In the charged political climate of our country in the Seventies, there had been continuing dissatisfaction with the slow progress we were making in the development of our social institutions since self-government in 1964, in spite of much political activity – public meetings, endless speeches, demonstrations, protests, etc.; and Jerome, in particular, was becoming more and more frustrated over what seemed to be a standstill to services provided by the hospital in response to the needs of an expanding population.
The Opposition newspaper complained continually about what it called the government’s delinquency in addressing the problems, describing its health policy as consisting of the recommendation to families that they take their sick relatives abroad for treatment when neither facilities, professionals or medicines were available locally to deal with diseases like cancer, etc., and this was becoming more and more the state of affairs!
Jerome sounded the call time and again that some effort be made to establish a Cancer Unit, at least, where basic care after initial treatment abroad could be administered locally for those of the population, and these patients were many and increasing, who could not afford expensive stays in foreign countries. Consultation over a long period of time with both private and government medical personnel, who now formed part of a recently created Doctors and Dentists Association, had finally resulted in a small step forward: a plan of fundraising for this purpose.
It had been decided that the Hospital Auxiliary be invited to co-ordinate this special venture, aside from its regular programme of assistance to the hospital, and they had agreed to hold a Valentine’s Day Dance at the clubhouse of some of their members, who would be called upon to support and contribute to promotional activities. For this occasion, they had been able to enlist the co-operation of their private club in making their building available as the venue for this gala and to permit the proceeds of the sale of tickets, food and drinks to go towards this effort.
Mr. and Mrs. Betancourt had been appointed to spearhead the planning and execution of this project, to co-opt assistance from whomever and wherever they were able, and things had got off to a flying start with the Nurses Association pledging its full cooperation in taking care of the sale of tickets and the preparation of food.
The first and formidable snag, however, had been the cost of admission, which was $25.00 per couple, $15.00 per person plus $40.00 for table rental, which had automatically ruled out more than half of the hospital staff, who could not afford to participate at those prices.
However, and fortunately, a generous donor had made funds available to Matron Ebanks, on condition of confidentiality, for the purchase of tickets and table rentals for members of staff who wished to attend but could not afford to do so, from among those who were not scheduled to be on duty during the function.
Luckily for her, the duty roster for that month had already been submitted to the office for printing, even before the tickets were available, so Matron Ebanks had escaped blame from those staff members whose presence had been ruled out by this proviso; although ill-feeling at being excluded had been voiced by at least one person, whose identity I leave you to guess, and who had gone on a wild speculation spree, eliminating one by one the possible suspects whom she felt had cause to persecute her! As an aside, this exercise on her part had been of great help to those of us whose curiosity had been aroused as to which benevolent soul might be responsible for this apparent effort to include as many persons involved in health care as possible. It had not been until years afterwards that I had learnt by chance the doer of this good deed to have been Lucille’s father, Mr. Hendricks, in lieu of compensation for the free services provided to him through the years by Jerome and for the good treatment received while in hospital. He had become friendly with Matron Ebanks during his hospital stay for surgery and had long sought an opportunity to show his appreciation for the kind treatment given him by her and the staff, and this action had served to kill two birds with one stone.
Nigel and I had invited Jewel and Sonia to join us and Lloyd in attendance at this function, but had received only a tentative acceptance from either one or the other, the decision as to which being made dependent on what would be feasible for Emerson!
The problem was that he had become so attached to them both that neither could leave the house at night without taking him along. If he accompanied one, and the other was not at home on their return, he would be restless and sleep only fitfully until she showed up. At those times when Jewel was on night duty, he had had to see her leave in uniform before he would fall asleep. Sonia was, thus, at a disadvantage when it came to adult activity, such as a dance, since she normally worked only during the daylight hours and he was used to her presence at night.
Jewel felt that Sonia, who had had her nose to the grindstone since before his birth, deserved some enjoyment; and, being willing to stay behind with him, had left the decision to her.
The actual day of the fund-raiser had been Saturday, February 13th – no “jollificating” indulged in on the Sabbath in those days – and Sonia had finally made her decision and taken the bull by the horn by dropping off Emerson at day-care on her way to work, while Jewel had brought her dress and accessories over to our house before going on duty. They had had to juggle their arrival and departure times at home to allow her to reach our house that night at about seven-thirty, dressed in uniform. Finding us at supper still, she had sat at the table while we ate, joining us for dessert; and, after attacking the dishes together, we had left for our respective rooms to prepare for the gala.
