TONY BEST: Thankful for the gift of life
EVER WONDERED what a centenarian expects to receive as a Christmas gift?
After all, they have enjoyed more Yuletide season celebrations than the rest of us. Of the 323.1 million people alive in the US today, less than 73 000 centenarians have observed as many Christmas seasons as Robert Taitt, an impeccably dressed and cheerful Bajan New Yorker who is a 101-year-old. Ask the retired postal and transit worker about gifts to match the mood of the Christian season, and he would tell you that at this time of his life presents aren’t a big deal.
There are many more important things than gifts wrapped in Christmas paper, he says.
“I plan to go to church in Harlem on Sunday, Christmas day, and I plan to enjoy every minute of the service, knowing that Jesus Christ was the greatest gift all. Christ came and lived among us and provided us with redemption. The fact that Christmas falls on a Sunday this year, adds to the celebration this year.
“At my age, I take life one day at a time and, no, I do not look forward to receiving Christmas gifts because I have had enough gifts in my life time, especially my four children, only one of whom is alive today and she calls me every day,” said the centenarian, who feels blessed that his granddaughter, with whom he lives in Queens, provides much of the care and attention he needs. “I have my mind, my health and all of those things. They are gifts.”
Taitt remembers the days when his mother would take him with her wherever she went in New York when he was a child, and she would talk a lot about what she used to do in Barbados, especially at Christmas. This centenarian said he enjoys his life, having been fortunate to be employed before his retirement. The son of a Barbados police officer from Bathsheba and of a mother who was a nurse from St Thomas before they emigrated to New York more than a century ago, comes from a Bajan family of long livers.
A sister, Millicent Trotman, died in Barbados several years ago at the golden age of 107. Another sibling, Kathleen Carter, passed away at 99 years. And his lone surviving child, a daughter is 82.
“I’m very fortunate. That’s a gift,” he added.
The Reverend Peter Fenty, a Barbadian cleric in Toronto, would readily agree with Taitt that his long life, calm demeanour and overall satisfaction with life are gifts from God.
“Those of us who are from the Caribbean are affected by the commercialisation that surrounds Christmas, but we pay more attention to family, to belonging and to being together than to the commercials. Caribbean people living outside of the region and Barbadians living abroad do try to maintain the tradition that we have had back home, and we do that as we are able. Despite the vast distances that separate us, we try to capture that spirit of Christmas, what it is like to celebrate Christmas back home.”
He describes Christmas as an indication of “God’s great gift of love” and the “peace and goodwill that the season means for all of us,” said the bishop. “It reminds us of the importance of family, of the meaning of caring for each other while reminding us why we should not take for granted those who are near and dear to us.”
Against a backdrop of candles, the scent of cedar and incense, and joining voices with worshippers and choristers at church, Bishop Fenty, shares the delights of the season and preaches about the importance of Christmas.
“I miss my friends and relatives back in Barbados. I have fond memories of gathering around the dinner table at Christmas enjoying ourselves,” observed the bishop, whose 96-year-old father is only five years younger than Taitt.
Another Bajan has different emotions and memories. Pearl Elain Newton, who will be 101 in 2017, is having her first Christmas in decades without her daughter Magla cheering her on. Magla died earlier this year.
“I never expected Magla to go before me,” she said shortly after her daughter’s death in Brooklyn. “I never thought it would happen like this.”
Tony Best is the NATION’s North American Correspondent. Email: [email protected]