Today our family celebrates love and longevity with Mama, Rose Gwendolyn Campbell, as she likes to refer to herself when she stands on point. Known also as Rose McGhie, widow for the past 18 years of Sydney, she has held her own for all this time and for the near 60 years before that while she was married to this strong, stalwart. Rose, Roses, Mama Rose, Rosebud, Mama Losie, Misses McGhie, or Mama, whatever the name that you use; it is said with love on your lips and genuine warmth in your heart.
They say that it takes a village to raise a child. Well, our Mama has raised a whole village. Before Dada died, she declared to us that she will not be moving to Kingston to live with the family. “I was born in Brown’s Town, my church is in Brown’s Town, my husband will be buried in Brown’s Town and I will die in Brown’s Town.” Mama has lived in Brown’s Town, St. Ann all these 99 years, and counting.
The ‘village’ of Brown’s Town began as an inland market town and is a major commercial centre for Jamaica’s north coast and the multitude of smaller towns in the interior of the parishes of St. Ann, Trelawny and Manchester. Located just 8 short miles from Discovery Bay where Christopher Columbus first landed in Jamaica, it is now much more than a market town. It is a town of many schools and many more churches. St. Mark’s Anglican Church is Mama’s church and she is celebrated there as their oldest member. Today, her Rector will visit her at home, as he often does, and celebrate the Holy Eucharist, with fellow members of her Mother’s Union joining her.
She raised two children of her own and married them off to wonderful husbands, Hartley Neita and Lloyd Adams, whom she loved as her own sons. When her first daughter died at the tender age of 32 years, amidst their grief, she and Dada took their 4 young grandchildren and raised them with double love, as only grandparents can. And there are many more. In addition to her 7 grands, she has loved and cared for 7 great grand children. But that’s not all. Mama’s and Dada’s love and generosity extended to endless families, such that wherever they are in the world they claim her as their own and they bring up their own families to know her and love her and to walk in her ways.
Longevity and short lives have played equal roles on the stage of our family life. Mama, the last of her 9 Campbell siblings has outlived them all. She has not attributed that to her daily cup of coffee, neither to her daily devotions. After all, she does not claim to be holier than thou. She made no plans for a long life. Anyone knowing Mama knows that many a plan begins or ends with, “…if life is spared…” Her promise however is, “If you want to live as long as I have, live down plenty things and don’t put people’s foolishness on your head”.
A 99th birthday cannot be celebrated in a day. The cards were mailed and received long before today. The birthday calls started coming in at day break. Yet they did not change her routine. After breakfast she was wheeled on to her verandah with her Bible, Book of Common Prayer, Daily Word and Daily Bread, her address and telephone book and her cordless telephone. There she holds court with her God and the world. Daily! As the ‘villagers’ pass by on the road they waive and call out to her by name; whichever name they have chosen. She replies, “Alright Darling”. Today, there will be more visitors than usual, and the weeks and months ahead will continue to be filled with expressions of love in all sorts of wonderful ways.
This may sound like her remembrance. But it is not. Mama is alive and well with all her mental acuity in tact. And when the time comes there will be no remembrance. Mama will have none of that. She has already made that clear. Her Minister has been briefed. She says that too much foolishness is spoken after you are gone. And so I take the chance to speak of Mama now so that I can stand corrected. After all, the last word is Mama’s.
Happy Birthday, Mama. You continue to be blessed and remain a blessing to all of us.
This photograph is posted with the courtesy of the National Library of Jamaica