When I was ready I had joined Jewel in Alida’s room to see how she was progressing, only to be struck at how “smashing” indeed she looked in the gifted Gertrude’s graceful, sky-blue drapery. She had worn the same silver shoes and accessories as at the Christmas party two years before, but I had considered her everyday leaf-shaped traditional gold earrings to be out of place in the silver and blue theme of her outfit; and had therefore gone to our bedroom and searched in my jewellery box for a silver filigree pair that Nigel had given me on my fortieth birthday and, overruling Jewel’s reluctance at borrowing, had pressed her into wearing them instead.
The impression she had made on both Nigel and Lloyd agreed with mine that she appeared both beautiful and elegant, and we had set out in high spirits at nine o’clock.
The venue, the expatriates’ clubhouse, was a well-appointed and spacious two-story structure, easily capable of accommodating the large crowd that had already been present when we arrived; and we had been escorted to our table situated on the ground floor in an area comprised of large, overlapping “islands” outlined by potted plants arranged to provide some degree of privacy to each unit, so that dancers were not all visible as in an open hall.
When we had reached, Jerome was already there, loosely attached to a group at a large table on which were sheets of paper and writing materials, which Nigel had quietly dubbed “headquarters” of the management team. He had come over after a while to say hello and speak with Nigel before taking off again for an upstairs destination.
After we had taken our seats, Nigel had gone to order refreshments, and while he was gone the music had started playing and I had suggested to Lloyd that he and Jewel should go ahead and dance. The band was considered the best, certainly the most popular, and had a reputation of giving value for money by taking few rests between sets, unlike some others.
When he had returned to the table Nigel had mentioned that Jerome would be joining us shortly along with Justin’s wife, and attendants had brought two extra chairs to accommodate them. He had soon appeared escorting his sister-in-law, explaining that he had finally been able to persuade her to attend the party with him since her husband was out of town.
Her name was Shelley, and she taught English and Commercial subjects (Typing, Shorthand, etc.) at the Roman Catholic Girls’ High School. She was very friendly, and had succeeded in drawing even the shy Jewel out of her shell with jokes about her experiences with her pupils, which had had us laughing and relaxed, enjoying her company.
Jerome had danced a set with her then excused himself for a few minutes while he kept in touch with “headquarters,” as agreed; and on his return had taken out Jewel while Nigel had danced with Shelley and Lloyd had partnered with me.
In those days it was the practice of bands to play a set consisting of three different pieces of a similar style, such as what we called boleros, two-steps, waltzes, etc.; and at our table a pattern had begun to develop of changing partners after each piece instead of each set, so that each lady and gentleman danced every third piece together.
The rest of the dancers, however, had stayed with the same partner for a set; and after a while I had suggested that we follow suit, having grown tired of changing partners so often. Claiming when we got home that he and his father had known what I was up to, my first-born had immediately taken out Shelley, Nigel had pulled me to my feet, thus leaving Jewel available to Jerome, with whom he had ended up dancing more than one set during the night. And although there had been no ulterior motive for my suggestion, I had refrained from making any denial to the males of my family, who often wrongfully accused me of arranging partners for Jerome, deciding to let them have the benefit of the doubt since I had been secretly pleased at how things had turned out.
Everyone appeared to be enjoying themselves, and the reports that Jerome had made from time to time, after brief consultations, had been to the effect that the sale of food and drinks was proving to be even more profitable than anticipated.
He had had a theory that the community had the capacity to respond generously to promoting such a cause, the upscale surroundings providing an additional incentive to put their best foot forward. The night had passed quickly, and everything had been sold out by the time the fund-raiser had come to an end at a little after 2.30 a.m.
As we were getting ready to leave, one of Nigel’s colleagues from the office had asked for a lift for him and his wife, as their taxi had not shown up on schedule, so Jerome had offered to take Jewel home in his vehicle along with Shelley and two senior sisters, stopping at our house to pick up her kit-bag on the way, each vehicle ending up with five occupants.
(Chapter 34 will continue in Tuesday’s Amandala)