For the next few years all our affairs progressed at a timely pace, with no exceptional challenges facing either our country or the members of the extended family. In time the staffing of the hospital reached a comfortable stage, where Jerome and all members of the Surgery section, particularly, could be allowed to take their annual two weeks’ vacation, at least, while accumulating days towards their eventual long leave, without serious disruption to the work of the department.
There had been turnover of staff during the period, but always in proportion to additions. For instance, when one of the original two doctors who had come on board when Dr. Serrano had left took up an appointment in his territory of origin, he had been replaced by another from the regional university, while the other had signed on for another period and had eventually married and remained in the country.
Dr. Kevin Taylor had spent three months in each of two consecutive years to conduct eye examinations, treatment and glasses in the primary schools countrywide, at no expense to the department, a gift from the United States government!
Kiah had obtained his bachelor’s degree in Geography, working throughout the summers, and without interruption started on his second degree. He had been joined after a few years by his love interest, Marie Ogaldez, who had been given a government award to study Radiology, leaving her friend Carla Roberts behind. She had joined her the following year to do the same course, but by then Kiah had had time and opportunity to achieve a closer relationship with Marie, which seemed to have caused the dissolution of their clique.
When Belinda was nearly four years old, Jewel and Jerome decided to sign off having any more children, and Jewel returned to active work, on a voluntary basis, dividing her services, once again, between Nurse Pauline’s establishment and the government hospital.
She had once wistfully expressed the opinion that of her five children she felt that only Belinda clung to her, while the three boys, as well as her first-born, all preferred their father’s company. They did not neglect her but were very attached to him and looked forward to his being at home, when they engaged him in all their interests and activities, confiding their hopes, plans and aspirations, and seeking his advice.
I fully understood her feelings because I noticed how my three children, Belinda’s two, and Emerson interacted with him. He was the sort who worked and played with equal intensity, and who could be described as living in the moment and attracting the youthful towards him.
Although, like Matron, he was of a serious disposition, they both had a style of communicating with young people, even little children, at their level, engaging them in a wide range of interests; and his boys, particularly, were all knowledgeable in varying degrees in operating his stereo sound system as well as all the household’s electric and electronic gadgets and equipment. There were no servants in their household, only a helper, and everyone not only looked after himself but was helpful to others, especially the younger ones, and, following their father’s example, paid special attention to their mother and to Aunt.
Jewel had told us in his presence how from the beginning of their marriage Jerome had collected and taken all his laundry to the capital every week, just as if he were a bachelor, telling her how she would be grateful for the relief when she had to look after children as well as the household. She confided that he insisted on doing everything for himself, protesting that he didn’t need a servant when she attempted to pick up after him, an attitude we knew to be traceable to his earliest childhood when he had tried to be as independent and self-sufficient as possible.
She regarded it as a minor victory when he had finally agreed to leave behind the few pieces of clothing he had worn during the days he spent at home on the weekend, doing so in order not to hurt her feelings he had said.
When Miss Jessie retired after the passing of Miss Liz, her eldest child’s grandmother who had continued to live with them, a new and young helper had come to stay in the St. John household to take her place, passed to them by Nurse Pauline, in whose establishment she had lived for some years, and who had fitted into the new household routine like a glove.
The tale of a shelter called St. Christopher’s Inn “from which no one had ever been turned away” had been a popular play from the BBC featured on the government radio station, and this had been likened to Nurse Pauline’s establishment because of her response to all appeals for help and assistance, being the most humane, generous and accommodating person the town had ever seen.
Along with her husband, Miss Millicent, Abel and Lucille Choc and other civic-minded citizens, they had taken it as their responsibility to look after the town’s social problems, so that no stray children or adults were ever found there begging for handouts. They all shared the belief in their fellow human beings’ ability to develop self-reliance and independence if given a helping hand; and that their country would best maintain its independence when made up of such people.
Even Gwen Vernon had been attached to their household for some time during her attempts at reform, and had changed sufficiently to be allowed by her soft-hearted stepmother to return home, but without jurisdiction over her son, who continued to live with the Coburns.
Jerome’s fifty-ninth birthday on March 7th, 1987 had been the occasion for a memorable conversation between Jewel and himself, she had said, when he had made her a solemn promise that by the following
Year, when he reached sixty years, he would take the first long leave of his career and spend four months with her and the family, when they would enjoy themselves travelling over the country together; and, afterwards, go on a tour to visit relatives and friends in Canada, the United States and the U.K., where he had lived during the years he had been away at his studies. He would arrange for all staff qualifying for it to start taking long leave beginning that April, so that by May, 1988 he would be free to start on his.
All arrangements had been made for Dr. Simon Serrano to return home and rejoin the hospital’s staff by the middle of June that year, allowing Jerome to feel confident to leave his post for that period.
Philosophising, he had confided to Jewel his fears of things going wrong in the past if he were not vigilant, and explaining how the endowment made to the Surgery section of the department had now facilitated its satisfactory staffing. He had remarked, further, how he considered her competent, as his heir, to use the family’s resources to keep things on track if anything should happen to him.
He had not noticed her reaction to this remark at first, but had finally become aware of Jewel’s being upset when she had turned away and stared out the window, a troubled expression on her face.
Asking her what was wrong, he had been shocked at her assertion that she could never take his place and could not understand his reason for making a remark like that. It had dawned on him that his expression of the confidence he had in her, had been associated in her mind with the idea of his possible demise when she had passionately asserted that she did not want to think of living in a world without him in it!
She had not been mollified by his lightly quoting in Creole one of her Pap’s sayings that “none a we come ya fi tu’n rockstone” (none of us has come here to turn into stone), in other words, that we are all mortal; but had asserted that nobody knew which of them would die first, he or she, or even whether they wouldn’t die together!
Realising the distress he had caused his beloved spouse, he agreed with her that no one could predict the future, and joked that he would probably live to such an old age that she would have to “put him out to sun,” another local saying!
(Chapter 60 in Friday’s issue of the Amandala)