Nenny, as my grandmother is affectionately called by her children, grandchildren and villagers alike, celebrates her 100th birthday today, June 22nd. No one in the family is surprised. After all, her mother lived to be 103 and until the day that she died, was still spending time in her garden tending to her bananas and other crops. Nenny is healthy for the most part and walks about 3 miles to church every Sunday.
I have many treasured memories of Nenny as a kid. Her story telling was legendary among her grandchildren. No one could bring a story to life like Nenny and even though we requested them nightly. We would get the chills and cower in fright as she told us a jumbie, (ghost) story about some dead person coming back to avenge their untimely death. Our favorites were the stories told about a cunning spider called Brer Anancy who would tricked the other animals to get whatever he wanted. They were appropriately called Anancy stories. Every Caribbean kid fortunate enough to have a grandparent tell them these stories, loved them. We never got tired of hearing how Brer Anancy tricked Brer fox. Nenny would also share her growing up stories with us and we enjoyed sharing in her memories just as much as she obviously enjoyed sharing them.
Some nights, Nenny just wanted to sleep but we kids had other plans for her. We would beg and beg until we finally learned how to trick her into telling us a story. One of us would start re-telling one of her favorite stories and intentionally messed it up. Nenny would get so annoyed at this that she would interrupt with ‘That not how it goes!” “It is” We would reply. “How does it go then?” She would then correct us and before she realized it, would be deep into telling the story. We would look at each other and smile conspiratorially.
Nenny was a great story-teller and a hard worker but she also possessed one of the most colorful vocabularies of anyone I know, complemented with a great set of lungs. She could cuss you out in any shade you prefer and it could be heard for miles. (Apparently, this is something she inherited from her mom and maybe a secret ingredient to long life). Her use of profanity was also legendary as shyness was not one of her weaknesses. Young, old, black, white, rich or poor, no one was exempted. (The poor Governor). If one of us did something wrong, Nenny would verbally tear a strip off us, dropping F- bombs as though she was in a war zone. Even though she never hesitated to go ballistic on us, she would not tolerate anyone else taking the same liberties. No way! Not her grand kids. If Nenny called us idiots, don’t mistakenly think you could too. Many have learned that lesson. Nenny never hesitated to put on her fighting gloves and go to war for us.
Nenny had her own quotes for everything. “Bwoy, ah way oil ah oil yo?” was often used when I was misbehaving. It simply meant, ‘Boy, what is the matter with you?’ “Play Play does bring belly” meant that too much playing could result in someone getting pregnant. “Leave me ah Jesus feet” was one she used to tell us to leave her alone. “Yo ah a watch me like how Johnny ah watch town basket” was one I never quite figured out.
I remember Nenny would accompany us to dances and fetes and wait outside until they were over then walk us home which was about 3 miles away. She would bring a flashlight as it was pitch-black darkness to get to where we lived. We would never get embarrassed by her escort. Well except for this one time when my cousin took too long to leave the dance hall and Nenny asked the doorman to let her in and walked around the dance floor looking for my cousin. She found her slow dancing and untangled her from her partner and escorted her outside. That was Nenny.
In her 90’s, my grandmother detested clothing that made her look her age. “Yo tink me old!” She would often say when we tried to dress her in age-appropriate clothing. She wore high heels and dresses and enjoyed the comments from her fellow church goers on how young she looked in her stylish attire. She would often comment, “Did you see sikkay bikkay ah wear de same frock like mine?” (Sikkay Bikkay was her code for anyone whose name she didn’t want to say). Yes, but you wore it better, Nenny, even though she was more than half your age.
Nenny is the consummate matriarch of the family. She is like the queen on her throne. the family revolve around her. My wife and I were planning on taking the kids to see her for her 100th milestone but unfortunately our plans fell through.
It’s a blessing when someone lives to see 100. It’s an even bigger blessing that in my 40’s, I still have my grandmother alive and well. Incidentally, both my grandmothers are alive.
Nenny, thanks for all the stories and memories. We hope that you will stick around for a few more birthdays. Today, you will be in the presence of the Governor General and other dignitaries so please restrain your mouth. As you would tell us when we talked too much, ‘Piece ah yo tongue war clip!’
Happy 100th Birthday Nenny!! Say hi to Sickay Bickay for me.
- Anancy to be celebrated at annual festival (repeatingislands.com)