Edgar Reginald, the second child and first son of Jewel and Jerome, had made his appearance on November 20th, on schedule and on Matron’s birthday! The pregnancy had proceeded smoothly after the initial uncertainty, the couple had been successful in weaning Arreini by the end of August without too much difficulty, so everything had been in readiness for him.
When meeting these two children together for the first time, what struck one most was each child’s individuality, which was pronounced in spite of similarities of complexion, a shade between their parents’ but closer to Jerome’s, both featuring Jewel’s facial bone structure, Jerome’s eyes and, in Arreini’s case, her father’s serious expression, while Edgar’s was bright and venturesome like Lucille’s, whom he also resembled in other ways. Their personalities were distinct too, with Arreini being sensitive and reserved, but Edgar open, active and inquisitive, again very much like my friend, his grandmother.
A noticeable and delightful development since his arrival on the scene had been Miss Millicent’s attachment to him, or, rather, their mutual attachment, as he reacted to her presence by following her with his eyes and seeming to be always reaching out to her.
Jewel said that they had created a nursery from the bedroom next to theirs, upgrading Arreini to a single bed with rails and transferring the crib from their bedroom for Edgar’s use there.
Things having gone so easily in connection with his arrival, the couple had been afforded time to give consideration to birth control methods beforehand, planning on the use of the pill for regulating family size in future, and deciding not to have any more children until after three years, thus allowing the two already born sufficient time for a stable infancy before any addition.
Once Jewel’s health had been restored, she had resumed attendance at Sunday morning church services with the rest of the family; and, since Abel and Lucille’s return that August, they had hired one of the town’s spacious station-wagon taxis to collect them each Sunday morning, along with Caleb, proceeding to church after first stopping by their home, letting him off and taking on Miss Millicent, while he, Jerome and herself walked to church pushing Arreini in her stroller.
Four weeks after Edgar’s birth, the arrangements had been adjusted to allow her to travel with the children and her parents, while Miss Millicent, Jerome and Caleb walked together. When they all reached church, Arreini was transferred to a booster seat and, along with Edgar’s car seat/cradle, placed between them and Aunt, with she or Jewel occupying the aisle seat on the occasions when one or the other went up for Holy Communion.
As usual, the Choc part of the family occupied the last row in the church, her Pap’s wheel chair now taking the place of the youngest child’s seat.
Curiosity had got the better of me once, and I had Jewel asked whether Jerome went up for Holy Communion (wondering whether he had been confirmed since their marriage), but she had politely answered in the negative.
In their parish the older members played a strong role in running the affairs in the community and the priest seemed to take his cue from the Church Committee, on which most of them served. In contrast to theirs, in our parish church a close watch was paid to those taking Holy Communion each Sunday, and the priest was likely to inquire discreetly of individuals what might be preventing their participation on any occasion; and while both Jewel and Jerome had been raised by religious parents in the Anglican Church, they seemed to conduct their private lives independently of what was common practice with regards Holy Communion, and no questions were ever asked either by their fellow congregants or the priest.
It had been arranged for Nigel and me, along with Sister Havers, who had accepted the invitation to be Edgar’s godmother, to fly down on January 26th of 1975 for the small family christening. Justin, who was already in the town on business, was godfather along with the well-known Mr. Eric Coburn, Chairman of the Church Committee of the parish at the time and Nurse Pauline’s erstwhile beau.
The circumstances being different this time, the group celebrating was a smaller one, comprised of godparents, maternal grandparents and Caleb, Miss Jessie and Julia, Nurse Pauline and Miss Enid, Miss Millicent, Jewel, Jerome and the two babies, Nigel and me.
Noteworthy was how Arreini clung to her mother and father, while her baby brother, barely two months old, was already outgoing, bright-eyed and active.
I have to mention the beautiful appearance of the property due, we had been told, to Caleb’s careful tending. He had voluntarily taken over his father’s part-time occupation by cutting, trimming, planting and arranging the grounds after school in the evenings and on weekends. Jewel said that Miss Millicent and Jerome had been so pleased and impressed with the result of his labours that a motorised lawnmower had been purchased for his use and he had been rewarded with a generous honorarium, which he had accepted only at Miss Millicent’s strong insistence. Further, he had been given the job of maintaining it on a regular basis.
Not to be outdone by the caterers in the capital and at Nurse Pauline’s instigation, encouragement and the loan of members of her domestic staff, Miss Amanda had initiated a catering service as an income-generating project for herself and her helpers and had been responsible for preparation of all the food served. They had provided as varied and tasty a menu as at Arreini’s christening, at a more modest cost and retaining the profit right at home in their district! As I mentioned early in this narrative, Nurse Pauline was what Mama called a go-getter, and this had been another instance of her enterprising spirit at work!
Becoming standard at these family functions had been the young Chinese photographer circulating among us for formal and informal picture-taking; and there had been leisurely feasting, conversation and celebration that Sunday before we had left at four o’clock for our return flight home.
In the course of the gathering I had the opportunity of observing the behaviour of Mr. Coburn and Nurse Pauline towards each other, a concern that had come up during the many talks between Lucille and myself whilst Abel had been in hospital, at which time she had mentioned how sad it was that two people who cared for each other had not seemed able to move past their earlier problems and get together.
