Mama with me (first grandchild) and her two great grand-daughters Kenya and Tatyana standing under her late daughter’s name -Clover Lawrence (my mother)
My grandmother celebrated her 101st birthday on January 7, 2019. As we did last year on her 100th, we gathered as a village to celebrate her milestone in Sturge Town, St. Ann, Jamaica, West Indies. Last year I discussed the factors that possibly contributed to her longevity, see article (http://haiti-progres.com/news/2018/02/28/a-black-history-story-from-jamaica-west-indies/). This year I will discuss the importance of her wearing a pair of pants, for the first time, YES, THE FIRST TIME, for her 101st birthday celebration.
Mama was born on January 7, 1918. As she hilariously noted when I asked her how old she was, she said “if mi born 1918, mi no mus ole fowl” DWL. Despite, a memory delay sometimes, Mama’s long-term memory is still intact, a feat in itself. She remembered her birthdate, but, could not calculate her age; listen, I am 51 years old and I have to often do the Math to determine my current age! However, she was alert enough to know she is an old fowl. Think about this for a second, Mama was born in the year that World War 1 (1914- 1918) was ending. Let that sink in.
With her second grand-child Michele
Why No Pants Before?
When I posted her photograph and mentioned her inaugural pants wearing event, a friend asked why she has never done it before. In 1918, women did not have the right to many things we now take for granted worldwide: right to vote, active involvement in the workplace etc. Mama was raised in a world where women “belonged at home, barefoot and pregnant.” Children were the “old age pension,” therefore, the more children you had, the more assured you were of a better socio-economic lifestyle as you aged. Additionally, in the absence of access to education beyond primary school, for most, the church was the greatest influence on culture and as such all beliefs. Based on those factors, pants were considered a man’s garment, so accordingly, Mama only wore pants once before when she acted as Joseph in the Christmas story at her church. I know this because she has always repeated it, it was that significant to her. Additionally, each time I would visit her from the United States, Mama would repeat “if mi did younger, you would a carry mi go a foreign so mi could wear pants and cream mi hair.” Those were her unfulfilled dreams: Visiting the United States, wearing pants and processing her natural hair.
With three of her six great-grandsons: Kwesi, Darien and Kyle
Why Pants Now?
As I struggled to find an outfit for her to wear to her birthday party, my sister in law Vanna reminded me of her dream to wear a pair of pants and it became the perfect choice. Those pants represented her dreams unfulfilled, dreams that suggested that despite being a sanctified and saved Christian all her life, and still reading the bible all day, every day, she knew that some of those cultural rules were oppressive to women and desired to break out of the prisons that have kept and still keep many women suppressed and oppressed. Mama was always a rebel; she said what she meant, even when not what we now call “politically correct.” She only had two children and I have never heard her talk about them being her old age pension. She always worked outside of the house as she valued her independence. She knew she was more than the limited cultural expectations of womanhood. As I adorned her with her jewelry, I tried putting lip-gloss on her lips, she said “noooo, too red, “suggesting that the hint of color was too radical a step, and I chuckled and thought, maybe next year at the 102nd birthday party. Mama at 101 years old realized one of her dreams as a fierce woman who dared to challenge societal oppressive limitations on women. Maybe she won’t remember it every day, but we will! As one of my cousins said, “wow, she is one of a kind. I think you are her clone,” I humbly hope I share an iota of her fierceness and fabulosity! Happy birthday my Mama!
With two of her f
our grandsons: Kerry and Donwell and her best friend and companion- Ms. Irene
The greatest honor is to care for those who used to care for us! ASHE!
Jamaican born and raised Nadine L. Leblanc is an Educator and Cultural Critic residing in South Florida. She is currently a PhD candidate at Florida Atlantic University in Educational Leadership and Methodology. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org