If you think life is hectic, consider what it would be like raising 14 children. One Bodden Town woman is proud of her having done just that and says not one time did they forsake her when they got older.
Today, enjoying her older years at the home of daughter Leticia Hernandez-Chollette on Macaw Drive off Will T Road, 96-year-old Reina Watler says she is blessed. No more hard work for her now. She just goes to church, watches television, visits family and friends, and watches her daughters do the baking.
Born in 1920 to Adella and William Watler, Ms. Watler grew up in Bodden Town. Like most children her age, she searched the bushes for fruits, swam in the sea and watched her parents and grandparents tend the fields and cook meals.
When she was just 8 years old, her father, a cook on a fishing boat went missing at sea. Her mother left Cayman to find work in Honduras, leaving Ms. Watler and three other siblings in the care of cousin Mena Jackson.
Not too long after, her mother returned, and took the children back to Honduras with her.
In Honduras, Ms. Watler eventually married Margarito Zelaya, before returning to Cayman when she was 21.
To help her husband Margarito raise their children – Matilda, Francine, Willie, Sonia, Christina, Walter, Gladys, Mejia, Leticia, Shorline, Athen, Oscar, Anthony and Shorma, she baked cakes and bread.
In the days she was raising her many children, Ms. Watler baked bread and cakes made with coconut milk and searched the bushes for limes and crabs to sell. She also worked out of the home, sold “numbers” and assisted an elderly woman in the community. Her husband ran a small plantation and worked as a cook on a fishing boat, just like her father did.
“I used to bake hard, and every Saturday night I would go to the club with a big pot of soup and bread to sell,” she said. She remembers the local boys turning up at all hours of the night looking for hot bread after a night of partying.
“I loved to dance too, still do,” said Ms. Watler, adding that whenever she got the chance, she was on the dance floor.
“Parents today have one and two children and they bawling. It’s the laziness in them. You need to work harder. I used to work hard and I can’t complain because everyone helped me when they grew up and could work,” she says proudly.
Ms. Watler advised to never ask your children what they want to eat.
“I never asked mine what they wanted to eat … I put bread and coffee by the table, they sit down and eat and drink … they never frown up their face or say they didn’t want that. For dinner I cooked a big pot of beans with white rice, and for supper every evening it was a pot of rice ‘pap,’” she said.
“People would often say, ‘Reina, you got the best children in the world … you don’t see them by people’s door in the morning bumming a piece of bread.’” Ms. Watler said she told her children they didn’t have to do that because she had plenty of food. That security came thanks to her strong work ethic.
“I would get up around 3 a.m. and start baking,” said Ms. Watler.
About 20 pounds of flour was poured into the pan, and then kneaded by hand.
She said the baking was done by digging a hole in the sand; her grandmother would burn wood, and the coals were placed in the hole and an iron pot filled with cake mixture was set on the fire. The pot lid was also covered with coals, and the cake was left to bake.
Ms. Watler said she only made 10 cents on a loaf, but it added up enough for her to buy other things for the home.
She recalls that when she was growing up in Bodden Town, there were no cars or electricity, and she and her sister walked the sandy roads barefoot to school and to church on Sundays.
“Things were tough for the family but they never went a day without food,” she said.
“My parents had lots of food and we would also eat a lot of mangoes and guavas, which I love to this day.” Ms. Watler said.
She said those days were different from today. She saw her family take one coconut and share it with four other families.
“I asked what good that would do, but they told me it was OK, so long they got a little taste of the coconut milk was all that mattered.”
Ms. Walter’s grandmother Alice Carter would get coconuts, plantains and bananas from her sons in Honduras and would share them with others in the neighborhood.
Ms. Watler also remembers how Christmas was the only time the local shopkeeper Mr. Biddle got white sugar in his little shop. This was a treat for everyone. Each family was sold only a pound or two of the precious commodity, but they were satisfied.
Looking back on her life, Ms. Watler seems to have found the magic formula for a life well lived. She declares with pride, “Hard work never killed anyone; if it killed anyone, I wouldn’t be here today … that’s what got me looking so good. I not feeling no pain either.”