The main stumbling block, his mother’s original opposition to the union, seemed to prevent any effort on his part to bring about a change; but I think his arbitrary ultimatum to Pauline that his proposal would never be withdrawn, and that he expected the next move to come from her, had succeeded in alienating her, as seeming to imply that it was his right to make the decisions and her role to conform; and I have always felt that this attitude of machismo, prevalent not only among men of his generation but up to the present, if to a lesser degree, was at the root of most male-female misunderstandings in our society as a whole.
To someone of Pauline’s independent spirit it had been unthinkable to continue the engagement once she had learnt of his mother’s objection, so she no longer wore his ring, and had written telling him that her feelings towards him were unchanged but that the obstacles to their union were insurmountable. She had wished him well, offered continued friendship, but stayed in the capital until time had stabilized her position before returning to the town for another tour of duty.
She had since then worked back and forth between the town, other posts in other districts and the capital, finally returning home to care for her mother during her last days, by which time his had already passed on; but while they interacted regularly at all the parish and community activities, many of which she had earlier initiated with his support and help, they had continued to serve alongside each other with no formal connection.
Eric and Pauline were both very much revered not only by the church membership but by the inhabitants of the larger community as well; and in that small-town environment questions often arose, remarked on by some bold individuals, but had never been addressed by either of them.
During the three years after Edgar’s birth there had been several eventful happenings in their district, starting with the return home of Nurse Pauline’s eldest nephew, Miss Enid’s first-born, to embark on the development of the family property after more than fifteen years in the United States studying and working with his uncle and granduncle. He, his sister and younger brother had all been sent to live and attend school with their relatives abroad after completing primary school at home, there being at that time no school in the town beyond that level.
Subsequently, their father, who had been promoted to a supervisory post shortly before and transferred to the capital of a district where there had been only a primary school, also, had been joined there by their mother, so they had all stayed away since then for their further education.
Virgil, whose grandfather had been alive when he left, had made a promise that he would one day return and work alongside him to develop the property to its former level; and although both grandparents had passed since then, the neighbours’ prediction that his commitment to the land would bring him back to fulfil his promise, because “that is how Jamaica-man stan’ when it come to dehn land” had proven true!
Mrs. Atkins, Nurse Pauline’s mother, had left the capital with her Jamaican-born husband never to return, and their commitment to the land had now been passed on to their descendants.
Miss Enid, although homesick for her children and parents, still stayed with her husband at his post for some years; but, returning home to spend her mother’s remaining months with her, eventually stayed on without any formal separation from her husband. After nearly a year he had taken a common-law wife, with whom he had had two children; and local people had marvelled at the cordial relationship which had existed not only between husband and wife, but with his other partner and their children!
Miss Enid sent them birthday and Christmas gifts, purchased material and sewed their clothes, took an interest in their education and even gave housewifely and child-rearing advice on a continuous basis. Although living in different districts, they maintained close communication, like one family.
When the accident insurance had finally been paid to Abel in 1976, it was decided between him and his sons to embark on developing their whole twenty-five acres, with Alvin managing the enterprise, utilizing the contacts and increased experience gained working at the government farm after graduating from the School of Agriculture.
Caleb, who had completed his secondary education the year following Edgar’s birth, had taken his turn for one year at the School of Agriculture also, while Kiah had joined Alvin after sitting his finals at Sixth Form. When the results of his performance at the overseas examinations showed that he had qualified for a scholarship, Kiah had been uncertain of what direction to take when his first subject of choice, Archaeology, had been excluded from the government‘s priority list for training that year. He had therefore deferred further studies and continued to work alongside Alvin.
Lacking a strong orientation towards agriculture at that time, many of Kiah’s and Caleb’s classmates at secondary and, especially, Sixth Form level, had shunned the land and opted for tertiary education in other professions; but inheriting Abel’s commitment and Lucille’s encouragement all three had supported and participated in the family enterprise.
A further inducement had come eventually from the offer of two of Abel’s friends to join their twenty-five acres each to his, and a small cooperative had been formed under Alvin’s leadership.
The proceeds from the insurance had played an important part towards assisting in the funding of this enterprise, as, after putting aside a portion for the future, the rest had gone towards investment capital; but another result of Abel’s involvement in the accident, while unfortunate of itself, had addressed Lucille’s long-standing concern that it was time for him to slow down on the back-breaking work begun at age ten now that most of his children had reached maturity.
This meant that along with Virgil’s working his grandfather’s extensive acreage, there began a boom in agricultural production in their district in general.
Jewel confided that as Edgar’s third birthday approached, Jerome had introduced the subject of having another child, with the admission that he missed having a baby in the house; so that, suspending the use of birth-control tablets, she had soon become pregnant, a fact meeting with enthusiasm and approval by her ex-colleagues in the capital who, to Jerome’s irritation, had kept a close watch on their family affairs and wondered why there had been such a long delay! Poor Jerome, he had never been able to get used to the idea that their personal business should be of such public interest, she had said.
(Chapter 48 in Friday’s issue of the Amandala)