I must have been eight years old, tiniest of the tiny, tenth out of eleven children and so much protected by my family. I was an introvert, very shy and always kept to myself. Sitting at the front row of the classroom always made me feel overwhelmed, scared and extremely nervous. I remember feeling very proud of myself knowing the answers to questions being asked but dare not let the teachers know for the fear of being called to answer. If they did call on me, I would panic and forget all the answers instantly. The palm of my hands wet and my body cold as ice. Because of my petite size, it seemed that front row was always chosen for me. All the children in the classroom would be chatting and laughing before classes started; discussing what they did the previous day and I would be sitting quietly, pretending to check through my books. I often would time myself not to attend school too early. I had no confidence and figured I could never be like the other girls. They seemed so brave, cool and confident.
Hopping onto dad’s bicycle sometimes for a free ride to school was the best, until my feet got stuck in the wheels. Walking to school, which was just four blocks away, became a breeze after that. We had previously lived in the countryside and moved to the city when I was four years of age and my little brother was a baby. Dad had gotten a promotion and had to move to the branch in the city. We rented an upper flat of a house close to dad’s job for a few years until my parents saved to buy our very own house a few streets away. My parents have always been very ambitious and felt it was better having your own home rather than living in a rental for the rest of your life. Our new home had four bedrooms, two toilets and one stand up shower on the upper flat. The kitchen and dinning room were downstairs. Our bedrooms had sliding doors made of wood and glass, unusual for bedroom doors and one entire wall had the Kaieteur Falls (the largest single drop waterfall in the world) painted on it.
Guyana, my country of birth, found in South America and neighbors to Suriname, Venezuela and Brazil was a tropical English speaking country. Houses were built very simple; wooden or concrete. We had no skyscrapers or Shopping Malls and never experienced going on escalators. We would always be amazed seeing them in movies and thought foreigners were very lucky to live in such beautiful countries. We also loved looking at pictures and movies where the ocean, rivers and lakes would have such clear water that reflected the color of the sky. Our three rivers, the Essequibo, Berbice and Demerara rivers and the Atlantic Ocean were all murky. It had a population of just about seven hundred and eighty thousand people and very rich in bauxite, gold, rice and sugar. Even though my Country was simple, the beautiful tropical weather, white sand with sea shells and lots of coconut trees were all very beautiful to me.
I always felt proud when my friends saw me getting a ride to school with dad. Having to work every day, he was unable to attend school meetings and that was my chance to show him off to my friends. I remember how much I wished mom would visit me at school, but because it was just a few blocks away, she had no reason to since we all walked home for lunch. My elder sisters would attend meetings since mom was always busy cooking and doing other house chores and my friends always commented on how beautiful they were, I could not have been prouder. They once attended the same primary school and would visit teachers occasionally. Whenever they did, I would beam with pride. Leon my younger brother, had just started attending my school and my sister Lolly, two years older than I, was preparing to write her examinations to attend a secondary school. We were taught to be very simple, humble and kind to everyone just by the examples of our parents, as the saying goes, “action speaks louder than words.”
We were seven sisters and four brothers. Two sisters and brothers from dad’s previous marriage and one brother, two sisters from mom’s previous marriage. Mom and dad having four children together, my two sisters, four and two years older than I am and my brother, four years younger. To me, we were just one big happy family. I was born in a home with so much siblings and I loved each one of them equally. If there were any unfairness, I was too young or too naive to see or understand. Mom’s children loved and adored my dad, which made me realize he was a fair and loving father to them. Dad’s four children moved separately when I was very little, I only have vague memories of living in a home together with them. I never saw my parents fighting or shouting at each other. Because mom was always very busy, dad used to lovingly call her “Mother Bee” and we would always tease her when she received her Valentine roses or Birthday and Christmas gifts. Dad was very romantic.
