Hopefully, most readers would know about whom I am speaking when I mention the name “Evelyn Hordatt.”
It’s pandemic time and the eulogies continue to flow, so names get jumbled and misplaced and forgotten in the midst of collective grief. And since there can be no hierarchy of sorrow, there are names and faces that mean nothing to many, even most – and everything to some.
So read “Evelyn Hordatt” as the everywoman of our time, representing so many things that can be good about us. On January 1, she would have turned 103. The virus got her as she lay quiet and alone.
There are those who note the culling of the vulnerable and propose some benefit from all of this for teetering, unviable societies incapable of maintaining basic duties of care, much less love and compassion for one another.
For, days short of 103, as Miss Hordatt breathed farewell there were those denying that our time had come for retreating “unresponsibility”—terminology excavated from antiquity by Lloyd Best to describe the endemic absence of civic accountability.
Indeed, the woman who became the landlady to newlyweds over 40 years ago, had taught us in the bottom flat that as dusk descended it was, like her early mornings, also time to rise and move.
All four-foot-something, umbrella and oversized handbag in hand, proud silvery hair and tiptoeing to close the metal gate, off to something called ‘Lifeline’ or to church to replace the flowers or to help keep them fresh and alive.
“Where she going at this hour?” we sometimes asked as she turned left, on foot, along Riverside Road in Curepe alone or in her 120Y. We did not always hear when she returned but would awake to “good morning” when she rose and greeted the sometimes-cantankerous neighbours.
Nobody probably keeps the morbid statistics, and the protocols urge anonymity, but Miss Hordatt likely saved more lives on those evenings (when she quietly closed the gate behind her and disappeared without explanation) than anyone else I have met.
So even when my credentials appeared (at least to me) to check out and meet the mark, I was reminded by the Lifeline respondent that my offer to serve would join the queue as either material benefactor or as “listener.” Not that fast. Not that fast, I surmised.
They were right. There are other roads to such service, including a journalism that spends as much time “listening” as it does writing and speaking.
So, what, in the life of a woman sworn to spinsterism, leads to all of this? The church? Girl Guides? The classroom? The teaching of teachers? The stern counselling of tenants unlearned in the ways of marriage? Donna, who became the child she never had?
The accolades of 1995 as a Hummingbird Medal (Silver) alighted on her tiny frame are today summarised as simply “retired teacher”—as if in Miss Hordatt’s life anything but her death would bring an end to the numerous tasks at hand.
Then, around that time (I cannot remember exactly when, and I can’t find the document), I was asked to write something in tribute to “someone by the name of Evelyn Hordatt … you may have heard of her.”
“What are you asking me? She is a hero of Trinidad and Tobago! Of Grenada! Of Jamaica! Of the Caribbean! Of the world!”
So, what, in all of this, is Miss Hordatt’s pandemic lesson? Her Mausica student, Joy Valdez, wrote in 2013 of her “compassionate soul.”
For Ms Valdez, the burden of compassion has value in excess of the gobbledygook of self-improvement texts and theology class. In Miss Hordatt, she saw practical application of the principle of caring.
Today, I spend some time on this and put talk of policy and official action and cynical indifference aside. It’s neither sermon nor classroom instruction. It’s a simple lesson that’s passes us by so easily at this time.
Had she lived and stayed strong, Miss Hordatt would have stared us in the eye and urged love and compassion. That would be her cry. That would be her pandemic lesson.