Barbados-born Guyanese woman achieves astounding 110 years
By Leon Suseran
It is said that the best things are hidden far away, and perhaps that is true, since Guyana’s oldest citizen is quietly living out her God-given blessings in a village called Little Africa, in Corriverton, Corentyne. She is 110-year-old Ismay Spooner nee Hinckson, a woman full of stories and visions.
Mrs Spooner was born in Barbados on December 27, 1900 to Bajan parents. Her father, Livingston, died before she was born, and her mother was Louise, who also lived to a ripe old age, 102- years.
Her two brothers and two sisters are all deceased, leaving her to be the only surviving member of her family.
She married Harold Spooner, a cane- harvester in British Guiana. He is now deceased.
Sitting on her bed, a very alert and talkative Mrs Spooner said that she left Barbados at age 10, with her mother and uncles, for British Guiana “during the indentureship period”. “They were carrying people all about to [build] Panama [Canal]; to different places”, she said.
“Cutting cane was a hard work, a very hard work. Rain a fall and beat you till you…Oh Lord have mercy…when a rain fall, you shiver like a leaf on a tree. Sometimes the rain wet you good on the backdam”, she reminisced. “Plenty people come with me and they go away back to Barbados.”
During the hardships, she said that some of her family members returned to Barbados but she refused since she could not handle “the running up and down”. She settled on the Corentyne where she lives to this day. Her only child, Elsie, died several years ago in Scotland. She said she took care of “lots of other children” during her days.
“Me work hard a Backdam, cut cane and weed grass, throw manure, build punt, break brick, fetch bagasse, and that time, six cents was expensive you know (laughs)”, she said.
“You didn’t have paper money. When you had paper money, you feel you big (laughs), silver money and copper. A penny could’ve given you four things. You could’ve gone and buy ½ cent biscuit and ½ cent sugar and you get a whole set. You mad to go and call for a cent sugar now?
“So the money was small but you get the value”, she recalled. She also performed a few domestic chores for some people on the Corentyne.
“My dear, I worked like a slave. I hear people talk about work; I work at people kitchen from morning till night,” she said.
While reminiscing and telling her story, Mrs Spooner sang several old hymns. “It’s not an easy road; we’re travelling together; for many are the dangers we meet; but the Saviour walks beside you; he’ll lighten your burden; he’ll show the rugged path for your feet, oh no, no no, it’s not an easy road,” Mrs Spooner kept singing loudly in her bedroom, a song she clearly loved since she sang many times during the interview.
She spoke about her many visions during dreams in which she saw “in the clouds, a chariot coming from the East” with people who stopped and she entered, hearing, “I go take you to Heaven you know” and asked her to “look upstairs at a rainbow”.
“Me never see a house big so, a tower,” she said. She stated that she saw a man who told her to enter the tower and told her he will take her to heaven. “Me can’t describe this place how this place nice. Me kneel down on me knee and pray for mercy.”
She said that the man told her that God will pardon her and have mercy on her. Her life changed then and she became a Christian.
“If I didn’t accept that message from the Lord, I wouldn’t be here today”.
She shared more stories about visions of the heavens and transparent houses in the sky.
She loves to eat hassar and gilbacker but stopped shortly after becoming a Seventh – day Adventist a few years ago.
She recalled that she had “seven accidents”. She fell down a few times and one occasion when some boys who were playing were playing with an iron roller upstairs, she got hit on the face since she was standing below.
Iris February cares for her now. The two attend the same church. Ms February started to take care of her in 2002, after she saw Mrs Spooner was living alone in an unsafe home. February said that she enjoys caring for old people and took care of other old people in Georgetown.
Mrs Spooner has a little cold and fever every now and again and visits the doctor, but rarely. “One, one people (church people) does run in to see her,” she said.
February said that Mrs Spooner has some relatives on the Corentyne but they don’t really visit. She added that Mrs Spooner does not receive NIS pension since NIS did not exist up to a few years ago, but receives old age pension and $720 per week from the Sugar Estate.
“She does drink a lot of porridge and [eats] provision and so”, she said.
February said that they have devotions on Friday evening and attend church on Saturday and televisions are only turned on Saturday evenings, since they keep the Sabbath.
Mrs Spooner cannot visit church that often but her church members come and visit her. When asked to tell the secret to living to a ripe old age as she has lived, she said, “I can’t tell you. I can’t tell you that. God knows”.
She said she had asked God a few times before to take her away since she was struggling with some pains (from her accidents), saying, “Father, what me a do here. Put me to my rest”, but He told her, “When I am ready, I will put you to rest. I am your doctor”.
Mrs Spooner lost her sight a long time ago but is still a talkative, jovial old lady full of stories and songs to give praise to her God.
Fulfilling her long dream to have a radio to listen to church programmes and preaching, the New Jersey
Arya Samaj Humanitarian Mission, last year, donated a transistor radio and other items to Mrs Spooner.
A New York man, Goolsarran Ramphal, had also donated a quantity of food items to her last year. The National Insurance Scheme General Manager along with two staff members also visited her a few months ago.
She may not be a born and bred Guyanese but Mrs Spooner might as well have become a citizen of this great country since she has spent the past century of her life here (having arrived here at age 10). She has truly earned the right to be called a Guyanese and we should be proud of her a great lot. That is why Kaieteur News has been in the forefront in featuring and monitoring the life of Mrs Ismay Spooner. She was first featured in 2009. We checked up on her again last January and today, she is alive, well and kicking. She is in high spirits, having lived 110 years.
Her memory is sharp and she knows just about every hymn and verse in the Bible. It would be very nice, too if society can show that it has not forgotten Mrs Spooner, through a kind word, a visit, a prayer, or just sitting beside her bed, holding her and listening to her many stories, including her dreams/visions.
Kaieteur News will certainly ‘touch base’ with Mrs Spooner every now and again; this nation can be assured.