I always looked forward to visiting my two brothers and two sisters whenever dad went. They lived in a beautiful white cottage with green trimmings around the windows, the verandah and on the fence. It had a beautiful Christmas tree at the front with wide branches touching the verandah. I remember my sister SiSi, always fussing over me, giving me beautiful tiny earrings and chains. She loved animals a lot and cried when the mouse got trapped. They had a big fluffy dog named Foxy, white with very long hair. I think I felt comfortable and confident with her because she was so much like me.
Sandy, the oldest of the four, was fair in complexion, very beautiful and slim. She was more serious and felt responsible for her younger siblings. Guess she became like that after the death of their mother, when she was at a tender age of nine. My brother Rob, four years younger than Sandy, was tall and lean with muscles and had long hair touching his shoulders. Once he made me count silently to ten while I chewed my food properly. Guess he is the reason I am now such a slow eater. Pete my other brother, born after SiSi and the youngest of the four, was shorter and slim with long hair to his shoulders also. In those days, that was the hair style all the boys wanted. He reminded me of dad and SiSi, quiet, calm and very sensitive.
My older brother Rudy and sister Aileen from mom’s previous marriage, were getting married. It was going to be a double wedding, the first wedding of my siblings. Our house was being re-painted and new curtains were bought. I remember all my aunts and cousins were coming in from the countryside and more pillows and sheets had to be purchased. My parents were buying groceries in bulk from months before, trying to manage their expenses. Mom was very busy trying to get everything done, it was not easy to host two weddings in one day. Rudy was her eldest child born on her 16th birthday, Aileen two years younger. In the olden days, everyone married their daughters early to prevent them from having boyfriends. My grandfather took her out from school as soon as she learnt to write, afraid that she would write letters to boys. She then had to help her mom tend to her younger siblings, learn to clean the home and later, sent to work in the rice field and cook.
There was so much to be done in Hindu weddings. We were rubbing turmeric on my sister’s and brother’s skin a couple of days before the wedding. It signified purity, fertility and good health and gave the skin a glow to ensure the bride and groom looked fresh for their wedding day. Our home was filled with my cousins and aunts from the countryside and mattresses were placed on the floors of every room. There was so much excitement and laughter. Hindu wedding celebrations usually last for a couple of days. It entailed several rituals and traditions that has deep philosophical and spiritual significance. Traditionally, the bride’s parents host the wedding ceremony, the groom and his family were the guests arriving. Everything had to be prepared for my sister’s wedding ceremony while my brother’s wedding ceremony was being prepared at his bride’s home. We had cousins of different age group, being the youngest set, we had the most fun playing all day with no sense of responsibility.
It was the wedding day, my sister was dressing in a yellow sari, mom was tying it around her, wraps after wraps and I was sitting on the bed, curious as usual. It was normal for me to be stuck to my parents like glue. My sisters were in and out the room, taking a constant peek at the bride and making sure the guests were comfortable at the same time. There was so much pride in my mom’s expression as she dressed my sister in her sari and accessories. The bridegroom lived in the house behind us, he was also the cousin of my brother’s bride. My sister looked very beautiful. My brother got dressed in the other room and he looked dashingly handsome as he came out the room, preparing to go to his bride’s home. He was also dressed in an Indian outfit. It was customary to be dressed in the Indian outfit for the ceremony, then change into suits and wedding dresses for the reception that was hosted at the bridegroom’s home. Everything seemed very colorful. There were so many details of everything that had to be done.
We all got dressed in our best clothes, sewn by mom. Our room with the youngest set of siblings was the middle room out of the three rooms on the west side of our home. It had a bunk bed to one side of the room and a queen size bed to the other corner. The room was filled with us, everyone wanting the mirror at the same time. Mom also dressed in sari; her and dad’s room was next to ours; their back window facing the breadfruit and coconut tree in the backyard. She could easily hear our confusion and excitement since the room walls did not go all the way to the top of the ceiling. We were all bubbling with so much happiness, too young to understand the tears we saw in mom’s eyes as she was dressing my sister; the bride.
