Lilian Lewis: Old Time Stories at 95!

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Lilian Lewis is chirpy, with a great sense of humor and a prodigious memory. She is 95
years old but looks twenty years younger. Lilian lives in Pike Street in Georgetown,
Guyana. She can’t understand all the fuss about people wanting to live in America.

She doesn’t particularly like New York and was counting the days when she could return
to her beloved Georgetown. Lilian was in New York to visit her children and her son Lall
took the opportunity to fly in from London to see her as well. Lilian explains that her real
name is Bernie Lewis but “in them days the post office give you anything and they gave
me Lilian.”

But how did she get Lewis? Lilian explains, “My father and his brother came from Madras
in India when they were small. They were adopted by a Portuguese family that gave my
father its family name which was John Lewis. My mother was born in Mon Repos.” Lilian
has two brothers that live in Berbice. She says that in her days there was no time to go to
school. She had to do housework and remembers “daubing the bottom house and keeping
house.”

The family lived in Albouystown, in Georgetown. Lilian got married at 15 to Sonny
Baijnauth, according to Hindu rites, and they had nine children; four girls and five boys.
Her husband Sonny was seventeen years old at the time of marriage. Lilmatie is the eldest
daughter while Indra is the last child and they both live in New York. Over the years, Lilian
has had her share of happiness and tragedy and she has taken them in her stride.

Albouystown has the reputation as being a rough place but it was not always this way.
Lilmatie and Indra said, “We grew up in Albouystown and when they had weddings we
would wear all our jewelry and walk any hour of the night without experiencing any
problems. Now, it’s different.”

This prompted one to ask Lilian how Georgetown was in the old days. She said that they
used penny and cents as money and “bit and two bit” were popular. Lilian looked at the
flat screen television in the living room in New York and smiled.

She said, “Lang time things were hard. Today, you have everything but in those days life
was better. Lang time, you didn’t have washing machines, or fridge or computer. We used
to beat the clothes with a beater and daub the bottom house with cow dung and mud with
our bare hands. My grandchildren can’t believe that we did that in the old days.”

Lilian recounted her stories and the old times kept rolling like a canvas that was filled with
colors. “In the old times the girls would wear long dresses and coat and jacket. Now, all
them girls are actually naked skin! I don’t like it. What I never saw in my life before I am
seeing now. In my days cloth sold at six cents a yard. It was a lot of money but we were
dressed properly. Girls are not supposed to dress or dance the way they do now. Look at
the old pictures and photographs and you will see what I mean.”

Lilian recalls her childhood in Georgetown. Her marriage to Sonny was arranged. She
didn’t like him at their first meeting. But when they met the second time she thought that it

could work. Sonny was from La Penitence so the marriage was a Georgetown affair. In
those days the trench in Albouystown brought molasses and sugar cane and there were
lands that grew cane. Rice was planted at the back of Sophia.

The trench came at the back from Ogle into Georgetown and cane punts were popular in
La Penitence. As far as politics was concerned, Lilian remembers Cheddi Jagan and
Forbes Burnham as towering figures. She recalls that they were together at one time,
fighting for Guyana.

She would go to the street corners and listen to their speeches. Those were the days of
unity. Then there was a split and things became different. “When Jagan died I went to see
him three or four times,” Lilian said. As she reflects in the company of her children Lilian
says that her life was no bed of roses. It was hard. She did housework, work in the
backdam and in addition she had to raise nine children.

Her son Lall, known as Dharma, would sell food at Rio cinema in Albouystown. This
helped to supplement the family income. At 95, Lilian has a brother that would visit her
from Berbice and they would talk about the old days. It is obvious that with her long years
Lilian can share the benefit of her experience with the younger folks. What advice does
she have for them? Lilian was apparently expecting this question. She said, “What advice
you want me to give? Young people are not taking advice. We have some of them in the
street making a lot of noise and patrolling the road and they do this during school hours.
In our days we couldn’t cuss but now the smallest child cussing.”

Lilian also said that when her mother went to the backdam the neighbors, who were
Afro-Guyanese, would be told to keep an eye on her. If she did something wrong the
neighbor had the right to give her a good flogging. “You think you could beat children
these days? You can’t even talk to them hard,” she said. “They ready to call the cops on
you. Children don’t listen anymore. They think they know it all. They on the road all hours
of the night.”

But if she had to give advice what would it be? Lilian says that she would tell the children
to be more responsible. They should take their education seriously and listen to their
teachers.

Lilian currently lives in Pike Street, Kitty, and the entire community knows her well. She
keeps herself busy. She cooks for herself and shares her meals with others. Lilian is a
treasured institution in her community. She lights up a room with her old time stories. We
wish her a long and happy life and may she continue to bring joy and happiness to others.

Lilian with her son Lall who flew in from London to spend time with her.

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