I am a Christmas person but since 2014 I have not been celebrating Christmas. In 2013, my baby sister, Rose, was diagnosed with cancer and she died in March 2014 at the age of 43. She was bright, beautiful and loved to laugh. Then in 2015, our beloved Angelo Bissessarsingh was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He passed away in 2017. He was the ultimate Santa Claus, and he too loved to laugh with a twinkle in his eyes. In 2018, the matriarch of our family, my mother, Theresa, died. No doubt anyone will understand how it felt—our hearts were broken.
Then, when I thought that all emotions were gone, there was the big flood of October 19, 2019 and my home at St Helena was in the middle of that flood. The water, really dirty water was about four-and-a-half feet in my home, and I lost everything I had cherished for 60 years of my life.
Apart from the pride of my Ashley furniture (orange to match my walls), it took items that were so precious to me—photographs of my family, all the little gifts my students had lovingly given over the years, my memorabilia, our documents dated before the 1800s—our life had gone in the sweep of two days. Twenty-seven loads of all we owned were dumped. But more was gone. On October 23 burglars walked through our house which had no doors and took my computer, my tape recorder and my camcorder—my professional life with all my research was now also gone. As the person, I had nothing left, except of course for my husband, John, my little family, my dogs and some good friends.
It took a long, a long time to put the pieces together...but I have discovered something extremely important—the resilience of the human being. While grief for all I have lost persists, I have learnt valuable lessons—lessons of love, friendship, giving and most of all, letting go. I look back on all the Christmases gone by and the memories are precious. The nostalgia of these Christmas remains and will always remain.
For instance, many people do not understand how very poor my family was in the 1960s and the struggle my parents faced to make ends meet with, at that time, three children. But my parents were special people. My father, who used to work at the Siparia County Council at that time, would bring home the remnants of paint from the County Council. Our house which had two rooms would reflect those colours—sometimes red, sometimes blue, sometimes various colours mixed. It was in our eyes a splendid house. Christmas was a glorious affair. My mother, who would pinch pennies to have goodies for Christmas, took groceries from a Chinese shop and she would often owe him (I wondered if he cheated her at that time), and I remember how he would take the balance owed on a piece of paper and stick it through a long ice pick he had. As she paid, he balanced it. She always bought a ham, some biscuits, some apples, and fruits for the cake along with 'sweet drink.' We would put this aside for Christmas, fondly looking at it but not touching, savouring this for Christmas day.
Then there was the house, always spick and span even though my brother and I made sure that we had no pillows because of our constant 'pillow fights.' Mammy, as we called my mother, would always buy curtains cheap and put them together with frills and bows well into the night. The tree, of course, was a branch from the cocoa, around which we wrapped cotton and the decorations were all lovingly hand-made. The holly or Christmas wreath was luxurious moss which we collected and tied around vines. We put up balloons and there you had the most splendid house that hearts could desire.
On Christmas Eve, the excitement was over the top. The ham, not Erin Food or Mac but one that had been cured for aeons and wrapped in a burlap bag. This was put in a pitch oil tin, placed on wood in the year and boiled and boiled and boiled. It was delicious. The cake, which we all took turns at mixing, perhaps half a day, was then placed in a tin oven and placed on the stove. I can still remember the smell. Then the big cock in the yard had to go—run him down and then pluck and gut him for Christmas day.
We did believe in Santa Claus and we did believe in God. We still do. The Presbyterian Church would have their carollers and they would come through the wet to our tiny house and grace us with so many carols. They may even have gotten a bit of ham and sorrel for all that work. I am so grateful for my mother and father since they did instil that love for Christmas and goodwill to all their children and their grandchildren. As I reminisce now, I remember the small dolls she bought for my sister and me, and the gun for my brother Davis, and hid them in a sock along with three little cakes she had cooked without us knowing, and an apple. To me, I feel so sorry for the modern gifts given to children including IPads and Tablets. What we got back then were truly gifts of love.
These memories I shall never forget. I may have lost my beloved family members, I may have lost a lot of possessions, I may have lost dear and close friends, I may have lost my beloved dogs, but the nostalgia of the past Christmases have remained and are memories which I will cherish. This year I will be celebrating Christmas and I know that those who have lost their loved ones, on reading this, will know that while the pain lingers the memories are what will remain and which are cherished.