Dad wore an Indian outfit and so did my little brother who had to accompany my brother, the bridegroom. He looked cute in his little Indian clothes, feeling very proud and important. My brother left in a decorated car along with my little brother and a few of my siblings and relatives as visitors to the bride’s home, honking their horns as they left, the street filled with curious onlookers and all our guests. Everyone wanting a peek at the handsome bridegroom in his traditional Indian wedding clothes and turban that had strings of flowers hanging down, covering his face. It was time now to anxiously await my sister’s bridegroom. The pandit arrived and everything was being prepared for my sister’s wedding ceremony. The honking of horns announced the arrival of the bridegroom.
We all rushed out to welcome him and his guests. Mom blessed him as he entered. The fire lit on camphor in a brass pan, decorated with a few hibiscus flowers, she circled it around his face a few times then made bigger circles blessing his whole body and saying a prayer silently as she did. That always touched my heart and made me very emotional whenever she blessed me, at her regular yearly religious functions. There was always an intense look of deep love in her expression when she blessed you with the heat of the fire intensifying her love. After they were married under the Hindu rites, my sister went into the room to change into her wedding dress while her husband went into another room to dress into his suit.
My sister came out, beautiful as a princess in her wedding dress, accompanied by her husband who had to enter the room to escort his wife out. He was handsomely dressed in his suit and looked very happy and proud. The cameras started clicking, we showed off our fancy outfits, posing for pictures. It was time for cake sticking, speeches and lunch then off to her husband’s home for the reception. The washing up of dishes and cleaning was done quickly then it was time to await my brother and his bride. At her home he would have dressed in his suit also after the ceremony finished. The honking of horns announced their arrival and we all ran out to welcome my brother and his wife, the street again lined with tons of curious people. She looked very beautiful in her wedding dress and my brother very handsome in his suit. It was time now for their reception at our home. Sticking of cake, speeches, food, drinks, music and dancing until the break of dawn.
As the years went by, Aileen got three sons and Rudy got one son. We were all very excited for babies in the family again. I remember always sitting beside mom when she would bath her newborn grandson and oil his little body every morning before the bath, stretching and massaging his limbs. The lower section of our home was divided into three. On one half, my sister lived with her family and the other half, was divided into two, our kitchen and Rudy and his family lived in the other section. I loved my nephews so very much and was very excited to be around them. Mom could no longer find me at home any longer. Every free moment I had, I was busy helping to shower and dress them up in different outfits, mix their milk to feed them and play games. They always enjoyed me reading stores and running around in the yard playing tag. I was just about ten years older than my oldest nephew and realized, with little children, I did not feel overwhelmed but felt a sense of responsibility and pride.
My parents made life seem easy, we were protected from knowing their struggles to make ends meet for such a big family. Guess life is supposed to be easy for all youths, or so I thought until I got older. We were all sheltered under the golden branch of health and happiness. Mom made sure she cooked vegetables Mondays through Fridays, Saturdays were always fish curry and Sundays were always cook-up-rice (rice cooked with beans, meat, spinach and all desired spices) and baked chicken. We were always excited for Sundays since that was our favorite meal and it was known as “a lazy day.” Eat, nap and relax, then in the afternoons we would all ride our bicycle to the seawalls with our friends, or go for picnics in the park.
The lumber company dad worked for had a wharf where the pontoon would dock to offload lumber. Occasionally, we would go fishing. The total excitement and noise we made always kept the fishes away from our rod and if by chance, we felt a little tug, we would scream with joy so loudly, our hearts would seem to leap right out of our body. After fishing, we would ride on the trolley; that was on tracks to fetch the lumber, up and down with such speed, heedless of danger, until we felt satisfied. Excitedly, we would decide it was time to head up to dad’s office. He had a little fridge stocked with different types of juices and he would happily tell us to take whatever we wanted. I remember how fascinated we always felt pulling open his desk drawers. The top drawer had additional pencils that was perfectly sharpened and placed in a straight line with red, black and blue ink pens, staples and other stationaries that was so interesting to children our age. The second drawer was packed with additional ledgers that made no sense to us.
