From British Honduras to Belize: one family’s drama – a novel written by the late Chrystel Lynwood Hyde Straughan
Lucille told me that that Saturday afternoon had been one of the most nerve-wracking in her life, from the time that Jewel had reached home until hours later when she and Jerome had walked hand in hand towards the house at dusk!
It had soon dawned on her that, if Jerome had not come to see Jewel about work, it could only be for one other reason, and that he must be the person about whom she had told her father. Furthermore, if Jewel had made the mistake of falling in love with someone who did not return her feelings, what could he have done to put her in such a position, since her daughter was not so foolish as to rush into such a situation without some powerful encouragement? Did he think she and Abel would stand by and allow him to hurt their child and not do something about it? She didn’t care if he was Matron’s son and Miss Millicent’s nephew, they would have to find out what he had done to confuse their daughter and he would have to suffer the consequences!
So Lucille had fumed to herself, as everyone else was out, between washing and hanging out Jewel’s white uniforms and looking after her week’s baking. Every now and then she had peeped through the window to see how the encounter between them was progressing, observing their stances and gestures and forming her opinion about their dialogue. Their exchange had seemed quite cordial, which was one good thing; they were both from cultivated backgrounds, even though on her side they were poor, so there would be no roughness. Jewel sitting calmly on the bench with her hands folded in her lap most of the time, was a sign that she was not overwhelmed; and, although she had this serene and mild air about her, and spoke softly and quietly, no one could take advantage of her, as she knew her family was right behind her!! And so, the time had passed until she saw Abel and the boys coming home down the road and could not believe that four and a half hours had gone by.
Naturally, I have given only the high points of the discussion between Jewel and Jerome, but there had been plenty of back and forth, which had been time-consuming.
When Abel had come in and detected Lucille’s agitation he had started to joke and tease her to relieve the tension, remarking that the doctor couldn’t be calling things off as he would not need such a long time to do that; so he must be working hard to make his case as, despite her appearance, their Jewel was not a “sof’-egg”!
Lucille said she had had time to wash and hang out all the uniforms, bake all the Creole bread and bun, Johnny-cake, powder-bun and potato-pound for the week; plus season and stew the chicken for Sunday while the “long bench” had continued. Abel, she and the boys had sat down to supper and still the conversation had gone on! When she had peeped out at one time she had seen Jewel stand up and take something from around her neck and hand it to Jerome, who had held it in his hand and done something to it then replaced it around her neck.
When they had finished eating, Abel had joked that what this man was doing to his daughter was “past the mark,” keeping her out in the dew and exposing her to the sand-flies and mosquitoes! Didn’t he know what could happen to his child’s delicate skin out there at the mercy of the insects?
Suddenly he had called her attention to something that was happening, how flies were swarming around the couple but not landing on their bodies; and had teased that they must have some powerful built-in fly repellent and that maybe they could get rich off it!
Then, just as it had been decided to go out and speak to them about coming in, they had watched their holding hands and walking towards the house.
Abel had quickly lain in his hammock, while Lucille had started to fold the uniforms which had dried while the “long bench” had been going on, both pretending to be caught off guard at the couple’s appearance in the doorway. Jerome had opened the screen-door for Jewel, entered and closed it behind them, reaching for her hand while turning to her parents with a good-night greeting. They had made eye contact and, at a subtle signal from Jewel he had started to speak.
“Mr. and Mrs. Lino,” (which is how most people addressed them), “Jewel and I love each other and would like your agreement to our getting married.”
Standing up and looking at Jewel with a quizzical expression, Abel had asked in wonder: “He is the one?” At Jewel’s nod, the next question had been: “You’re sure? Because we wouldn’t want you to make mistake!” echoing her earlier report of how things had stood between them.
Jewel had given her father her typical close-mouthed smile and, nodding her head, had answered: “Positive. No mistake!”
Turning to Lucille, Abel had said: “Well, Miss Luce, what you say to that?”
Putting away the laundry basket, Lucille had stood up and, reaching out to Jewel and taking her in her arms, (she had let go of Jerome’s hand temporarily) had said softly: “If he is your choice, we are happy for both of you,” all her fears and uncertainties dissipated by her child’s calm, unruffled confidence.
Abel had then reached out to shake Jerome’s hand, welcoming him to the family and wishing them God’s blessings, hugged Jewel then released her to Jerome, who had taken her hand in his once more.
Lucille said that she and Abel had forgotten their manners as they had stared at the scene of Jewel and Jerome communicating with their eyes, but had been aroused into action by the appearance of Kiah and Caleb standing at the doorway between the kitchen and the small sitting room and asking if they had been forgotten or were being left out deliberately.
