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With 99 great-grandchildren, 105-y-o Ruth Brown still strong

BY JAVENE SKYERS Observer staff reporter skyersj@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, April 20, 2017    

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Ruth Brown has not only lived to witness her 99 great-grandchildren and 18 great-great-grandchildren grow, but she also helped to raise many of them.

While she is no longer physically able to do so now that she is 105 years old, her relatives have not forgotten the strict, but kind, matriarch that helped to shape and mould their lives.

Brown, who hails from the community of Mount Ogle in Lawrence Tavern, St Andrew, celebrated her 105th birthday on April 13, and was treated to a party on Sunday evening at her home in the community.

Brown’s birthday party has become an annual event, since she celebrated her 100th birthday, and sees family members as well as community members coming out to celebrate a life well lived.


Elegantly attired in a gold suit and wide-brimmed hat, the centenarian didn’t have much to say but could be heard humming while playing with balloons and her great-great-grandchildren from the comfort of her wheelchair.

There were also moments when Brown, who is the eldest member at the Lawrence Tavern Seventh-day Adventist Church, would ask if certain relatives had arrived as yet for her party.

A notice on her gate proudly reminds community members that Brown is not only 105 years old but has 12 children, six of whom she has outlived, 50 grandchildren, 99 great-grandchildren, and 18 great-great grandchildren. The second child and only girl for her parents, Brown has also outlived her three brothers.

“Mi know her when me growing up wid her as a strict lady, very strict. She nuh ramp and you know we haffi have manners and everything growing up with her and she grow a lot of us, almost all of her grandchildren during her lifetime,” Brown’s primary caregiver and grandchild, Sonia Brown, told the Jamaica Observer on Sunday afternoon ahead of the festivities.

Sonia recounted that while she was with her grandmother, there were about 11 or more other children in the house as well, so it was not easy for the now elderly Brown but she found a way to make it work.

“During her lifetime, what me know is higglering she do. So she plant her own crop and sell it back at market. Most of the time, I used to go town wid her on the truck, so we used to go out the front to ketch the truck to go town,” her caregiver stated.

Yet another of Brown’s grandchildren, 47-year-old Paul Patterson, also recalled the trips into Kingston, particularly because after school on Thursdays and Fridays, they had to find and pack ground provisions for market day.

Patterson also said that while his grandmother was very loving and kind, she was also strict and would spare no punishment should she be disobeyed.

“We get a lot of beatings from her. All when we nuh carry nuh water, we can’t sleep inna di house, we haffi hide and come in and she still would wake up in di night and look if we there and we still aguh get beating same way. Yuh haffi obey her, if yu nuh obey yu haffi pay di penalty, a so she used to strict pon we,” he recounted.

Her caregiver also readily gave accounts of situations where Brown’s zero tolerance for misbehaviour was displayed, recounting instances where breakfast would be withheld and beatings distributed on Sunday mornings if chores were not done and other instructions not followed.

“A so she operate and den we had to go to Sunday school every Sunday morning and all those things. We couldn’t miss Sunday School. Next ting, if she give we money to go Sunday school and we nuh throw the offering a problem when the pastor see her,” Sonia fondly remembered.

But despite Brown’s strict nature, Sonia also lauded the centenarian for being a jovial and sociable person who loved to dance and attend community functions such as funerals, weddings and set-ups. She also noted that her grandmother was often the head cook at many of these big functions.

Brown’s 68-year-old daughter and previous primary caregiver, Myrtle Barnaby, also reiterated that her mother did not miss any notable event.

“No wedding or funeral she don’t miss. Anywhere the wedding or graveyard, she will be there. If a mom tek in to have baby (goes into labour) and the nurse is not in session, she deliver the baby. She cut a lot of babies’ navel strings in dis likkle circle of Mount Ogle here. She’s a great mom, I love my mother for the way she operate,” Barnaby proudly stated, adding that her mother used to also dress the dead for burial.

Barnaby, however, was raised by her uncle, as her mother placed her in his care when she was just six years old as he did not have a child for himself. But, according to Barnaby, this did not diminish her love or respect for her mother. She stated that when Brown went to the market on Saturdays, she would give her all of her juice to take home to her uncle. She also noted that she would spend time with her mother during every holiday.

But Brown was also known for raising many children who were not her own, extending to them the same discipline, love and warmth as she had towards her own children.

“My mother raise a lot of children. She raise seven which is not of her birth. She come to know a man named Lanzo just by selling on the sidewalk in downtown Kingston, and the wife of Lanzo was going away and she didn’t have anybody to leave her children wid and she offered to take the whole seven of them — raise dem at dis spot of ground here and she send dem go school till them turn big,” her daughter said.

With regards to Brown’s husband, who died in 1986 when he was almost 80 years old, her granddaughter stated that he was a man “weh love di bar”, but planted most of the crops his wife sold as he was a farmer.

She also noted that he, too, was not spared the no-nonsense nature of his wife as he was disciplined when he failed to bring home money.

“Any weekend come and him nuh bring home the money, she beat him yu know. Me witness her beat her husband pon di verandah, more than once. Is a woman weh nuh ramp and even now, she want to fight me when me a bathe her a morning time, so she nuh ramp. It nuh tek chicken fi deal wid her yuh see her deh,” Sonia stated fondly.

She continued: “If we cook now and we give any one of the little ones dem inna di house before she, she don’t want the food. She don’t want it. She haffi see fi her dinner come out of the pot first, else she not eating it, a suh she feisty and stay.”

But her grandson, while reflecting on his childhood with Brown, said it was a good thing the centenarian was strict. He said because of that there have been no negative interactions with the police, of any sort, by any of the children who “passed through her hands”.

Now, the centenarian is known to socialise with friends on her verandah through conversations over mangoes. Also, some old habits die hard, as both her daughter and granddaughter speak of her love for chocolate tea, which she still must have.

“She like her chocolate tea and roast breadfruit. She is a meat woman. When it comes to meat, she love her meat — chicken and fish — and she nuh love vegetable to that; and she don’t love soup, just a little bit of soup will do for her,” her daughter said.

Sonia added that her grandmother smoked until she was in her seventies, but to her surpise, still remained healthy and cancer-free.

According to her caregiver, Brown only has slight problems with her blood pressure and gets a regular health check every three months by a doctor who visits her at home. Her granddaughter pointed out that, in cases where she would require more than a home visit from a doctor — such as recently when she contracted pneumonia — they will transport her to the hospital for treatment.

“The only problem wid her, you see, she have a time where she will sit up all three nights, whole day and talk and talk and then the next three nights, she sleep. Once she get dem rest deh, she come back normal and know every single ting, yuh jus haffi know fi tek her once she go rest back,” her granddaughter explained.

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