The very busy year of our Lord, Nineteen hundred and eighty, had ended with the marriage of Jewel’s brother Alvin to Julia Sabal on Saturday, December 20th, in the Anglican parish church, although the bride had been christened Roman Catholic, like her father and uncle before her, the small wedding reception taking place in Lucille and Abel’s flat, followed by a two-week honeymoon at a hotel in the capital of the Western District, compliments of Nurse Pauline and her husband.
Julia’s Uncle Richie, who had no children of his own, gifted the couple with all the furnishings for their apartment, including living and dining room suites, kitchen cabinets and all basic appliances.
Richie was living with a lady whose husband had died leaving her with four children, for whom he had provided generously but without benefit of formal adoption or marriage, so he had been proud to lavish part of his considerable resources on his brother’s eldest child, incurring thereby some jealousy from his adopted family, for which he had compensated by spending on them extravagantly. A “rough diamond,” who had never been socialized into any special system of behaviour, for him money represented the answer to all problems.
From abject poverty he had achieved unexpected financial success under the guidance of Teacher Bertram, who had entrusted him with the management of the sugar project he had spearheaded along with Jerome’s other grandfather.
Years before, Richie had suddenly appeared in the town along with his grandmother and younger brother, while Matron had been in her teens, and she had been the first to befriend the young boy doing odd jobs here and there to support his tiny family. He had been a willing worker who was not afraid to put a price on whatever services he was called upon to render and, thus, had thrived.
Having had to leave primary school at an early age to look after Frankie when their grandmother had passed on, Richie had made up for lack of formal education with a quick wit, and had acquired the habit of covering his insecurities with grandiose gestures.
Shortly afterwards, days into the New Year in fact, Jewel and Jerome’s fourth child and third son had entered the world on January 10th, and had been named Neville Abel, the first name in deference to his Aunt Dora Webster, (the sister of his biological grandfather), who was returning to the United States later that month after standing as his godmother, and the middle name in honour of his other grandfather.
Andrew Solis, son of the treasured “Vagabond” and overall manager of the Bertram Estate, had been invited to be godfather along with Uncle Lito, who travelled with Nigel and me for the small christening on Sunday the 18th.
1981, which had begun so auspiciously with Neville’s birth, had been followed by the confirmation to Nigel and me that Sonia and Lloyd were to make us grandparents before it ended. And along with these significant personal milestones had come the news that our country would be granted Independence later that year!
So, the day longed for and anticipated by so many of its citizens, was finally to become a reality; and many of us could not help wishing that the social climate in which this event was to take place would have been more healthy and positive; that there would be unity and sober acceptance of the responsibilities entailed in taking this historic step among the people who, each in his own way, had been working towards it for such a long time.
But it seemed that the divisions and ill-will among the electorate had only deepened and widened during the interim period since self-government, despite the best efforts of patriots among my fellow countrymen.
My seaman father used to tell us stories illustrating instances of qualities used to cope with challenges or difficulties in life and, although it may sound frivolous, the thought that somehow had come to mind concerning the dilemma facing our country was his story of a mouse trapped in the hold of a vessel carrying barrels of tequila (rum) between two Mexican ports.
Having little food to sustain it on the journey, it had taken to gnawing a hole in one of the barrels which, when large enough for the liquid to start dripping, had induced it to embark on a spree from which it had emerged so intoxicated as to loudly declare the invitation: “Mandame el gato!” (“Send me the cat!”).
The realization that, ready or not, we as a people were obliged to deal with whatever would come with Independence, some of us felt we would have been well-advised to abstain from the intoxicating liquids running free during the celebrations and face what was to come with sobriety, courage and faith in a Creator Whom we as religious people knew did not play favourites, rather than with the type of bravado displayed by our tiny fellow sufferer in his dire situation!!
While political upheaval had taken place around us during the months leading up to the Independence celebrations, the extended family and others of similar outlook carried on with our lives as calmly as possible and stayed out of the fray.
But before all this we were invited down by Jerome and Jewel for the grand opening of the school auditorium, held during the first weekend in February, involving a short ceremony attended by the Bishop of the Diocese, the Chief as well as the District Education Officer, and the Area Representative, who, once again, happened to be none other than Mr. Absalom Itza.
At this function I could not help but be amused at observing the courteous interaction between Jerome and this gentleman against whom, Jewel had once confided, he had harboured violent feelings when he had first discovered the part he had played concerning the infamous colour photographs Itza had commissioned during the fateful time of their early love relationship. I could hardly believe the cool Jerome to have been guilty of such strong antagonism.
During that Sunday we were all invited to dinner with Nurse Pauline and her husband. She had moved in with him at his house, for the time being leaving Miss Amanda the day-to-day physical management of her establishment under the supervision of her sister, Miss Enid, spending her workday on the premises overlooking the operations and returning to her new home each evening.
It had been on this occasion that mention was first made of Pauline’s latest plan for moving forward with improvement of better health services for the town and district, and maybe the country eventually, Pauline never being one to remain inactive in the face of crying needs.
Since Julia Sabal Choc’s case had proven such a success, others had followed in her footsteps and there were now a total of three who were on the verge of graduating from that programme and six at different levels of training. Jewel had made the further suggestion that the type of service in the field that she had once provided in their district could be improved and expanded upon by recruiting one or two from each village, depending on its size, and training them under that same programme then assigning them to their own villages as resident nurses.
There was excitement as Nurse Pauline put forward the idea to those present, and I noted pride in Jerome’s expression as he listened keenly, pledging his willingness to take such a proposal to the governing board, on which Nigel and himself were members, expressing the great likelihood of its gaining approval.
We stayed overnight with them, and as we conversed before going to bed she had confided her plan to donate the windfall from Mrs. Enright to the proposed training project; and that Jerome intended to speak with Matron about their making a substantial contribution from the Bertram Fund also.
She remarked on how the money from her grandmother would have been so useful during the early years when times were hard and she was trying to get an education; yet she was glad things had turned out the way they had after all and she, who did not need it now, was in a position to use it to help others.
We ended the night before going to bed to look in on the baby and the rest of the children. His crib was in their bedroom and the boys occupied the large nursery, to which he would be transferred when he was older, while Arreini, being the only girl, had been moved to a bedroom of her own.
It was very rare for Jewel and Jerome to go out at night and leave the children, but, being a special occasion, they had asked Julia’s younger sister to babysit.
(Chapter 55 in next Tuesday’s issue of the Amandala)