Julia Hydes is officially the oldest person living in the Cayman Islands and she is also the oldest voter. It is usually considered rude to talk about people’s age, but Aunt Julia, as she is affectionately known, is proud about the fact that on Friday, 25 January, she will be 104 years old.
Aunt Julia was born in Boatswain’s Bay in 1909. She was 5 when World War I began and was five days from her 27th birthday when King George V died. Back then there were no radios in the Cayman Islands to connect residents to the outside world.
“All the news we got would come back from the ships,” she says. “It was the only way we could learn what was happening.”
When Aunt Julia was young, she would spend a lot of time with her sisters and girlfriends. Music and dancing featured prominently in their lives.
“It was way better back then,” she said, smiling in recollection. “In my day, we worked very hard, but there was plenty of music and we loved dancing.
“We went dancing every night and we had to walk everywhere,” she added. “Sometimes we would get home and our legs would be aching, but we didn’t care. The dances would be held at people’s houses and we would go and dance and dance and dance.”
Aunt Julia is known on the local music scene for her legendary drumming skills – she still plays whenever she can. She started learning when she was in her early teens and after a while she was good enough to earn some money doing it.
“Sometimes I would be paid $15 and sometimes $10,” she said. “That was a good amount of money in those days and I loved playing.”
Of course, walking to dances and parties meant dealing with mosquitoes, which were formidable enemies when there were no significant means of keeping them under control. People would carry smoke pots with them to try to keep the swarms at bay, but it was a constant battle.
“Sometimes they was so bad, I would say ‘We’re not going to make it to Christmas!’,” Aunt Julia said. “Of course, it is much better now.”
Aunt Julia fondly remembers Christmas time, when everyone would throw parties, dance and go to church. “To tell you the truth, food was pretty scarce back then,” she recalls. “So I was happy with anything I got. My favourite was fish, sweet potatoes that my mother used to get from the ground and dumplings. I loved dumplings.”
Despite her love of fish, Aunt Julia admits that she’s never been much one for fishing. “I have never caught a fish in my life,” she says with a chuckle. “I would watch people go fishin’. My niece was great; I would go and watch her cast out her line from the iron shore and she would catch lots of fish.”
Around Christmas people would wear their best clothes to events and most of those clothes were made by hand. “We used to buy cloth from the shop, about 4 yards of cloth to make a dress,” she said. “And then we would cut the cloth and sew it.
“I had to get people to make clothes for me. If I made a piece of clothing, I wouldn’t wear it,” she said, laughing.
These days Aunt Julia spends her time relaxing, being visited by friends and family and going to church every Sunday. She also visits her niece and plays her drums. Even if she doesn’t have her drums nearby, she can beat out a mean rhythm on the arm of a couch, singing “I don’t want no big foot man; he want me house and land.”
For her birthday she would be happy with “some cassava or cornstarch cake, going to church and maybe a handbag or a dress,” and, of course, she wouldn’t turn down a dance in her honour.