The building expansion had gone at a fast pace once it got started and by the end of July Cap’n had been confident that all would be in place for the opening of school on the last Monday in August, except for “finishing” like partitions and painting of the downstairs area, which would continue in the evenings after school and on weekends.
At the same time, repairs and renovation of Uncle Lito’s house had been completed by Jewel’s birthday, which we celebrated with a gathering of the members of the extended family, but excluding some of the older heads who had not been up to making the trip on the weekend of August 16th. Incidentally, it had been a double celebration by Adrian’s turning two at the end of that month.
An important item on the agenda had been plans for the wedding of my first-born to Sonia, although duty had prevented her from being present, but whose interests had been well represented by Lloyd, Safira and Emerson.
The actual date had still not been set, awaiting word from Sister Havers about the date of her arrival “home,” which is how she now regarded our country. Since 1977 she had retired officially and returned to the U.K. to spend the months of March to August there with her husband and other relatives, returning to her second home for the winter months.
When Jewel had informed Sonia that she was beginning to “show,” and would understand if she wanted to make a change in her choice of Matron-of-Honour, there had been a resounding “No;” and we had gone ahead and planned tentatively for the second Sunday in September (the 14th) and to allocate responsibilities concerning the details of who would do what.
Alida, who was doing her finals the following year, could not obtain any time off, so would not be able to attend; nor could Victor, whose second year in a three-year contract as an Assistant Lecturer in Sociology at his alma mater would just be beginning. Nigel had therefore agreed to act as Best Man by proxy for Lloyd in his place.
Sonia had approached Jerome about walking her up the aisle, which he had told her would be a great honour, subject to how she felt after they had had a chance to discuss one of his ideas. He had told her how now having a daughter had made him realise how special that privilege would be, and one of which he would hate to deprive any man. He was willing to be on standby but was wondering if this might not be just the occasion for reconciliation with her father who, whatever his shortcomings, had willingly fulfilled all his legal obligations to her?
In response to this suggestion Sonia had approached her father and had been touched by his enthusiastic agreement to escort “his” first-born on this auspicious occasion; and she and Lloyd had invited his wife as well as his parents to the reception, which had been held in our home. It had been a most interesting occasion for the bride to have her paternal grandparents and stepmother in the same room with her mother present along with her father and stepmother, Miss Ione and her grandfather having been invited also!
We had soon heard from Sister Havers as to her arrival date, as also her agreement to hold the fort for Jerome on Sonia’s two months’ absence on her only vacation since Emerson’s birth!
Gertrude had been the natural choice to design and produce the outfits for the ladies in the bridal party, to which she had eagerly agreed; and Sonia, in anticipation of the question she knew would be coming from that quarter, had been happy to inform her of the request of her groom-to-be that she wear white.
Some weeks earlier, Mama had told me about Lloyd’s enquiry of her concerning the protocol regarding bridal wear, a friend having suggested that he seek her advice after some whispering around the office had reached his ears. She had explained the traditional significance of the bride wearing white, but had ventured the opinion that the practice was now obsolete; and that in these modern times it was subject to the choice of the parties coming together for the first time. On his own he had indicated his wishes to Sonia, an act which Nigel and I thought augured well for their marriage.
Our little town harboured a few malicious souls who, with pretensions at sophistication, were prone to passing judgment on what they considered proper, and who had indulged in whispering about Sonia’s having a “grown child.” The stand Lloyd had taken had served to silence this kind of gossip and, at the same time had shown solidarity with his bride-to-be.
Buildings and weddings soon became infectious topics in our circle, with Alvin and Julia making plans to marry as soon as they could rearrange the layout of the Choc home into two separate apartments: creating a kitchen and bathroom upstairs along with the living, dining and two bedrooms, to serve the young couple; and adding another bedroom to the two downstairs to accommodate Kiah and Caleb moving back with Abel and Lucille.
Kiah, who had postponed taking up the scholarship offered after Sixth Form, had hoped to negotiate with the Ministry of Education to share the cost of embarking on a first degree in Geography (high on its priority list), while at the same time doing undergraduate courses in Archaeology; or, alternately, some other arrangement whereby he could eventually complete degrees in both subjects, since the government continued to exclude Archaeology, his first choice, from its priority list. Having saved earnings from his farm work for the last few years, he had hoped to fund a part of the expenses on his own rather than delay further his tertiary level education.
