Feb 22, 2021 News
Kaieteur News – As the sun cast its soft golden rays across the skies of the farming village of Perth, Mahaicony, East Coast Demerara, Douglas James greeted the few people still in the yard before he calmly made his way up a short flight of stairs and into his single-storey house. One more year chalked up on the scoreboard.
Uncle Doug, as he is affectionately called, had confidently announced he knew he would have lived beyond 100 years. On his 102nd birthday celebration on January 6, 2021, he was surrounded by relatives, friends and villagers sitting in his Perth Village, Mahaicony, East Coast Demerara, yard.
They were not surprised at the feat either. They laughed and nodded in agreement. Uncle Doug is no shy centenarian.
What strikes you at first is his proud slender stature and keen eyes. He acknowledges everyone with a quick headshake and quietly observes the crowd before adding his views.
Visitors are often surprised when told he lives alone, still enjoys climbing the fruit tree at the front of his home and cooks his own meals.
“That man puts lots of young people to shame. Imagine 102 and still going strong. You can’t get some young people these days to even walk to the shop,” one of his neighbours shared at the party. More laughter echoed throughout the yard followed by affirmative nods.
He followed the conversations by reading lips. His hearing has deteriorated over the last few years, but he insists that all he needs is a good hearing aid.
“I had one but I was not hearing all that good. I need to check my ears again and get another one,” he explained.
Uncle Doug was born on February 5, 1919, at the end of World War One and proudly witnessed Guyana’s transition from a British colony to an independent nation on May 26, 1966.
Like many young men of his generation who grew up in Mahaicony, he left home to make his own way in life, travelling across Guyana’s rugged terrain to work in the logging and mining industries.
“I worked with timber and I was a pork-knocker all over. No matter where I went, I always came back to Mahaicony,” he smiled. “I worked all over, from Essequibo to Demerara to Berbice. Things were different in those days.”
As the oldest person in the three neighbouring villages of Perth, Spooner, Plantation Number 10 communities – connected by Branch Road, the main street cut along the meandering Mahaicony River – his birthdays are celebrated with pride.
Relatives, friends, neighbours, politicians, members of his church, the Guyana Police Force and villagers visited him throughout the day with gifts and well wishes.
Uncle Doug has never married and has no biological children. But he has raised several children in the neighbourhood, including his stepdaughter, Merlene Brown, who chuckled when asked to share a memory of her childhood in Perth.
“He was hard working so you never went hungry,” she said. “But, Lordy, he was strict and you had to follow his rules. He is a caring person; just ask anyone in the village. That man can knit a cast net. One of my childhood memories is of him sitting on the couch and knitting nets quick, quick, quick.”
“Ask him about his net knitting days,” a piercing voice interrupted the conversation from nearby.
According to the villagers, Uncle Doug is a net making legend in the Mahaicony area. His slender fingers have knitted thousands of fishing nets for family, friends, fishermen and women in villages near and far.
‘I did thousands and thousands of nets. I started doing nets from very young. I used to do my own nets and go fishing, and then people wanted nets. I did nets for everyone in the village and people from other villages. But now my eyes are not so good, so I had to stop,” he explained.
Yet Uncle Doug ensured the tradition lives on in Mahaicony – he has taught several young villagers the techniques of net making.
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