Effeline Louise McBean, 100, walked 27 miles with a load on her head
THE sharp, alert, able-bodied and stylish Effeline Louise McBean – looking not a day older than 70 – recalled walking 27 miles with a load on her head from Clarendon to St Ann on a regular basis.
“As children coming up you have to do what mommy said, so me have to go to the woods with the donkey and go 27 miles in Clarendon to the field — me one!” McBean said. “And me walk come back with the load on mi head.”
She said that she was only 14 years old when she started doing it.
“I would ride the donkey the 27 miles to the field but when we coming back the donkey would have load so I would walk beside him with load on my head. Sometimes mi spend two weeks in the field with my brothers and sisters picking up rat-cut coffee to buy the little things that we want for ourselves,” she stated.
Born on October 14, 1914 in Claremont, St Ann to Christiana and Samuel White, McBean grew up with her eight siblings and soon learnt the livelihood that her father was an expert at – farming.
“I plant my garden. I plant yam, banana, fruit … everything,” she recalled. “From we a children coming up we did farming because my father was a farmer. So you know children are copycats, and whatever he does, we do it too.”
While her father worked the field, McBean’s mother was a housewife who ensured that she did all she could to properly care for her family.
Even though she was a girl, McBean was more active in taking the goats to the field, and feeding the pigs and ‘common’ fowls than helping her mom in the house.
“We had to get the eggs and sell, and we have the donkey to go to the field. So we used to wake from 5 o’clock every morning and go in the grass. Them times we never know anything ’bout water boots so we barefoot,” she said, laughing.
As a child, this for McBean was a ‘nice life’.
“We didn’t know any better so for us life was nice,” she said. “Then sometimes we had to go five miles with kerosene pan on we head to catch water. Because we had drought and we never have water that time, we only had a parish tank and you would go there – five miles and come back and go school.”
As a result of tending to the animals, picking up eggs and walking 10 miles to and from the parish tank, then having to cook before heading off to school, McBean said that she would get to school at 11:00 am, despite the 8:00 am starting time.
“Sometimes we get beaten, but teacher Smith was very very good, and sometimes we would cook and take some of it to school for lunch,” she disclosed.
McBean attended the Pinnoville Elementary School in Clarermont, now known as Claremont Primary.
But apart from farming, she worked in many other areas.
“I used to nurse children in the time of the World War (World War II) in 1933,” the centenarian said. “I used to nurse the children when their parents gone to the war.”
She said that overall she nursed 35 children from various homes.
“After that I got a job. The Jamaica Mines used to weave material and make toys and sell, so I used to take the machine and do the job. After that they raised the rent so the people I work with give up the business so I worked in a bread shop known as Brown’s Bakery. The Browns owned the town at that time.”
After leaving the bakery, McBean started managing a guest house in Mammee Bay, in the parish of her birth.
McBean, who was married in 1947, gave birth to five children, one of whom died in an accident in Jamaica some years ago and another in Canada.
“I ran the guest house,” she said. “These were Jews running away from the winter in Waverly, …the American Jews. They leave me there to keep the house and then they come about November and went back April and then they would send their friends to come there and me look after them. From there, I went to Canada.”
McBean emigrated to Canada in January of 1972 in what she described as “that wicked winter.
“When I go there I see people dress up in this whole heap of clothes, I thought they were mad,” she said, laughing again. “The first night I go – just as mi come off the plane and go outside, I had on shoes which I shouldn’t , and I fall down and hit my head so they had to pick me up. When I go up and look in the house and see the people dem in the house dress up in these boots and all this kinda stuff mi think dem mad! It was a wicked January,” she said.
A few days after her arrival in Canada, McBean landed a job in the special diet department of the orthopaedic hospital where she stayed until she retired in her 80s. She returned to Jamaica in 2000 and refused to go back into the cold.
“I did not want to go back to Canada because if I am not working, then why should I spend that aggravation in the cold?” she said.
