Farming and life lessons from Miss Kitsy
When I was told of a 78-year-old woman who cultivates ground provisions and still cleans her floor with a coconut brush, I immediately decided to go see her in Chantilly, Manchester. Even her ‘pet name’, Miss Kitsy, was an allure.
With the corona fears swirling all over Kingston and St Andrew, I happily left the heat of ‘Sin City’. When I arrived in the fair-weathered hills of Chantilly and felt the cool mountain breezes, once again I said to myself, “Life is not fair.” How could I be sitting and sweating in St Andrew, when there is soothing weather in Chantilly? I could see that the soil was parched, and the grass wilted, but the temperature was most delightful.
After the introduction and pleasantries were exchanged, we got a tour of Miss Kitsy’s backyard, from which, we were told, the dazzling lights of Mandeville can be seen at night. There was goat, pig and poultry rearing going on. We were shown how to hold a two-day-old kid, by its forelegs.
However, one of Miss Kitsy’s daughters had another idea, to hold the skin at the back of the neck. But the kid ‘bawled out’. “You are hurting me!” it seemed to be saying. When it was placed back on the ground, it made some sounds as if it were complaining to its mother. From I was born.
The interior of her house reminded me of my childhood home, only that her floor is concrete, but just as red as mine. To demonstrate, Miss Kitsy went down on her knees with the same brand of red floor polish from my childhood, a piece of foam, and a small coconut brush and got to work. The energy that she exerted and the speed with which she moved her arms belied her age and petite frame.
Her grandson, Nicolai Gayle, was cautious when I told him to get into the camera frame so that he could be seen observing her. Just as in my youthful days, it is a ‘crime’ to step on to a floor when it is being polished. Memories came floating on the wings of the breeze. But the more things change the more they remain the same, it seemed. I felt like I was in a time warp.
From Miss Kitsy’s yard we trekked to her field, not far away. Nicolai, in water boots, was in the company, led by Miss Kitsy herself, who had as much pep in her steps as a grade-six student. The farming lot of about 150 yam hills is on an incline. It was there that she told us her story of farming for over six decades. It is an inspirational and amazing story of years of hard work, commitment to farming, independence, pride, physical fortitude and longevity.
Yet, it wasn’t only about the stories. Miss Kitsy and a male acquaintance taught us a thing or two about farming, its relationship with the weather and the moon, how to plant provisions from the head, the vine and the joint, when to plant and when to reap, etc. We were in school again, in Miss Kitsy’s ‘classroom’.
The lessons did not stop there. After we had returned to her yard, someone went to fetch Larry, who has a farm near Miss Kitsy’s yard. He cultivates a variety of yams, cassava and vegetables. He, too, went into the teaching mode, demonstrating as he informed and explained. He was as unpretentious as they come, no doubt that he was a man of the soil. After more lessons on how to prepare cassava for eating, we milled around for a while.
But, since we didn’t want to be caught up in the curfew we had to cut the chatting short, and head back to that place where the heat is like a blanket that you cannot toss away. From one weather extreme to another. It was a lovely day, one worthy of being revisited. Thank you, Althea, Maroghini and Miss Kitsy for the opportunity.