We all had two outfit of school uniforms, in order to attend school with clean clothes and our school sneakers had to be washed and scrubbed every Saturday. We did not have a washing machine. Mom would sort the clothes, white and colored clothes separate, then soak them in different tubs of bubbly soap water. A small amount of bleach was added to the separate tub for white clothes and a little blue cube had to be added to the water for rinsing the white clothes. That was her belief for the white clothes to remain stark white. She always had an order for hanging the clothes on the line to dry. They all had to be turned inside out as not to fade in the sunlight, then all the pants had to be hanged first, followed by dresses, skirts, shirts then t-shirts. She always took pride in the neatness of hanging her clothes. I was always beside her giving her the clothes pins since my hands were too tiny to wring the clothes. We had wooden clothes pins thankfully, or it may have had to be used in color coded sequence.
It was time for me to write the examination to transfer to a secondary school. I was very nervous since examinations always made me panic, but excited at the same time. I passed, gaining the amount of marks needed to go to the same school as Lolly. I was jumping for joy, excited for the beginning of the school term, to attend my new school and wear my green pleated skirt and white shirt uniform. Throughout nursery and primary, our uniform was blue armless dresses worn over white shirt. I often admired Lolly in her secondary school uniform and couldn’t wait to start wearing mine. The day before school started, I papered all my text and exercise books, made sure my pencils were sharpened properly, had blue and black ink pens and my school uniform was neatly pressed, all the pleats looking perfect. It was going to be the first time using a pen in school and I was super excited. In primary, we were only allowed to write with pencils.
Guess I did not crave much school friends, since my home was filled with all my siblings and nephews. I had one best friend who had a very sad life. Her parents got divorced and she lived with her mom, stepdad and stepsisters. Almost every day she would come to school crying, some days she came without breakfast and I took her home with me for lunch. She loved the taste of mom’s delicious meals. Even though there were so many of us, mom always welcomed my friend and made her feel comfortable. She always made sure whenever she cooked, there was always extra to offer anyone who visited. My friend always told me how lucky I was to have such a big loving family. Guess I took it for granted because I did not have the experience of struggles and hatred in my family. My heart always ached when I heard what she was experiencing and felt helpless not knowing how I could make life meaningful to her. I contributed to her happiness by sharing my family, was so priceless seeing her face light up and hearing her laughter.
I was approaching thirteen years of age and still tiny, shy and sheltered from the outside world. My elder sister SiSi, who was my role model, beautiful, elegant, sensitive and so humble, talked to me about maturity. To be more aware of the changes in my body and how to protect it. I remembered looking up at my sister silently and thinking, “what boy in his right mind would look my way, when the school was filled with beautiful girls, not skinny like me?” She was migrating and she needed to teach me how to be proud of who I am. Holland was in another continent, I felt sad and crushed but I kept my feelings inside, everyone had to follow their dreams. It was time to decide what stream I would choose in school, Business or Science. In our days in Guyana, those were the only two streams offered. I loved children so much and thought of Science, leading to becoming a Pediatrician, but could not stand to see anyone in pain or the sight of blood. I choose Business and it was time to say my goodbyes to the friends that choose Science.
The new term began, it was hard work preparing ourselves for our Grade 11 Final Exams. The Examination that determined the whole future of child, all that we studied for from the very first day of school. English Language, Principles of Business and Office Practice were my favorite subjects. Shorthand and Typewriting I found relaxing and enjoyed, Mathematics being my worst. I was never good at Mathematics no matter how hard I tried. I took extra classes on Saturdays just to understand, but I always found it to be difficult. I remember looking up at my Mathematics teacher and thinking he was very intelligent. Little did I know that later in life I would give birth to a son that would be a Mathematics genius. I loved Accounts but was only able to do it for one term before the teacher got sick and left the school. Because my dad was an accountant, I often admired the neatness of his balance sheet and all other transactions, the way it was drawn up using different color pens to highlight and underline.
