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The Centenarians: Ulis Badley - true to tradition

- Carlington Wilmot

Centenarian Ulis Badley.

Sonia Morgan, Staff Reporter

SPRINGING FROM a family of long livers, Ulis Badley (nee Hunt) of Lilford Avenue, Kingston, is true to tradition. She will turn 106 in December of this year. Her father, Edward Hunt, died at 109.

Looking at her one cannot really tell that she has lived through two World Wars, numerous natural disasters and several different governments. She has outlived two husbands and 10 siblings. With such a large family, she had only one son, Leslie, who lives in the US and is now 80. He sees her twice a year and calls her regularly.

At 105, she sees well, hears well, and has no form of health problems ­ incredible! Well, the woman was doing the 'jitterbug' at her 100th birthday party in 1996. (For those of you who are too young to know the 'jitterbug' is a dance).

When the Outlook team arrived at the house, she was seated on the veranda in a pretty dress, a pearl necklace and matching earrings. She greeted us with a warm smile.

Ulis Badley was born December 18, 1896, and is one of the two surviving children of Edward and Anita Hunt's 12 children. The other is her sister, Linda Mead who is 90 years old. Her sister sat in on the interview and she also marvelled at Mrs. Badley's good memory. "She remembers more than me," Mrs. Mead said. Some of her siblings died in their late 90s. In fact, her niece, Kathleen Rainford, who was also there, said her mother died at 99. Therefore, it is established that the Hunts are blessed with long life.

As a child growing up in Kingston during the early 1900s, her father had been an inspiration to her. Mrs. Badley said her mother died at a young age and her father was left to care for all his children. Mr. Hunt owned most of what is Lilford Avenue today, but, she says he had to work very hard as a builder, a dray-man and a cultivator just to see his children survive. "He never had much money, he had to work very hard." Her father lived in Cuba for a while. "He was Jack of all trades," she told us. She has fond memories of her father who taught her to play the piano. Today, a like a relic from the past, a grand piano sits in her living room and she has no intention of removing it. After all, 'Pappy', as she called her father, taught her well.

"My days were nice. You didn't have so much changes," she said as she reminisced on the past 105 years. "Living was different, they (people) were living good." But her days weren't always good. There were the hard times and the natural disasters. She remembers the earthquake of 1907 ­ "It was a disaster. That earthquake was a very bad earthquake. Lots of people lost their houses. A lot of people lost their lives," she said looking distraught. During this earthquake her house came down and her father was buried under the rubble. Her sister Linda said he rode a mule but the mule returned without him and then they knew he was missing. His hand was seen jutting out of the rubble and he was pulled to safety. It was quite a story.

She moved back and forth through the years, a flood of emotion gushing every time she mentioned her father. But what shocked us was her memory of her primary school ­ Providence. Not only that she remembers the school, she recalled the teachers too. "Mr. Harrison and Miss Green. Mr. Harrison was a very nice man," she recalled. Names come easily and she places them correctly as well. Ms. Hardy, she said, was the woman who taught her to sew.

Interspersed throughout her recollections was the chorus, "We have a lot to give God thanks for. God has been good to us." Mrs. Badley attends St. Andrew Parish Church, but is unable to make it now. Her sister was the organist there.

At age 30, Ulis left for New York where she worked in the garment industry. At that time, you would expect that she might have been met with racism, but she said, "It didn't bother me at all. New York is alright." True to Jamaican tradition, she would work and purchase clothing and food to send back to Jamaica. Her sister and niece spoke of her kindness as one of those persons who would always share what she had. She used to send barrels from New York. "People would look out for the visits once a year and everyone would get something," her niece said. "Jamaica was rough," Mrs. Badley said reflectively.

She returned home eventually, like a lot of Jamaicans who work overseas. "You get homesick ­ you have to work in New York, whether you want to or not," she said. We asked why she had only one child and she revealed that, "My mother had a lot of children, but she had it hard. I had enough to occupy my time, I was making money."

We are not the only ones in awe of her age. The US Embassy in Kingston, from which she gets a social security, visited her to ensure that she was still alive and that there was no foul play.

Christmas for her was a treat. She said that at that time of the year everyone was happy. "We used to kill a pig and share it with everyone." Her Christmas pudding was something to talk about, although she really didn't like cooking.

Today, her home is the house that Pappy and her bother Dock built for her. She lives there with a caregiver. "Those were hard days. It wasn't so easy to build a house," she said.

Her secret for her long life: "I took good care of myself and exercise." What is her hope for the future? "I hope for the best."

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