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Reflections on the life of Mother James

Reflections on the life of Mother James



by Jeff James
April 2006

Reflections on the Life of Mary Agatha James.
July 25, 1917 – April 7, 2006

I had been preparing for some time for the end of my mother’s journey, given the fact that she was very advanced in age. But when I visited St Vincent just the week before she died, I left with the feeling that she was going to be around for quite some time. She was full of energy as usual, engaging in animated conversation, and in tremendously high spirits. I had no inkling that that was the last time I was going to see her alive. So when the news of her death reached me while traveling in Haiti, it took a while before I could really come to terms with it. Such is the thin line between life and death.

Mary Agatha James was born on the 25th of July 1917. Her birth certificate would tell you it was July 19th. But she stuck to the former date. As far as she was concerned it was a birth registration error. Her mother could not have had the date wrong. And so she has always celebrated July 25 as her birthday.{{more}}

My mother gave birth to ten children, seven girls and three boys. I calculated that she would have spent twenty years bearing children, and another ten years or so bringing them up. But for all of her child bearing and child rearing functions, I still think she spent a greater part of her life trying to secure a means of livelihood for her family. She, like many of her generation, juggled child rearing responsibilities and activities around the house with farming for which she had a passion, and to which she devoted a considerable amount of her productive years.

She lived a full life. She was an abundance of physical energy, and her sustained physical capacity appeared to be limitless. For a significant period of her life, she would spend Monday to Friday toiling away, morning into night. Saturday was no different. It was taken up doing work around the house, or a journey into Kingstown to sell her produce and do shopping. Sunday was set aside for church, and visiting the sick and shut-ins. These visits were not confined to Troumaca. They included Rose Bank and Coulls Hill, and on the odd occasion back to Rose Hall which she would have already visited throughout the week on her daily trek to Palmyra, Copeland or Congozie. In fact, she built up a very large social network, spanning the communities of Troumaca, Rose Hall, Rose Bank, Coulls Hill and Spring Village, and to a lesser extent Petit Bordel. She seldom complained of being tired. I had a good experience of what her stamina and endurance was like when she took us the younger children on Easter Monday trips to La Soufriere. When we wanted to give up and turn back, she kept us going.

My mother’s physical energy was only matched by her capacity to retain information and memorise facts. She was a walking library. The history of Troumaca and significant events in North Leeward were written in her head, and I regret now that when I was younger I didn’t go through the trouble of recording many of her stories and anecdotes. If you wanted to know the story behind the various religious denominations in the community; when the Troumaca Primary School was first established and who were the influential persons in educational advancement; when was the first health clinic opened and the first doctors who came; in what year Troumaca first received pipe borne water and who was behind this initiative; who were the first families to settle in the community; the year when public transportation by sea and road came to Troumaca; and how politics evolved in the community, the information was all there etched in her memory. That is why in recent years, I sensed the frustration when her short term memory started to go. Nonetheless, her long term memory never deserted her.

By this you would also surmise that she was also a person who had a thirst for knowledge and reading was one of her preoccupations. It was because of this that I took an early interest in reading and books. Our mother always had around her religious and other books, magazines, newspapers, and tracts. In her later years, she became very fond of crossword puzzles. Her love of reading avoided any serious deterioration in her mental faculties as she advanced in age.

Her children would remember her for the dominant role she played in our lives, for not only did she play the nurturing role as mothers are wont to do, she was the one who instilled values and discipline, took the lead role in seeing after our material needs and our educational pursuits, and kept the family together as a cohesive unit. Our father was always there, but very much in the background.

I was amazed at the way she practised thrift and managed scarce resources. When it came to money management, she exercised best practice. I recall that she would go into Kingstown and on her return would get down to her bookkeeping. She would total up all the money earned whether it was from the sale of cotton, nutmeg, cocoa, peas or ground provision. And she would reconcile the income earned with the expenditure on foodstuff and other things. She would only be satisfied when she could account for every cent spent.

I guess she was like this because she was a very independent person. She was not one to go around asking for assistance, or a bail out, so to speak. So she was very careful about how she spent her limited resources. Her maxim was, make do with what you have. She was a proud individual. She always said that in her later years, she was not going to ask any of her children for anything. It was her duty to provide for them, and she expected nothing in return. She did not see children as an investment or as her pension as some would say. And she never did one day ask any of her children for a dime. Such was the measure of her independence.

Her independent nature was also borne out in her wish that she would never get to the stage where she was laid up in bed and had to depend on others for long term care. She never did. Up to the day of her death, she was able to carry out all the activities of daily living. For someone who was always on her feet, and always engaged in some form of activity, it would have been difficult for her to cope with a life of inactivity.

But more than anything, what stands out most about our mother was her deep, religious faith. That was what sustained her, which helped her to surmount life’s challenges. It was the source of her strength. In reflecting on her life, it is amazing the number of things that I had not given serious thought to before. For example, I always wondered why as little children she had us learn by heart Psalms 23, Psalms 118 and Psalms 121. Those passages of scripture reflected what she believed:

The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters……… Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever (Psalms 23 vs 1,2,6).

Or, I will lift up my eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord which made heaven and earth (Psalms 121 vs 1-2).

These passages of scripture also reflected how she lived her life. Man was mere mortal. We were taught that we should show respect to people, in particular our elders. It didn’t matter the person’s station in life, rich or poor, black or white. Respect people, yes, but show submission, no. Submission was to be reserved for the one above. And that was how we grew, not overawed by people because of their positions of power or influence, or socio-economic standing:

The Lord is on my side; I will not fear: what can man do unto me? The Lord taketh my part with them that help me: therefore shall I see my desire upon them that hate me. It is better to put trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man. It is better to put trust in the Lord than put confidence in princes (Psalms 118 vs 6-9).

Her faith never wavered; it prevailed to the very end. It was this abiding faith that kept her going. And so her journey on this earth has come to an end. Her life was one of many ups and downs, but it was a good life. One that showed her strong devotion to family, her independent resolve, her care and concern for others, a passion for hard work and only those things that uplift the mind and spirit.

In her last few years one sensed that she was very much at peace with herself. Hers was a joyous spirit fortified by a sense of self-fulfilment. Her journey ended with a feeling of self-fulfilment.

I could only imagine that as she quietly passed into the Great Beyond, her last entreaty must have been:

Open to me the gates of righteousness: I will go unto them, and I will praise the Lord (Pslams 118 vs 19).