The years were flying by, no more the child who sat with dad for him to read her stories, but a teenager who had a craving and passion to read. I aimed at completing all the series of different adventure novels. Whenever mom thought I was reading too much, I went under the bed to finish my books. My dad loved to read, that was his way of relaxing in the afternoons. He would lay outside in the hammock with a novel; after he came home from work, reading while mom was in the kitchen preparing hot dinner. She would always have everything prepared and lit the stove as soon as we came home so that dinner would be hot and fresh. The hammock was hung under the shed in the back yard just outside the kitchen door. After dinner, mom and dad would always sit on one of the long benches he had built along the three sides of our wooden bridge at the front of our home, where he also planted different types of flowers to beautify the front of our home. Guess that was their alone time to finally have peace and quiet.
Every summer, dad would take us to the countryside. Myself, my little brother Leon, who was the baby of our family and my sister Lolly, two years older than I; shy and very beautiful. Those were my best days. We travelled by boat across the Essequibo River, the largest river in our country. The speed boats were narrow, the sides not too high causing the water to keep lapping into the boat whenever the waves were big. The boatmen would constantly bale it out with plastic containers. We were so young and never felt afraid, just pure excitement whenever a big wave approached. In those days they never had life jackets in the boats and yet we never thought of anything other than enjoying the boat ride. I loved the countryside where everyone lived like one big family. Everyone respected my dad and wherever we went we heard, “those are Mr. Jokhu’s children.” Everyone would fuss over us and grab a chicken or duck from their backyard to throw on their fireside to cook as soon as we arrived.
It seemed that every home we visited, we had to eat and drink something as not to offend them. We were always treated like royalties and we couldn’t understand why since our dad was so humble and simple. Our hearts would always swell with pride. Dad would take money to give to the poor homes we visited, along with a bag of fruits, but no matter how poor the family was, they never wanted to accept money from dad, they were very content. I guess that part of my childhood made a big impact on my life. There were people who had homes the size of someone’s kitchen, yet happiness the size of the whole universe; it makes you ponder on the conception of priorities. Their children’s happiness meant the world to them and they were happy to have the fresh vegetables they picked and fishes they caught as their constant meals and save for their children’s education for a better future.
We would always be excited to explore the countryside. We were taught how to feed the chickens and ducks; this made us feel very special, throwing the feed and watching them coming out from all their hidden places, running and flying towards us. We also learnt to take the sheep and goats to graze in the pasture and how to milk the cows. To reap vegetables and fruits and to swim in the canals, to cook on the stones while all the trees around rustle and the birds chirping so loudly. The sky always seemed to be filled with a thousand stars at night when we all sat around in circles listening to stories of old times, sometimes scary ones that made us afraid to climb up unto our beds and would make us pull the covers right up to our necks.
Early mornings were always the best for me. Awakening early in the morning to see the heavy fog over the rice fields, hearing the chirping of the birds, the mooing of the cows and smelling the breakfast that was being prepared on the fireside. The happy chattering of all the neighbors as they greeted each other and the sounds of the waves lapping from the sea that was just over the seawalls across the street. Excited for yet another beautiful day with so much to be done. Everyone lived a simple life, no luxury, yet so contented. Most of our countryside vacations, we spent with dad’s little brother and his family. All his children were much older than us, the ages as my elder sisters and brothers but that made no difference, they “bent over backwards,” as the saying goes to make us as comfortable and happy as possible. Mom always stayed back at home to take care of the family since she grew up in the countryside and did not feel like she was missing out on anything.
