her to do everything for her three brothers and four sisters while her parents went out to work.
Valda Cummings, Williams's daughter, attested to this.
"She was like the mother figure to the other kids," Cummings said. "When she was much younger and her mother gone to work she used to take care of her father and the other children because she used to cook and wash their clothes. She would tell us that she took care of them. She made their coffee, wash and iron... everything. So she didn't work out. She just worked in the yard and took care of them. All her days were spent caring for them."
Born in Main Ridge, Clarendon, Williams attended the community's elementary school. Her mother worked as a domestic helper while also doing baking, and her father sold produce from his activities as a farmer.
"Mom would tell us that her mother used to make the best wedding cake ever. But she herself can't bake. She will cook and cook very well but she does not bake," Cummings said of her mother who sat comfortably in a sofa on their verandah. "So when my grandmother go out to work she would come in and give her the money to run the home."
Williams, who was fast becoming agitated as a result of not being able to clearly hear the conversation around her, began hissing her teeth while asking what the conversation was about.
"Mi used to carry banana and anything at all go market in Chapelton," she volunteered, after hissing her teeth. "Ono nuh beat up mi brain yah man. Mi can't remember nothing!" she said.
Though she could not recall how she met her husband Edward, Williams said that she married him simply because they were in love.
When asked about him she blurted out:
"But what a crosses!"
"How mi fi remember that? What a hell! Mi not going tell you nuh lie," she said after giving a dry laugh. "But mi know seh is him did interested in mi first. Him did love mi and me love him and him treat me good," Williams said.
They were wed in December 1941. He died in 1962 after 21 years of marriage.
Like her mom before her, Williams has eight children --five girls and three boys.
Her daughter remembers her as always being there for them.
"What I can clearly remember about my mom is that she has always been there for us," Cummings said. "Any and everything that we needed ... they weren't rich, they weren't from a wealthy family, but whatever they planted, they would sell and use it to take care of us. We never went to bed hungry. We always have food on our table," she said.
Cummings, 67, said that her mother never allowed them to miss school, and going to church was a must. Discipline too, was at the top of the list in the course of their upbringing.
"She was very strict," her daughter recalled. "She would beat us. If anybody came -- like an adult -- and said we did anything wrong, we would get a whopping, even if nothing went like that," she said with a laugh.
"She never asked questions. We were always wrong. And we couldn't pass a grown-up and don't say good morning or good evening. And if you doing something wrong and you see a grown-up coming, you better stop what you doing. If people complain, we getting a whopping. And she not going to ask you anything because she say you must respect grown-ups. She was very, very strict, Cummings said."
After explaining that Williams refuses to wear the hearing aid provided for her, Cummings made numerous attempts to extract information from her mother. This only led to further frustration on Williams's part.
"Ono talking and mi nuh hear," she said, pouting and hissing her teeth again.
"She will not wear the hearing aid. As you put it in, she takes it out, so she frustrated," Williams stated.
And while the centenarian's hearing is not good, she still reads. Her grandson, Rohan Fearon, who was also attempting to translate the questions posed to her, said that she still reads newspaper headlines without her glasses. She also gets around on her own while doing personal things unaided.
"The only thing is that I don't let her go into the shower because I don't want her to fall in there," Cummings said. "If I put her clothes on the bed she puts it on herself, and she undresses herself. Mama do everything for herself," she said looking at her mother proudly.
Cummings believes that one of the reasons her mother has lived for over a 100 years is because of the care she extended to others.
"God gave her His grace and spared her because she took care of her mom," Cummings surmised. "Her mom died in her hands. She was the one taking care of her. So she has always been a caring person."
According to Cummings, When her grandmother died in 1971 she had no complaints from any form of ailment.
"My mother is very strong. The only thing is that at age 85 she was diagnosed with high blood pressure and sugar (diabetes). That's the only thing. Her mom didn't have any complaints either. That's the funny thing about it. It's like they never had any complaints," Cummings said.
As Williams tried to follow the conversation around her, Cummings explained that she lived in the United States with her for 15 years after travelling to and fro on a regular basis for over 20 years. She insisted over a year ago that she was ready to return to Jamaica.
"When she was ready to come home she kept saying she want to come back to Jamaica and I told her I would send her alone," Cummings said. "She said no, she not leaving me. So we made a promise that when I reach retirement age, I would retire and come. So I told her when I was 65 I was going to come. The morning of my birthday on March 12, two years ago when I was 65 she said 'happy birthday', and I said 'thank you, mom' and she laughed. So I asked her what happened and she said, 'now we can go home'. So I asked her what she was talking about. She said 'you promised me'. I made that promise about three years before and she never forget," Cummings said.
Cummings, who worked in a Florida hospital since 1990, had to hand in her resignation and move back to Jamaica with her mom in time for her 100th birthday last year.
"She came home in September last year in time to celebrate her birthday on the 20th of September. We celebrated her birthday in the 'country' where she was born, Main Ridge. And the following Saturday we had a banquet at Versalles Hotel," Cummings said.
Today, though frustrated with her lack of hearing, Williams still loves to laugh, and after bursting into laughter at the end of the interview two Wednesdays ago, she ended with what her family has come to know as her favourite phrase "Ete Tere Mare Buru".
Williams herself confessed that she has no idea what it means but that she simply loves using it.