Abel had then introduced Jerome to them as their soon to be brother-in-law, which had brought out the query from Kiah if that meant that Jewel was being taken away from them just as she had come home after so many years, to which Jerome had answered, “Not for another nine months.”
This remark had brought up the question of the wedding date and, again, it had been Jerome who had answered, crisply: “As soon as possible!” at which Jewel had turned to Lucille to enquire about procedure. When she had explained that the banns would have to be published in church on two or three occasions before the wedding could take place, Jerome had interjected the question whether there was not a quicker way? Her reply that a private license was the only other possibility had led to his enthusiastic decision for that method and the further query of how soon that could be obtained.
Everyone had begun to laugh at his haste and the question had arisen of how this would be managed; and Jerome had shared their plans of living with his aunt and his commuting on weekends, barring emergencies.
Lucille had revealed the procedure for acquiring the private license; and it had been agreed that Jerome would delay his return to the capital on Monday until after he had obtained it. They had planned on getting married the following Saturday, April 14th, at 5.00 p.m. “if nothing comes up,” a perpetual consideration in their lives in his chosen profession.
All the details had been the result of open consultation between Jerome and Jewel, with his deferring to her wishes in most matters. Details had included that Jewel would wear the dress and accessories as at the Valentine dance, along with a headdress designed by Nurse Pauline’s sister, Enid Lucas; that two large chickens would be cleaned and sent to Nurse Pauline, who would arrange for them to be stuffed and baked, to go with a typical Creole menu for the small reception, to take place at Miss Millicent’s; and that Jewel would be spending the following afternoon after church at the Bertram home.
They all agreed that information about the wedding would be kept within a small circle in case any emergency arose, which would have to take priority; and that once Jerome had arrived in town on that Saturday he would send a car to fetch Jewel’s clothing and other personal effects to the Bertram house, as a signal that things could move forward as planned.
Being quite late after all these details had been settled, Abel had invited Jerome, whom he had said looked hungry, to share the evening meal with Jewel while the rest of them went to bed, as they usually turned in early out where they lived; adding that he knew he could count on him to leave at a respectful hour.
After the rest of the family had turned in, Jerome had confided to Jewel that although he had not thought of food before, at her father’s mention of a meal he had just realized that he was as ravenous as he usually was after surgery, hinting at how intense the negotiations had been.
In conversation with Mama some time afterwards, Jerome had related how Jewel had invited him to the kitchen and arranged his place at the table with their best crockery while she had used plastic, and had graciously served him a delicious meal, citing only one small flaw to the food, for which he had had to apologise, as he could not drink the tea offered. He had reported, however, that Jewel had been very understanding and forgiving, being as familiar with his peculiarities in this connection as we all were at home and in the hospital kitchen.
After his return from his studies in the U.K., where he had acquired the habit of drinking tea, we had learnt from him how to prepare it the correct way – that is, to suit him! This had entailed the use of various, sometimes expensive, brands of tea leaves, the beverage prepared from scratch – no teabags – with water at boiling point swirled around the teapot before the brewing of the tea; while most of us, perforce, contented ourselves with one locally popular brand, happily “stewed” to extract its strength.
Jewel had admitted shock at the size of Jerome’s appetite, watching him consume two each of the large Creole bread and bun, one each of the also large powder-buns and johnny-cakes, and two whole avocado pears, skin removed, sliced and sprinkled with salt and pepper. Jerome had suddenly asked what part of the chicken was her favourite. She had replied truthfully that it was the neck and back, as she preferred the bony parts, at which he had observed that he had hoped she would say “the thigh,” when he would have asked his aunt to serve her that part when she ate with them the following day to replace what he would now like to eat, as the delightful smell of the chicken her mother had stewed for Sunday had been assaulting his nostrils! She had responded by offering one leg and thigh to him, smiling as he had added them to his meal, which he had washed down with several glasses of water at room temperature!
When they had finished eating, he had assisted her in clearing the table, offered to help with washing up, reaching for the bucket and asking the way to the water supply. When they were through and he had emptied the dishwater at the root of a coconut tree, she had asked him to light the kerosene lamp in the sitting room while she turned off the light in the kitchen to save on electricity; and they had sat next to each other on the settee holding hands, while the rest of the house was silent and in darkness.
After about a half hour of whispered conversation, Jerome had stood up and taken both her hands and, putting them to his lips, had covered them with kisses; and, just as on the night of the dance, she had rubbed the back of his right hand against her cheek, they had wished each other good-night, and he had left her for his two-mile walk back to his aunt’s.