My dad would always say “we will give our children the best days possible with great memories before their marriage and their own responsibilities began, so they will always have the solid background of pure happiness and fulfillment to face life forward.” He was an amazing father, a role model to look up to. Taught us never to hang our hat where we cannot reach; meaning to always live within our means and that luxury came with a price. We were taught that some people lost their self-esteem for money and instead of controlling wealth, it controlled them. The more wealth they got the more they wanted. “You cannot buy happiness, it is better to live in a little hut and be happy than a palace, surrounded by walls of deception, lies, unfaithfulness and tears of unhappiness.” That was an advice he gave to each one of his eleven children.
My mom was a strong woman. Loving but stern when she had to be. She made sure our meals were hot and ready when we got home and our clothes clean. She combed our hair, rubbed our feet and sewed new outfits for us whenever we had somewhere fancy to go. She was never a person to show her emotions openly but in her own way, she showed us all the love possible. I loved accompanying mom to the market even though I could fetch so little and enjoyed hearing her bargain for better prices. All the eggs and vegetables had to be washed and set to dry before going into the fridge. She taught us cleanliness, to always make our beds as soon as we awoke, wash our dishes after eating and to make sure that there were no dishes in the sink at night. The stove had to be cleaned daily and kitchen swept. Every Sunday we took turns at the chores. My elder sisters would sweep, mop and iron clothes. It would always be my chore to sweep the yard clean from the hibiscus leaves that fell daily and wash my sneakers and school uniforms every Saturday.
Once monthly our wooden bridge had to be scrubbed with a handmade aluminum scrapper by me and my sister Lolly until the wood shone brightly. This I enjoyed, seeing the difference as you scrub and throw water on the wood was priceless. I felt so much pride to see it sparkle in the sunlight and the pleased look on my mom’s face. I enjoyed every chore that entailed dealing with water, washing my clothes, sneakers and especially dishes. I was always at the sink, never liked cleaning the pots though. I always felt closer to my sister Lolly. Looking back, I realized she was very reserved, quiet and simple. We attended the same school and I was always so proud of how beautiful and kind she was. All my school friends knew her, I was always talking about her and the countryside trips we took together. She met her husband at an early age and spent a lot of time with his family. They loved her right away and accepted her as a daughter and sister.
My sister Jay, beautiful with long thick curly hair was two years older than Lolly. She took part in every activity possible during her school days. Indian classical dancing, modelling of saris and acted in a few skits. Once she even picketed on the streets for what she believed in. She had chosen the Science stream which was predominantly boys and had one best friend whom we were all close to. We would sometimes visit her home and her family and she would visit us. Jay also met her husband at an early age; a house party we hosted. He was invited by mom’s brother who knew him from work. Uncle Harry invited two of his friends, one fell in love with Jay and the other, fell in love with her best friend. Both couples got married each having a son the same age. Sadly, Jay’s marriage did not last and Jevon my nephew, grew up with us from an early age. We pampered him with so much love, Jay did not have to worry about babysitters when she went to work. She was always closer to Sheena who was two years older than her.
Sheena was also very beautiful. Just like Jay, she had tiny waist and big hips. Her hair was long also but extremely thick and straight. She was also in the Science stream and most of her friends were boys from her classroom. She was fashionable and we all tried to sneak into her outfits one time or another. Like me, she loved to read and never stopped studying. Whenever I woke up, she was always at the table studying for an exam, very focused and determined in what she wanted from her life. I often admired her for the dedication she showed in whatever she did and wished I could study like her. I was preparing for my Grade 11 examinations and she would awake me to study with her just after mid-night but even though I drank coffee, I always fell asleep before reaching the fourth page. The next day I would promise myself to study after dinner but always ended up sitting on the benches and chatting with mom and dad. I was very attached to my parents and missed them when I was at school. Studying was always a problem for me, guess my school texts were not as exciting as my novels.
