Unfazed by age
Call her dressmaker, chef, poet, or club president. Unfazed by age, 104-year-old Hazel Espeut is doing it all. In fact, she is now single-handedly organising an annual children’s treat in her East Kingston community for Child Month, which she has done for the past 41 years.
Espeut, who has several books filled with notes, names, and contacts to help her plan, says the adage: ‘Jack of all trades and master of none’ sums up her life.
“I am very active. I love to help myself. That’s me. I do a lot of different things. I do dressmaking, I used to do a lot of baking. I used to bake a lot of wedding cakes and I love to cook — that’s my hobby. I love to cook pork… that is mi favourite. I love stew peas, which is Jamaica’s dish. That was my number one… people used to love when I cook it,” she told the Jamaica Observer.
“I have the children’s treat every year on Christmas and in Child Month, and I am planning to have the treat for them this month. From the very beginning, I am the one who do all the planning. Last year was the only year we didn’t have it when the COVID start. Everybody got scared,” she said.
“I am trying to figure out some way. I asked some different places for sponsorship… Not as bright as the beginning, but we still going on,” said the centenarian.
Espeut, affectionately called ‘Auntie’, was born on January 31, 1917. She has two sons, nine grandchildren and 15 great grandchildren. When her husband died, she had to raise their sons on her own.
“He died so many years now, I don’t even remember. After he died, I worked for myself and raised the children,” she said.
“I attended St Paul’s school in Franklyn Town. It’s Franklyn Town Primary School now. That’s the school I attended from I was seven to age 13, and then I went to Government Technical [now Kingston Technical High School] on Hanover Street. I never really go out and work after high school. My mother was very strict,” she recalled.
Multiple awards and plaques which she received from various entities over the years can be seen in her house, among them the Kingston and St Andrew Leadership and Community Development Award presented by the Social Development Commission in 2018.
In 2017, she was honoured with the Distinguished Senior Citizen Award from the Ministry of Labour and Social Security’s National Council for Senior Citizens.
“I got the Governor General’s Award in 1999 and I got an award from the East Kingston Police. Some of them I don’t remember, to be truthful,” she told the Observer.
The community stalwart is also president of Radiant Golden Age Club, which was founded more than four decades ago.
“It started in 1977 and it’s still going on. It’s just COVID why they (members) don’t come out to meeting. Now, it’s every now and then. But usually, every Wednesday we would have meeting. We keep the seniors together. After you reach a certain age they start to keep in and get withdrawn, but the club brings them out. We are connected to the National Golden Age Home. We started with five members and now we have about 45. Some of the original members died,” Espeut explained.
Her cooking skills are highly regarded in the community and she is happy when residents or her family knock on her door to taste her latest fare.
“Me have a god daughter… she come sometimes, and others from the community — teenagers and so on… A number of years ago, when they just started building the housing scheme, I cooked for the police from the first day… They appreciated it, they loved it,” she said.
During the interview, Espeut pulled out a notebook in which she records her poems. Without relying on her glasses, she dived into the scribbled words with girlish excitement, reciting one of the poems, entitled Why people change.
People change because discipline and self-esteem and too love, is on retirement.
We are living in a free for all world, a world without any moral balance.
In former days, parents would help parents to discipline children.
Those days were dark days or slavery days. Now you have to see children in
the worst situation and walk away from them and wish them well.
Or else you will be giving away your life. We call these days modern days.
After completing the poem, Espeut lamented the difference in today’s society compared to her days growing up.
“I’ve never seen anything like this in all mi life. This is different, different. Plenty changes,” she said.
Asked how she has been observing her birthday since she got to 100, Espeut said: “I don’t celebrate it. My family celebrate it for me. When I was 100, they had a big thing for me and from that, they have parties. Just the family go out and have breakfast in the morning and then everybody gather and have a wonderful time.”
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