In Psalm 90 we read: Our life lasts for seventy years, eighty with good health. What then will you say about 100 years? Wow! When I learnt that one of our parishioners at St Anthony’s, Petit Valley, was celebrating her century of years, I decided that I must have a talk with her and find out about that long life.
Sybil Wilson was born on Valentine’s Day (February 14) in Rocky Vale, Tobago in 1922. The eldest of nine children, five boys and four girls, she has so far outlived all but three.
She remembers that she was baptised at the Catholic Church in Scarborough and there had her First Communion and Confirmation. Her recollection is that she moved to Trinidad at the age of 25 and stayed with her uncle in Laventille, “not up on the hill but lower down”, then after five years in Trinidad exchanged marriage vows in 1952 with a gentleman of the same surname, Wilson.
The nuptial ceremony was conducted in Belmont by Fr Graham. They lived happily together parenting three sons. One of the sons was there with her and he remembers whenever his behaviour was out of sync, being straightened out with “swizzle stick and pot spoon.” Her husband eventually went to his eternal rest in 2010 at the age of 99.
It was after Sunday Mass, February 13, at the Church of the Nativity that I had a talk with Mrs Sybil Wilson to try to tax her memory. She recalled that in her early years in Rocky Vale life was so different from what it is today, for in those days there was more love among neighbours, and it was really a case of the village bringing up the child.
There was greater respect for the elderly, and seniors in the neighbourhood had the authority to discipline a wayward child. “The neighbours around could scold you and advise you about everything. You could go by them if your mother is sick, and they would see about you.” These were her words.
She attended Scarborough RC Primary and, after leaving school, she embarked on what would become her lifelong trade, sewing. She recalls two teachers who made a permanent impression on her: “My teachers were Lionel Paul Mitchell and Donaldson.”
After settling down in Trinidad she continued with her seamstress lifestyle and had a varied clientele which included, as far as she remembered, “lawyers’ wives, Mrs Coelho (of Coelho’s Bakery) and nurses from the hospital.”
At Laventille, she also was a regular attendee at Sunday Mass, a practice which she has continued up to this day. I saw her weekly at the Church of the Nativity, but she has not been able to attend during this time of pandemic. In pre-pandemic times, a parishioner transported her faithfully every week.
She was no stay-at-home, quiet sheep for although, as she said, she had no interest in the politics of the day she, nevertheless, was a mas player and remembers playing with Dalrymple, “yuh know, with long dresses and things like that, not them skimpy thing they have now… and I used to go to parties and things like that”.
As she was anxious to leave the church and return home, I decided to bring the conversation to an end but not before asking her what advice she would give to the young generation.
She advised: “When you go out, make sure that you come back home. Don’t go with wayward friends, and dress properly.”
My last question was: “What caused you to live so long?”. She replied promptly, “Eat good food, cow heel soup with split peas, dasheen, eddoes, green fig, pigeon peas, and sleep well.”
With that I thanked her for sacrificing her time with me and I returned home, thanking God for her rich life, and feeling energised wondered, on this Sunday, where I could get that menu that she recommended.