The years went by, my siblings got married, some of them migrated. Rob my brother, went to the United States to attend Howard University, Sandy my sister, got married and moved to the United States, Pete and Rudy with his family, moved to Canada and Aileen my sister and her family, moved to Venezuela. A few months after arriving in Canada, Pete got married to his childhood sweetheart; a warm, beautiful and kind girl. There were just five of us now with mom and dad. I was approaching my eighteenth birthday and started applying for jobs. The legal age for working in my country Guyana. My parents were planning a trip to Venezuela for me, as a gift for being successful at my exams, especially the distinction in English Language, along with the pair of gold earrings, chain and ring they presented me. Dad always encouraged our success by giving us gifts or taking us to dinner whenever we excelled at school.
After writing several applications, an Insurance Company called me in for an interview; it was a temporary position to fill in for the General Manager’s secretary who was due for vacation. Being very anxious and excited to start working, I gave up my trip to Venezuela and started rummaging through Sheena’s closet for working outfits to borrow. It was the first day of work, dressed in Sheena’s beautiful knee length brown skirt, beige top that was neatly tucked into the waist with a pair of nude color shoes to compliment my outfit, I mounted my bicycle. It was time to face the outside world. The secretary trained me to perform all her duties one day before she left, then it was my responsibility to prove I could be efficient. I took my minutes at the meetings; writing shorthand at a speed, did perfect typing of documents and filing, until the morning when all the papers on my desk went flying through the window. The cleaner had left the window open. Guess that was my first test of overcoming challenges in a career world.
Before the period for the temporary job was up, I was called for an interview by another Insurance Company. This second interview, I was calm and confident, passing the English and Mathematics test with flying colors. I was hired instantly as temporary staff for the first three months, as was the required rule of the company. It was a bright sunny morning when I rode my bicycle to work that first morning of my second job. Parking it at the back of the Insurance building and chaining it to the metal of the bicycle stand, I headed for the front and went through the doors, greeting the security guard. There were a few staff waiting on the elevator, all elegantly dressed in their working uniforms, welcoming me on my first day of work. Exiting the elevator on the second door and greeting the receptionist, I went towards the Personnel Department, greeting all the other staff that were organizing their desks to begin working; I had to pass the Accounts and Customer Service section to reach the Personnel Department. The secretary of the Personnel Manager then escorted me to the Underwriting Department where my desk was.
After my three months was up, I was hired permanently and given the pattern of my work uniforms to have it sewn by a seamstress. The excitement began, buying shoes and accessories, new stockings and handbag to match my outfits. The colors were baby pink, blue and yellow; I bought the most beautiful baby pink shoes I ever saw. Wearing heals, stockings and make-up was still a fascination to me since we were never allowed to, before we started working. I felt confident, strong and independent, earning my own money. Like dad, I rode my bicycle to and from work every day, mastering the art of riding with high heels.
Everyone at home had to contribute from their salary; it was dad’s way of training us responsibilities and how to manage our money. It is amazing, the way everything you learn from childhood, guides you throughout life. Dad was a Director of a Lumber Company and had lots of benefits. He was allowed a Company vehicle but preferred to ride his bicycle to and from work daily. Privilege of taking us out to restaurants, yet we had to earn that by performing to the best of our abilities to prove we deserved it. He was even allowed free taxi, but we only used it once per week to go to and from the movies. Telephone allowance but called my siblings overseas once per month. He always taught us never to abuse the privilege. I remember my older brothers always wanted him to get a car so they could drive but he never did. Everything my dad stood for and believed in made me so proud of him.
I was enjoying my job, a clerk in the Underwriting Department; the department where all applications for Life Insurance had to be lodged along with the client’s medical to determine if the application should be approved or rejected. We were a staff of five, including the Supervisor. It also had the office of the Assistant Manager attached, where we would use as lunchroom and a photo studio; taking pictures at his desk as though we were executives, whenever he was out of the country. We were like a little family in the Company. Everyone brought whatever delicious desserts they made for the weekend and Monday would always be the day with the best lunches and desserts. Fridays we would walk around the town, since my job was downtown and have lunch at one of the buffet restaurants. The Supervisor and two of the other staff would always stay back since we could not all leave the department at the same time. The Assistant Manager and Supervisor were very simple, humble and pleasant. The both believed in treating staff with kindness allowing them to perform at the best of their abilities.
