With all parties putting their shoulders to the wheel, and “with God smiling on their efforts,” as Abel put it, all the enterprises with which our extended family and friends were involved thrived slowly but surely.
Under the guidance of Virgil’s expertise, new ventures were being undertaken jointly by the Atkins’ group, with contribution from Teacher Bertram’s estate, which continued to operate under the management of Mr.Solis’ eldest son, Andrew, and the Choc-managed cooperative, including the exporting of staples along with other produce to some of the nearby countries, as well as continuing to supply the local market. Most outstanding was cacao production on a fairly large scale for sale to the local representative of a world-famous chocolate manufacturer.
They had encountered problems with the politicians in their district, who had tried to instigate unfair competition and interference by other groups which they favoured; but with Virgil’s experience, vigilance and support from his relatives abroad, and the solidarity of the three entities involved, they had been able to weather and withstand all attempts to undermine their progress.
At the end of the 1979 harvest they had been sufficiently successful that Alvin had been able to afford to raise and expand the family house and place it on a concrete enclosure, he and his two brothers occupying the upper apartment while his parents lived in the lower, being more convenient for his father’s handicap. Much of the labour having been performed by themselves and their farm helpers, with some guidance and tips from their friend, a supervisor at the local Public Works Department, it had been accomplished very economically.
At this time, also, Alvin had started serious courtship of Julia Sabal, who had been successful at the nursing examinations, the hospital administration having adopted Nurse Pauline’s proposal, and had returned home after a year’s work/residency in the capital. The family had been able to manage without her for the year by gaining the support of their Uncle Richie, Frankie’s older brother of whom he was very proud, who had influenced him to reform some of his more outrageous habits by taking a more brotherly interest in him, offering financial help in enlarging and upgrading his house and in cultivating the land it stood on, which had originally been a gift from him.
The element of family pride had been no small inducement to Richie, also, the scholastic achievements of his nieces and nephews having reflected so creditably on the Sabal name. Frankie Junior had followed closely in Julia’s footsteps and was in his final year of Sixth Form in the capital on scholarship, while the two younger children were doing well at the secondary school, which had expanded and become “ecumenical,” that is, supported by the major religious denominations in the district.
But let me go back a little to June 1st, 1977, when Dr. Simon Serrano, whom we all called Matron’s candidate, as mentioned before, had returned home and joined the surgical staff of the hospital in the capital, in time to share the load with Jerome, who was becoming hard-pressed to cope with the increased amount of cases resulting both from the expanding population, as well as the recently opened Cancer Unit, for which he had been assigned responsibility.
Jewel and Jerome’s second son had entered the world at the end of August the following year, and been named Adrian for his paternal great-grandfather, carrying the English equivalent of “Abelino” as his middle name.
Mr. Reg’s father had never returned to the country after migrating to Canada before Matron and his son’s marriage, but had paid for Jerome’s medical education and had been disappointed when he had chosen to leave that country to continue his studies in the United States and eventually the U.K.
Having only two children and, as far as he had been told, two grandchildren, he had grown very attached to Jerome, whom he believed to be his only grandson, whilst he had studied in Canada, (his daughter’s only child being a girl); and had not known either about Justin or of Brigida, (Mechi Olivera’s daughter). Jerome’s grandmother, a very formal lady, had decided to keep from her husband the information about Mr. Reg’s two other children when her son had shared with her the unorthodox circumstances of their birth.
Just as Jerome had entered the U.K. leg of his studies, Mr. St. John, who had been ailing for some time, had passed on without his getting a chance to see either grandparent again, his grandmother having followed before he had completed his course.
His grandfather had divided the majority of his assets between his two children when he had migrated, since Mr. Reg was staying behind; and all that he had acquired during the years he had lived in Canada, which had been substantial, had been left for his widow for her lifetime, to be passed on to Jerome on her death, his daughter having married well, enhancing her financial status.
As if compensating for the hectic early years of their marriage, the period following Dr. Serrano’s arrival had been comfortable for Jewel and Jerome; and for the first time since working at the hospital, Jerome had been able to spend a three-week vacation far away from that institution, in a rented house at one of the private southern cayes in April, 1979, along with the children and Jewel, confident that the department was in capable hands during his absence.
Dr. Serrano had not only pulled his weight but, like Jerome, had made innovations entailing extra work for himself, which he had cheerfully and skilfully performed, continuing Jerome’s style of maintaining a kind, courteous and pleasant relationship with everyone, staff and patients alike. The senior nurses, who thought highly of Jerome, teased him that Dr. Serrano was giving him stiff competition for popularity with them, but that he was still their favourite.
With things under control at work, Jerome was more relaxed, spent far less time in his study and more with the family on the weekends; and they looked forward to the many activities they engaged in when he was at home. He reacted to one of the slogans of the industry, to “be a tourist in your own country,” by travelling with them its length and breadth by road, river and sea, participating in sight-seeing, festivals of all kinds, and visiting the various animal, fish and nature reserves.