Thus, she explained, she ended up as a resident at the Glo’s Adult Centre in Russell Heights, St Andrew. A place she admits to enjoy, since it
is homelier than the cold environment of Canada.
McBean disclosed the secret to her reaching 100 years.
“Let me tell you how this little part go … it’s a little secret,” she said, smiling. “I was working with some people, and this girl introduced a book to me which was not right. But whatever I am going to do, I always put it to God first and then think over it before I do anything. But you know, innocent? I went and bought this book and God sent an angel to me in a dream, just like we talking here now, is so the man came. I didn’t see his face, but anyway he held me and he said ‘if you get rid of this book you will add 15 years to your life’. The morning I got up and I do away with the book and I am here. I don’t know how long I would have lived, but whatever time it was I was going to live 15 years added to that,” she said.
McBean said that she was in her late 80s when she had the dream.
McBean’s daughter, 63-year-old June Diedrick said her mom was great at looking after the household and caring for her five children.
“Now that I have my own two kids and she had five kids — I can’t compare now to then, but I wonder how she managed with us five kids,” Diedrick said. “Our father was back in England from as far back as I could remember, so it was just she and grandmother, and the rest of the community that raised us. Those were the days that if you misbehaved coming from school or wherever, people just grabbed you and beat you and then you dare not go home and tell her. As a matter of fact, whoever beat you, you had to beg them not to go home and tell because when you go home now you know is a double dose – and she nah ask no question! No sah, they were elders and they were always right. You had no say. You just had to have manners to elders,” Diedrick said.
Diedrick said that as a child if you were going to and from school and adults were outside on the plaza you had to call each person by name when greeting them, and there had to be a Miss, ‘Maas’, Uncle or Auntie in front of the person’s name, because if news got back to their mom that this protocol was not followed, they would pay dearly.
While they could not outwit their mother much, the children for the most part mastered the art of warding off licks.
“We used to have to go for the belt to get the beating and then go hang up back the belt,” Diedrick said, as her mother laughed.
“But she is left-handed so she didn’t do too much of the beating because we found out after a while that once you get the first hit if you scream and made the neighbours know — just scream loud and run,” she said. “And then we had dogs and the dogs were very protective of us, so from you make the first scream the dogs came. They would be barking at her and with you screaming you create a whole commotion in the neighbourhood, so you end up getting maybe one lick. But if you stand up to her after you get the first one, like my younger sister did, then you would get more. So the trick was to scream loudly from you get the first one and run!”
Diedrick also recalled her mother having a special look, and once she gave that look as a child then they had to shape up or else!
“If you do something in church, she’s not saying anything, she just clears her throat and give you that look and that was it,” she said.
Her granddaughter, Gail Diedrick, who journeyed with her mom from United States to share in the centenarian’s 100th birthday celebration, admitted to being spoilt
“I love her dearly,” Gail said. “I didn’t get any of what they went through, I was spoiled. When I was growing up she was in Canada so I reaped all the benefits. Every Christmas and every birthday I could bank on my card and my little pocket money from grandma. When grandma came and visited I got dolls and candies, so I reaped
the benefits,” she said laughingly.
“She’s a tough woman, she’s a lot more tactful than I am but I’m as tough as she is. She don’t put up with crap from anyone, and I don’t put up with crap either, so I got that from her. She calls me her sweets. No matter when I call or what I have done, every time I call she will greet me with ‘Hello my sweets’, that’s how she starts a conversation and ends the conversation with “love you”. Even if you getting a scolding in the middle of a family feud or something.”
McBean loved Norman Washington Manley, someone who shaped her political beliefs to this day.
“Norman Manley give a scholarship to the five of my kids and help educate them, and you know you must love a person like that because I didn’t have no money,” McBean explained.
On Tuesday, as McBean celebrated her milestone, she was presented with three plaques from persons who journeyed from Canada to share in her celebrations. These were courtesy of the Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, the Governor General of Canada David Johnston and the Prime Minister of Canada in Ottawa.