I began writing insurance exams. There were ten parts, every part more difficult than the previous with big thick books to study. I still did not like studying but was determined to make my parents proud of me. I successfully completed parts one, two and three. The company paid the expenses for the examinations and I would only have had to refund them if I was not successful. In our days there were no computers at the company, everything had to done manually. I dedicated myself to my job and did everything to the best of my ability, always getting the approval of the supervisor. In 1988, the Insurance Company bought computers and training had to begin for all staff. I did a computer course privately and gained all grades A.
My sister Lolly was planning her wedding and we were all very excited. The seamstress was sewing her wedding dress and we were planning a bridal shower. In those days we did not know of any games to be played at bridal shower, all we focused on was drenching her with water; that was pure fun. After finishing her Grade 11 exams and doing extra secretarial classes privately, she had opened her very own secretarial school. Starting with just one student, she diligently got dressed professionally every day to teach her student. After a while, her classroom extended from one to so many students, she had to teach morning, afternoon and evening classes. I was always so very proud of her determination to be successful at whatever she did and to do it to the best of her ability.
Her wedding was kept very simple with just family, her students and close friends; it was kept at the beautiful cottage where dad’s four children lived before migrating. Her wedding dress was sewn by a seamstress; satin white material with pearl beads. She was a very happy beautiful shy bride on her wedding day. My sister was getting married, everyone seemed to be moving away one after another, I felt sad but at the same time, happy for her. She was beginning her new chapter in life with the person she loved. After the wedding, the bride, her students and I, went on a horse cart ride around the town. Her wedding dress flowing in the wind and we were laughing and singing songs happily. Her students felt like part of our family since her classroom was at the lower level of our home. They all loved mom and complemented her on the daily tantalizing and delicious scent of the meals she cooked. Our kitchen was right next to the classroom, only a half wall divided the two. The section which Rudy and his family had lived in previously.
Met my husband Ned in 1988, we were both very young. He was twenty and I was twenty-one years old. He was tall, slim and very handsome. I think what attracted me to him was his shy and humble personality. He was not vain like most of the other boys. He was the cousin of Lolly’s husband and just out of a relationship that meant a lot to him. I met him whenever he brought my brother-in-law over and we began talking. We started as just friends chatting, then felt attraction towards each other. After dating for six months, he brought home his mom and asked my parents for my hands in marriage. I remember how surprised my sisters and parents were.
The weeks that followed were very beautiful. We went for daily drives, picnics, outings at the beach with my family and my favorite of all, packing the car with tons of goodies and heading to the drive-in movies. My first gift from Ned was a gold color watch for my birthday. Because we were taught not to collect gifts from male friends, I felt very uncomfortable and had lots of questions to ask before accepting. Three weeks later, I was given the Pink Panter puppet. That meant the world to me, so much more than a gold color watch. I hugged Pink Panter to sleep every night, he was so very cute.
The day came for me to meet Ned’s dad and I was very afraid since he always seemed very serious. Mom sewed a baby pink floral skirt suit for the occasion. His dad could not believe his elder son wanted to get married at the tender age of twenty. He had two sons, Ned’s brother was one year younger. After meeting his parents, it was time to choose a date, print invitations and plan a wedding. My parents needed time to budget their expenses in order to host another wedding and buy the wedding ring. I was being teased about the promise I always made to my parents when I was a little girl, of never getting married and to live with them forever, taking very good care of them both.
My dad spoke to Ned about responsibilities and asked the usual questions any parents would, about his job and where we would live. Looking back now I realized that we got married for the wrong reasons. He was in love with who I was, a person that would be the perfect wife and mother for our children and I was overwhelmed that someone would love and want to marry me. Because I was so skinny, I had no self-esteem or ever thought that one day someone would fall in love with me.