The coastal road being finally opened had allowed those of us living in the capital to visit sometimes and share in their activities, and it was a time of great enjoyment for the extended families.
Then, just as life was settling into a comfortable routine, the matter arose of how to maintain the standards of the surgery section of the Medical Department as the date for the expiry of Dr. Serrano’s contract approached.
Since self-government in 1964, our country had been gradually taking on more and more responsibility for our internal affairs, the colonial powers retaining control over the Ministry governing “Essential Services,” such as Medical and Police matters.
Dr. Serrano’s appointment, under a three-year contract effective from June, 1977, was scheduled to end May 31st, 1980; but in the budget approved for the fiscal year April 1st 1980 to March 31st 1981, no allowance had been made for a scale on which his contract could be renewed from June 1st, 1980 despite representation by Jerome, through the Chief Medical Officer, that the situation needed urgent attention if Dr. Serrano’s valuable services were to be retained beyond that date.
Anticipating the problem, Jerome had first raised the matter when the annual budget exercise had been taking place, and the Chief Medical Officer had been assured by the Ministry of Finance that it would receive the required attention.
You can imagine Jerome’s dismay when he had found out from the draft budget for the new financial year, being circulated towards the end of March 1980, that it contained no provision for increases in emoluments to surgical officers in the department, although funds had been earmarked for two medical officers on the beginner’s scale.
He had immediately sought clarification for what this implied from Dr. Branch, the Chief Medical Officer, an expatriate, and had been told that in anticipation of an imminent pre-independence budget exercise to take place before the end of the next fiscal year, the matter was still in abeyance with the colonial authorities.
Much had been contingent on early settlement of the matter, as Dr. Serrano, appreciating that he could not depend on promises alone, had prudently sought alternative employment beyond the expiry of his contract; and had been offered scholarship opportunities from more than one institution in the United States for specialist training in Oncology should his progress in the public service here at home be retarded or terminated.
On Holy Saturday morning, Jerome had related afterwards, Simon had dropped in on Jerome to confide in him his reluctant but firm decision to accept the scholarship offer to do postgraduate studies at his alma mater, in view of the government’s uncertainty at that late date regarding his status after June 1st.
The news had been somewhat of a bombshell to Jerome who, although he had been trying for some time to prepare himself for the very real possibility, had still had hopes that there might be a temporary measure taken until the promised pre-independence conference had arrived at a firm solution.
On a personal level, he had sympathized with his friend’s dilemma and, too, feared the loss of the services of a valued colleague who had done so much to enhance the department’s image and performance; but, more than anything else, he had been puzzled at what had appeared to be the squandering by the authorities of the opportunity to employ a citizen who had become qualified for service to his country at no cost to an impoverished government!
Significant, also, had been the matter of the Bertram Fund’s investment in the country’s training needs and what part, if any, it had played in the decision-making of the powers-that-be.
Used for such a long time in the recent past to functioning on his own, Jerome had often taken work home and spent hours in the study preparing the logistics for the coming period’s action plan as far in advance as possible; so that, anticipating a return to those times, he had automatically reverted to this practice, showing up that Saturday a little after midday with what Jewel had described as a full briefcase and a troubled expression.
At home, in the meantime, a somewhat trying incident had taken place in connection with a set of wooden blocks for construction of an airplane that Jerome had brought for Edgar the week before. According to Jewel, he was very skilled at this activity but preferred to work alone, without onlookers, in order to concentrate properly.
Edgar had started to assemble the unit in the recreation section of the kitchen before dinner that Tuesday, after first arranging the furniture to isolate his working area from interference, such as from his little brother, who had the Houdini-like reputation of being able to find his way into and out of tight spots.
Between Miss Millicent and Jewel, the children led a well-structured life, so that Edgar could occupy himself with his interests while one or the other read to Adrian or engaged his attention elsewhere. Working steadily on Tuesday and Wednesday nights without interference had allowed Edgar to complete the assembly of the fairly large airplane.
On Thursday afternoon he had gone in search of some coloured paper to staple on to a wooden board to use as a stand on which to mount his handiwork, the beautiful flying bird featuring blocks painted with a red-jacketed pilot in its cockpit, which he had left resting on the floor.
By a stroke of bad luck, however, Adrian, who had escaped from his caregiver, happened into the vicinity of this magnetic object, for which he had made a beeline.
Returning from his mission, Edgar had caught sight of his little brother in the act of forcing his body between the slats of the chair he had placed as a gate to his makeshift hangar, and had frantically called out to him: “Leave it, Aaj (his nickname, pronounced “Age”), leave it!” and run towards him. Hastening to pull away the colourful block with the pilot in red, however, Adrian had managed to tip the plane over, which had fallen hard, dislodging several strategic blocks.
(Chapter 48 continues in next Friday’s issue of the Amandala)