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Cherished Christmas memories for two centenarians - St Catherine seniors were single parents who worked hard all their lives

Published:Sunday | December 6, 2020 | 12:17 AMRuddy Mathison - Sunday Gleaner Writer
100-year-old Gladys Almena Grant.
100-year-old Gladys Almena Grant.
105-year-old Doril Laidley.
105-year-old Doril Laidley.

What two centenarian women in the parish of St Catherine have in common is the fact that they were hard workers who were both single parents.

From all accounts, the women cherished the dignity of work, recognising from early in their lives that catering to the needs of six children in one case and one child in the other would be their sole responsibility, as the fathers never stuck around to play their part.

Gladys Almena Grant was born on October 12, 1920, and was forced to care for six children on her own without a father around to assist.

Having five sons and one daughter was no easy feat; however, she worked as a domestic helper and later breaking stones for road construction, a job that mostly women would do back then for the government agency known as the Public Works Department, later renamed the National Works Agency.

Grant, at 100 years of age, suffers from Alzheimer’s so she was not able to relate to The Sunday Gleaner any part of her life story growing up. However, her only daughter, 68-year-old Avis Robinson, who grew up with her, shared that her mother was a woman of God who loved her church and worked very hard for her children, one of whom has since been deceased.

“She worked very hard as a domestic worker and broke stones. She helped to break the stones that build the Sandy Gully Bridge. She would make sure that me and my five brothers have food to eat; food was always on the table,” Robinson said.

“Granny, as she is affectionately called, would make sure that we go to school and we couldn’t miss Sunday school. She make sure that all of us have a Sunday suit, which was a special suit to wear to church.”

Robinson, who is the second child, lived in the United States for 24 years and just recently retired and returned home to be the primary caregiver for her mother.

Special Christmas Dinner

She shared that her mother enjoyed cooking, and while they were growing up, she would prepare special Christmas dinner for the family.

“Our best time was Christmas. Granny would take us to Christmas market and we would always get our balloons and fee-fee for Christmas,” Robinson gleefully stated.

Meanwhile, 105-year-old Doril Laidley, likely the oldest woman in the parish at present, was born on January 18, 1915 in Hope Bay, Portland, and had two children but one died at the tender age of three.

Now bedridden due to challenges with her sight, Laidley was surprisingly still able to recall events from when she was a teenager growing up.

Even though not able to remember names of persons back then, she vividly recounted a tragic incident that occurred in which the Swift River in Portland overflowed its banks and washed away her aunt and a friend who was about to get married.

“Mi remember the rain fall and the Swift River come down and wash wey the girl that was supposed to get married the Saturday. Dem find her body a sea bury inna sand. Dem know sey a her because she have a ring pon her finger,” she recalled, pausing as if to refresh her memory.

“The man she was going to married did hang on to a tree and that save him. Mi mother sister get wash away too and we never find her again.”

Christmastime for Laidley was considered special because that was the time she would get special food and get to go to Christmas market.

“I remember Christmas, it used to be very very nice when I was a child; it is too much to say. I used to take my grandchildren to Christmas market and buy them playthings,” Laidley recounted.

The centenarian would have been around at a young age when the Spanish flu pandemic was raging; however, she cannot remember hearing her parents talk about it. She was made aware of the present coronavirus pandemic by her granddaughter after a friend of the family passed away from COVID-19-related conditions. Laidley subsequently made reference to the virus as “the something wey a kill people”.

Laidley’s granddaughter, 60-year-old Karlene Hall, told The Sunday Gleaner that her grandmother had to raise her mother by herself, working as a cook in the canteen at the Land Department and later in the Monymusk canteen.

“After the death of my mother some years ago, I became her primary caregiver. My mom told me how Grandma left Portland for Kingston and worked hard to care for her after her marriage didn’t work out,” said the granddaughter.

Hall, who has a 23-year-old daughter, said her grandmother liked to bake, and just before she lost her sight about six years ago, she would help her cousin to bake Christmas cake every year.

The two centenarians were treated with bags of groceries in a surprise visit to their homes by Portmore Mayor Leon Thomas and councillor for the Waterford division Fenley Douglas on Thursday.

The treat for both women were timely as it also coincided with the recognition of International Day for Persons with Disabilities.

Thomas said it was fitting to remember these very senior citizens, especially given the fact that they are the oldest in the municipality, one of whom he said could be the oldest in the parish.

Rare Milestone

“These ladies have achieved a rare milestone that not many can claim, so with the International Day for Persons with Disabilities coming at this time, it is fitting that we recognise them,” he told The Sunday Gleaner.

Douglas said he was extremely elated to know that Miss Laidley especially lives in Waterford.

“From all records, she is the oldest person living in the parish, and it makes us proud to be able to offer her some goodies at this time,” he said.

He lauded the mayor for sharing in the treat while highlighting the Fenley Douglas Foundation that is entrusted with the responsibility of giving assistance to seniors in the Waterford community.