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When eight is not enough


TONI YARDE, [email protected]

When eight is not enough

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SHE WENT into labour eight times and gave birth to four boys and four girls over an 18-year span.

But for Markeith “Nancy” Dash eight was just not enough, so she grasps every opportunity to play mother to many more children.

This soft-spoken 78-year-old woman with a huge heart gave birth to her first child in 1960, the same year she and Colvin Dash were married. Her offspring range in age from 54 to 36: Kenmore, Chondell, Yolande, Carlos, Donville, Maylene, Rheena and Glendon.

The grandmother of 17 and great grand of five has raised over 20 children. Her caring hand has reached into many households.

In 1973, when tragedy struck her family, she added one to her eight. After her sister-in-law Golda Dash was found murdered in a cane field, she took one of the orphaned daughters into her home.

“Juliette is one of us. She calls me mum to this day. I felt we needed to be there for her. Being motherless can be hard on a child in this sometimes cruel world.”

But the count didn’t end at nine.

In the late 80s, she started caring for two mentally challenged siblings who live nearby. Bertie and Cynthia Phillips’ relatives sought help for the two.

“For years I have been caring for them. I did everything for them. I go down there for a few hours every day. Their mother died. Bertie has since died. It’s only Cynthie now, so I sleep by her at night. I don’t want to leave her in the house alone.”

She was prepared for this parenting task associated with challenged children because one of her own, Carlos needs special care. A graduate of the Erdiston Special Needs School, he demanded much of her time in difficult years.

“I remember taking him to school on mornings and going back in the evenings. It was physically and mentally tiring, but he could not do it, so I had to do it for him.

“Carlos always needed more attention than the others. But I have lived to see him grow into his own. There is nothing I need done around the house that he does not do.”

Nancy with seven of her eight children (from left) Rheena, Chondell, Yolande, Maylene and Carlos. At back are Glendon and Kenmore. 

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On raising her own, she said: “One my greatest joys was to see my first three kids [Kenmore, Chondell and Yolande] reach adulthood. They then helped me a lot with the others.”

Married to a carpenter by trade who often travelled overseas on contracts, he was not an ever-present dad. And by the time he returned, he had missed his wife so much that nine months later she was left with a breathing reminder of his visit.

“I never planned to have eight children. It just happened. Each time he left the island and came back, there was another”, she said with a big smile on her face.

Nancy admits it was an extremely challenging, yet rewarding time of her life.

“It was a tough, tough period, especially since I was on my own most of the time. I had left my family support and moved to Mahaica Gap [Green Hill, St Michael]. But looking back now, I would do it again.”

Nancy’s home seems to be the resident nursery in her district.

“So many families around here have children, grown children that I have helped raise . . . They call me Tess – the character in the movie Touched By An Angel.

“It’s not just the kids alone. Many days I stay on the phone or get visits from burdened mothers seeking advice and wanting help. I see it as a blessing to me. The greatest blessing on earth is to be able to help others.”

Even at her church, Deeper Life Christian Ministries, the congregation has given her the apt title “Mother Dash”.

“I love God and I love my church family. It is my relationship with God that has kept me. I trust Him with all my heart, especially when I am going through a struggle.”

She has lost all but one of her siblings. Now it’s just younger sister Una left.

“We talk every day on the phone. We give our testimony. We talk about the children. We pray together, we laugh together. It’s like we are kids again.”

In 2005, she lost a grandchild and came very close to losing a daughter. Yolande had just given birth to a baby but there were complications.

A miracle

Said Nancy: “I told God take the baby, but not Yolande. My daughter didn’t look good. The doctors said things were bad but I prayed every day. That was nothing short of a miracle. It changed my life. I had truly seen the hand of God working,” she said as tears flowed.

In spite of all these challenges of life, where does Nancy’s spirit of peace and contentment come from?

“It’s from my late mother. She passed it on to us. Ma’ would feed the whole neighbourhood in Shop Hill, St Thomas. On Saturdays, when people made their way to town they would leave their children by us. Our house was always full of children,” she said, shaking her head in reflective wonderment.

Her mother, Bertina Harper gave birth to 13 children but only six lived. She had three sets of twins. Nancy is one of twins, but only she survived.

“Ma would keep the children on evenings, wash their school clothes and iron them so that by the time the parent gets back they don’t have that worry,” she reminisced.

“She always told us to love people and treat them with respect. Nothing she had was too good to share with others. I would have to say it was natural for me to do the same. I was taught to care and share.”

The same lessons Nancy was taught by her mum she has passed on to her own.

“I taught them to live as one. Look out for each other. If I cooked a pint of rice, I taught them how to make it serve them. You may want more, but think about your brother, don’t forget your sister. And to this day that is how they live. They live and relate very well to each other.”

When asked what advice she would give to younger mothers, Nancy said: “My children are my friends in that they can talk to me about anything. I will tell them when they are right or wrong. But we as parents must know when to draw the line.”

Nancy admits she was no stranger to hard times and grief, but over the years she has learnt to put some memories behind her and “press on with an inner peace”.

Her mantra: “Every experience is a lesson and an important part of my life.”

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