After considering all his options, however, Lucille who believed in self-reliance and, also, who had doubts about government’s flexibility, advised that he complete the degree in Geography first, while working on credits towards the second; then stay on to complete the other in Archaeology on his own. She reasoned that the policy being that for every year of a government-sponsored course one was bonded to serve the country for a period, the shorter the time spent on the Geography degree would decrease the period of bonded service. Then, too, Jewel had offered to turn over her education fund for his use whenever he was ready and, after taking all this into consideration, he decided to follow his mother’s advice.
Kiah’s only social life had revolved around the activities of the extended family, and he spent most of his home time with his head buried in books, except for an intermittent semi-feud he had carried on with Marie Ogaldez, Celia Roberts’ sidekick, about her catering to her demands on their friendship.
Apparently, Mr. Roberts had not yet followed through with sponsorship of further studies for Marie when his daughter had not gained university entrance at the same time as she had, so they had both stayed home, taking clerical jobs in the government service, with Marie deciding to attempt the Scholarship examination.
Kiah was strongly attracted to Marie, but irritated by her relationship with Celia, whom he considered to be hindering her progress and, like the Lucille of old, was inclined to be outspoken about it. Strangely enough, however, it had been she who had cautioned him against taking that line and to have patience and wait to see how things would develop!
Being a forward thinking person, it had long been a source of disturbance to Lucille that archaeological explorations of the many Maya sites in our country were carried out by expatriates, with minimal involvement of nationals except as assistants; that foreigners not only knew more about developments than locals did; and that so much material had been extracted and carted away out of the country while there was not yet a single museum here at home where they had originated!
All Lucille’s children shared concerns such as these with their mother and father, who had inspired in them from an early age the need for practicing great patience and perseverance where educational advancement was concerned in order to become equipped to reverse situations such as these. I applauded their efforts and was confident that by the next academic year Kiah would be on his way towards his goal!
I am happy to report that everything had proceeded as planned with the wedding of our beloved son and Sonia, Sister Havers having arrived in early September a little after school had reopened.
Like Jewel’s, the wedding had been a small one, since so many near and dear ones were out of the country or unable to travel for some reason or other, but the spirit of the occasion had been very joyful and the young couple had set out on their honeymoon, leaving our step-grandson with us to attend school, while Safira had gone home on long leave, to return in time for them all to move into new quarters as Uncle Lito’s tenants.
The honeymoon had been arranged to make a tour of the main towns in the country which Lloyd had visited in the course of his work as a government auditor and to introduce Sonia to those tourist attractions he had been privileged to discover.
Talking of weddings and buildings brings us to the topic left for last in order to focus full attention on one of the most momentous episodes in our lives, although it had taken place before most of the others, but with little fanfare.
School had opened and classes conducted in the wooden part of the building, while work had continued in the evenings after school and on weekends on the new area of the structure in preparation for a formal grand opening when all work had been completed.
Concrete stairs led on opposite ends to front and back verandas running the entire length of the building and, at the foot of the front stairs, a rectangular flower box had been built as a grace note to the entrance. It had been finished late on a Thursday evening and old zinc sheets placed over the fresh concrete between some blocks to shelter it from getting wet in case of rain, for which there had been no weather prediction.
Lo and behold, however, after all the workmen had left for the evening, a sudden heavy shower had come down about seven o’clock, just as Mr. Coburn had been passing by the building on his way home. As luck would have it the zinc sheets covering the box had tilted when a piece of lumber carelessly left on the veranda had fallen on them from above, exposing the wet cement to a dousing.
Catching sight of what had been happening Mr. Coburn had rushed into the school grounds and relieved the situation by restoring the zinc covering to its original position, at the same time getting himself thoroughly soaked!!
On arrival home he had dried himself off, changed into night clothes, had his supper and gone to sleep; but when he had not appeared at the site the next day it had been discovered that he had been forced to stay in bed due to a headache, cough and fever.
Friday being the end of the work week, he had completed the payroll and the workers’ pay packets in readiness for the following day before leaving the parish office that Thursday evening; so the question next day had been what should be the next move now that the project manager was absent. His solution had been to send his housekeeper over to Nurse Pauline with the key to his desk, asking her to collect the material and pass it on to the Cap’n for disbursement and signatures on his behalf.
Miss Amanda, who had received the key and the message, immediately passed it on to Nurse Pauline and dispatched one of her helpers to the Chairman’s house with a bowl of soup.
That Mr. Coburn, that essence of dependability, had been missing from work had created quite a stir; and Nurse Pauline herself, after completing the errand with which he had entrusted her, had walked over to his house to investigate.
