Agatha bats well
OLD PERA, St Thomas:
IT WAS by chance Rural Xpress met Agatha 'Mum' Peyton of Bowden Hill, Old Pera, St Thomas. And she turned out to be a very interesting person, all of 104 years old, having been born on July 10, 1910.
Despite the physical pain and burning sensations she feels all over her body, her senses are intact, and her memory is as vivid as can be.
But, her aches are also emotional, especially when she remembers the deaths of her four boy children over 60 years ago. She can recall when they died, and what she did while she was pregnant with them.
Not far from her humble abode are 12 graves of her relatives, side by side, under a tree. Even her babies are buried nearby. Among the graves is that of her grand-mother. She used to sit on it when she was pregnant and cry because things were not well between her and the man she lived with.
solace from the grave
So, the grave was a place to seek solace from her departed grand-mother, and it was this outreach she believes that might have led to the deaths of her boy babies. "Mi never know say a badness mi a do," she said introspectively, as she told how a male neighbour revealed her grand-mother's name, and gave her a message from the grave.
"An him come de mawning ... and him say to mi say Susan Lawrence say a she kill de baby dem because she no like fi see when yuh a cry, every one a dem (clapping her hand) ... and she say if yuh have anymore she a go tek yuh," Mum recounted.
That did not sit well with Mum, who was pregnant for a man she was living with when the message was being delivered. "An when mi find out say mi a expect baby mi a cry, and go tell the fellow father who live dung deh so. Him say, 'No badda cry, she cyaan do yuh nutten. She no bad like fi mi madda. Fi mi madda a warner'," she said. She subsequently gave birth to a female child who died in her early 50s.
With the day of crying on her ancestors' grave over, it was a life of independence for Mum, who sold food at Bowden Wharf in its heyday, and worked as a domestic helper in the 'big house' of a wharf official. Her brain is full of personal anecdotes, such an act of cruelty she will never forget.
It happened at time when Mum used to clean the floor at the 'water police station' at Bowden Wharf. She had to reach by 6 a.m. One day, a policeman suggested that she leaves her house a little earlier so they could "go to bed". Mum spurned him, and his reaction was violent.
"And because mi no agree, mi a clean de mawnin sah, and dat time de police dem a wear de big, ole, tuff boot dem, and tep pon mi finga dem," Mum narrated as she pointed to her crooked fingers.
With her face and voice full of intensity, she continued, "An mi kum outta de station house, yuh si, an go out inna de track like dat, an a pick up two rock (fist now clenched, and raised high), an a say, 'kum out wid yuh gun', an a start fi cuss an bawl."
A corporal heard her cry, and upon finding out the reason, took swift disciplinary action against his colleague, who she presumed has died long ago. But what has kept her so long, despite a lifetime of hardship?
She, who said, "Mi eat whole heap a supp'n," cannot attribute her long life to any one thing, as her father died relatively young in Cuba, and her mother died at 65. "You know say, right in the district here, as far as my memory can remember mi no know nobody who live so long, not even hundred," Mum added. And, she wasn't expecting to reach that milepost herself.
Yet, one day while Mum was working at 'the big house' at Hill Sixty, a soldering man from Arcadia, in the parish, passed by seeking welding job, but she said there was nothing to solder. It was a Thursday, and the 'yard bwoy' was away. The man asked for a drink of water, and while he was running the cup, he also requested to see Mum's palm.
She found it strange, but allowed the man to read her palm. He suggested that Mum was 'friend' with her 'boss man', which she reluctantly admitted. And the man told he her something else. She was going to live to a very old age, he portended. "But mi never expect it wouda reach to dis," Mum said in retrospect.