Recipe for long life? Helpings of veggies and cow foot, with a dash of God
Martina Symister sat on the verandah of her home in Bybrook, Portland, bantering with four of her great-grandchildren who had just returned from school.
The 102-year-old is one of seven centenarians in Portland who are registered with the National Council for Senior Citizens says she has lived a “blessed life”.
Just over two years ago she checked one of the lifelong dreams on her bucket list. With her doctor’s approval, she took her first flight to New York after her 100th birthday.
“I enjoyed the ride. I sat down at the window and di pilot sing some nice song,” the high-spirited centenarian recalled.
“The plane was going and going,” she said, pointing to the sky.
Symister is a little hard of hearing, but with a little repetition, she processed the questions and answered promptly.
“When mi was a little girl, mi go to school and come home and do mi homework. Mi fada farm, mi mada farm, and wi reap and come back and go to market out a Buff Bay,” Symister said.
She was married twice, but both husbands – first, Martel Moore, then William Symister – predeceased her.
The centenarian has eight children, an equal number of boys and girls, with a set of twins in the lot.
The one-time vendor, who haggled amid the hustle and bustle of the Buff Bay Market until she retired in her 70s, now lives a quieter life with her youngest child, Dahlia Symister. The primary caregiver shares that her mother’s diet consists mainly of ground provisions and vegetables.
“She love cow foot, and even now it is her favourite meal,” her daughter said, adding that ‘Aunt T’, as the matriarch is affectionately called, demands it weekly.
Without assistance, the elder Symister got up from the verandah chair and walked to the room with much strength and heartiness.
“Her blood pressure is always high. Even today when I checked it and at another time, it goes right down, but she’s doing pretty well,” Dahlia told The Gleaner.
“Sometimes she has a little pain in her hand and she seh she can’t reach her back so I would bathe her.”
Symister’s only other complaint is glaucoma, for which she is being treated, and she credits her trademark vim, vigour and vitality to the goodness of God.
“We get fresh air and the river is right across there. She used to go to the river even when she was like 80 and she sapped her legs, and she used to swim and do her exercise – that really help to keep her. And with her grandchildren [and] great-grand, she talk with them and sometimes they give her a little laugh,” the younger Symister said.
Renielia Rowe, her three-year-old great-granddaughter jumped on to her lap and embraced her. Rowe gave her a kiss on the cheek, and before she could ease out of her lap, she said, “Kiss me again!” and burst out in laughter.
Her daughter shared that when she got into mischief, it was difficult to discipline her, as she would find creative ways of outplaying her.
She recalled that she used to hop banana trucks in Buff Bay with one of her four brothers.
“My father and mother would run at us and we would run under the bed, and so dem draw di bed one way and we would go the other way ‘til they get tired,” she said, between bouts of laughter.
Symister was baptised at Glorious Light Apostolic Church, but currently attends a Baptist church closer to home.
On March 2, she will celebrate her 103rd birthday.
Her daughter is grateful to have her around, noting that many children do not have the opportunity to see their parents live past 80 years.
As the Gleaner team pointed at each great-grandchild present, the elderly woman called each name correctly – without hesitation.
“Mi haffi give God praise and thanks. God give me good memory, but when it ready, it gone, and when it ready, it come back,” she said with a chuckle.