His housekeeper, Miss Quilter, had invited her in and when she had found him with a “roasting” fever, as she had described it, she had immediately resolved to call in her physician; and with this intention had asked his permission to use the telephone. However, being in a miserable mood due to the discomfort of his illness, and resenting action being taken without his approval, that very dignified gentleman coldly enquired of her whether it would not have been proper to discuss the situation with him before making any decision since he was not a child or one of her patients.
Rebuffed by his apparent hostility, Nurse Pauline backed down and apologized, explaining that she had only been trying to be of help as his condition appeared to require a doctor’s attention. His response, however, was that it was only a slight reaction to getting sprinkled the night before, that he would soon be all right, and that she need not trouble herself any further on his behalf.
The truth is, that the members of the Church Committee having worked so closely and harmoniously on the project during the past months had taken Mr. Coburn back to the early days of his and Pauline’s acquaintance, when hopes of their becoming more than friends had been aroused, but had once again threatened to be approaching the stalemate which had taken over their lives since then. This, coupled with his feeling of wretched helplessness, had made him strike out at her as the cause of his frustration and dissatisfaction.
Paulne, on the other hand, who had felt a surge of compassion at finding him in such a pitiful condition, had felt the urgent need to relieve the situation, only to have her good intentions rejected cruelly, and being treated like a stranger.
Unwilling to leave things as they were, however, she hit upon the idea of appealing to Miss Millicent for advice, she being the most senior member of the Church Committee and, also, well respected by him, so she had sought and gained his permission to consult her opinion.
After outlining the situation to Miss Millicent on the telephone, in his hearing, that good lady had offered to send her niece (Jewel) to represent her and to render whatever assistance was acceptable to Mr. Coburn. Now she, whose nature it was to avoid confrontation of any kind, had put the sick man on the spot with this offer, giving him no choice but to agree graciously.
I can just imagine a five months’ pregnant Jewel being placed in such a position, and wished I could have seen her in action, but had had to depend on second-hand reports. Always professional, whether volunteering or otherwise, she had come fully prepared with her nursing kit with equipment such as thermometer, mask, etc. to carry out her task.
Two things had worked in her favour: she loved and respected both Nurse Pauline and Mr. Coburn, and they returned the sentiment. Besides, he was fearful of appearing ungrateful to her, especially in what he considered to be her delicate condition.
She had calmly entered the bedroom and with great solicitude put her gloved hand to his forehead, murmuring sympathetic words; then, producing a thermometer, taken his temperature, politely showing the reading to Nurse Pauline. After carefully checking his other vital signs she turned to him and gave her opinion that there should be no delay in calling for a doctor, offering to do so if he wished. At his nod she had asked Nurse Pauline for the number and, dialling it, had asked Dr. Dingwall if he would kindly attend the Chairman at his home as soon as possible.
It had been only a short while before the doctor had appeared and started examination of the patient, who had cooperated fully amidst comments from the physician that a fever was nothing to play with. When he was through he had given the verdict that it was urgent that the sick man be admitted to hospital immediately. Writing out a prescription, he handed it to Nurse Pauline, expressing surprise that he had not been called sooner.
Standing aside, the doctor listened as Nurse Pauline called up the hospital to arrange for preparation of a bed and for a vehicle to collect the patient; but after a while she had reported that no bed had been available. This had not surprised anyone, as the hospital was a small one with no bed available in the male ward; so, as an alternative, she suggested that the patient be taken to her establishment. At this, Mr. Coburn had found his voice and stated flatly that he would not go to a women’s institution.
To avoid an argument, Jewel smoothly intervened by persuading the doctor and Nurse Pauline to give her a minute alone with the patient while they conferred about Miss Millicent’s request to her.
When the pair had left the room she had lost no time in pointing out to Mr. Coburn the seriousness of his case when the doctor had recommended immediate hospital stay, saying she hoped he would reconsider and agree to go to the Nursing Home, where he could be easily accommodated in the family area of the building, which was very spacious and far away from the extension added to house women patients; where he would receive expert care equal and in some cases superior to that in the government hospital, Nurse Pauline having fully trained staff, not only those doing midwifery, and running a well-equipped and up-to-date facility.
For emphasis, she added that she would not know how to face Miss Millicent with the admission that she had failed to be of help, having to leave him in more or less the same condition in which she had found him; and strongly appealed to him to change his mind.
Mr. Coburn considered her recommendation for a long time, and finally, speaking with great effort, said he would need to consult privately with Nurse Pauline about the conditions under which he could agree to impose on her well-respected family; formally thanking Mrs. St. John (whom he was used to calling by her first name) for all her kindnesses to him, and asking if she would withdraw and ask Nurse Pauline if he could have a word with her.
It had been Jewel’s turn to excuse herself, joining Doctor Dingwall and requesting that Nurse Pauline alone return to the patient. After what seemed a long time Nurse Pauline joined them in the parlour and told Jewel and the doctor that Mr. Coburn would like to ask them a favour, while she had gone in search of her twelve-year-old escort who had accompanied her and, indeed, trailed her nearly everywhere she went.
The housekeeper located and sent the escort to Nurse Pauline, who gave him the errand to go and ask the parish priest, Father Craig, if he would kindly come to the Chairman’s home as soon as possible. I should mention that it was customary for the priest to come prepared for any possibility in response to calls from members of the Church Committee.
In the meantime, Mr. Coburn had asked for and secured the agreement of Jewel and the doctor to stand as witnesses to his marriage to Nurse Pauline; and when she had rejoined the group she had asked Jewel to assist her in preparing her groom-to-be for the ceremony while Dr. Dingwall was making on their behalf hurried calls to the District Commissioner’s office in an effort to secure a marriage license and whatever other legal documents were needed.
It was not until sometime afterwards that I had been given the details of how things had progressed from this point; but I had been told later that day that the wedding had taken place, after which the groom was transferred to the private quarters of the bride, where he had received nursing care until his full recovery from bronchitis two weeks later.
One comical aside had been that an alarm had been raised that the priest had been called to the bedside of the Chairman of the Church Committee to administer the last rites; but the mistake had soon been traced to young “Alli,’ well-known for putting two and two together and getting twenty-two.
Poor little boy, he had been taken in by Nurse Pauline at the request of his grandmother, who had been unable to manage him, the child of her stepdaughter whom she had had to put out of the home for abusing him. He had become so attached to both Pauline and Mr. Coburn, who was assisting with his training and education and for whom he ran errands, that, not having been given the reason for the priest’s summons, had feared the worse and gone weeping to Miss Amanda with the tale that he had been sent for, which, to him, meant only one thing!
Miss Agnes, the widow of Kenneth Vernon, was the second wife of the wealthy businessman who had passed on leaving her well-fortified financially but with the burden of his only child, with his first wife, whom he had thoroughly spoilt. Before marrying his second wife he and the girl had clashed so many times that he had put her out of the house never to return. During her absence, however, she had become pregnant and given birth to little Aloysious Vernon, alias “Bone,” who had been her ticket back home when the compassionate Miss Agnes could not bear the thought of the child wandering about with the homeless mother. However she, Gwenny, had again become so unbearable that her stepmother had had to take back her word and ask her husband to get rid of the girl, which had left that childless, elderly lady with the responsibility of rearing the little boy. His given name had been Aloysious but his mother, that troubled and troublesome young woman, had stuck the nickname of “Bone” on him, as in “bad to the bone!” as if that were not the pot calling the kettle black! Nurse Pauline, however, had put an immediate stop to that, calling him “Alli” instead.
In this little place of ours it is truly amazing how prevalent is the practice of concocting details of events based on the barest of facts; and news had reached the capital that Jewel had been instrumental in finally bringing about the union of the popular and celebrated pair in the southern district, causing Jerome, on his next visit home, to quiz his wife about this, the conversation roughly going as follows:
“How is it you didn’t tell me about playing Cupid between Eric Coburn and Pauline?” says he
“Playing Cupid? What does that mean?” she replies, being unfamiliar with mythology.
“Bringing them together in Holy Matrimony!” he returns.
“Oh no, Jerome!” comes her answer. “You know I would never do anything like that. All I did was agree to be a witness when I was asked, as I told you on the phone!” had come her response.
Of course he had known better and had only been teasing to hear her reaction. When she had repeated in detail how events had developed leading up to the wedding, he joked that it seemed to him that she and Aunt, while not playing Cupid, had been very influential in bringing the pair together; but this she had steadfastly denied, insisting that for people like Nurse Pauline and Mr. Coburn, who tried to live a godly life, no outside help was needed. Everybody knew that they loved each other and that sooner or later circumstances would occur that would give Mr. Coburn the opportunity to propose and that Nurse Pauline would be willing to accept! Besides, nothing happened before its time!!
(Chapter 54 in next Friday’s issue of the Amandala)