Thursday, 21 June 2007

More About My Aunts

Since my last post I've been doing some more thinking about my aunts Sylvia and Elma. My Aunt Elma never seemed happy. I don't have one photo of her smiling. For example, here's a photo I found among my mother's effects, after her death. It's of my Aunt Elma, my Uncle Rodney, my Uncle Julian, my mother and my father. I'm not sure where the picture was taken ... it may have been at Julian's house on Dumphries Road, or perhaps at 11 Dunrobin Avenue.

The thing that strikes me is how serious everyone is, except my mother! She's smiling, and that's how I remember her ... cheerful and happy. And, as you can see, no smile from Elma! I remember her as being somewhat stern, with very little sense of humour.

There's a family story about Elma and a higgler who came to 49 Beeston Street to sell fish. (The term, "higgler", an archaic one as Olive Senior describes it in her Encyclopedia of Jamaican Heritage, is used in Jamaica to denote market or street vendors of various products, agricultural and otherwise.) This event probably took place during the war or shortly thereafter. Elma was particularly abrupt with the fish man and he looked at her and said: "But what a way yu eye blue! Yu is a German?"

And that reminds me of another story about higglers, this time about my grandfather, William Dey Smedmore. When a higgler came to the house selling lobsters my grandfather was not content just to make sure that the lobster was alive and kicking. Oh no! He got the higgler to take out all the lobsters, put them on the piazza, and the one that moved the fastest was the one he bought!

But to go back to my aunts. My Aunt Sylvie always seemed a bit of an invalid. She was tall and thin and sort of tottered around. Most of the time she just sat while Elma took care of the running of the house, dealing with the maids, the shopping, the meals, and so on. Maybe it was because of having the responsibility of running 49 Beeston Street that made Elma unhappy. She probably did it while my grandmother was still alive, and no doubt afterwards, until they moved away to Dunrobin Avenue.

As for Aunt Sylvie, well she eventually just faded away, gave up walking and took to her bed ... a sad way to end one's life. Sadly too, Elma developed dementia in her old age. Dementia is a terrifying thing to contemplate in one's family. Besides my Aunt Elma, dementia affected my great-aunt, Aunt Tess who lived with our family at 5 Holborn Road and who eventually had to be hospitalized because she was apt to wander.

The sad part about it is that my Aunt Tess had a responsible position as Postmistress at Montego Bay for many years, where she made many friends.

I found a few references to her in the Jamaica Gleaner online over several years. Apparently she had also been postmistress in Sav-la-Mar, Westmoreland, as a brief notice in the Gleaner of August 23, 1915 stated she was being transferred and that she was presented "with an address and purse by some of the leading residents of Westmoreland, among them being the Hon. W. A. S. Vickers, His Honour Mr. C. M. Calder and Mr. C. Lister Clarke."

Another item from the Gleaner of July 11, 1917, datelined Bog Walk, St. Catherine, mentioned that she had resumed her duties as local postmistress after an absence of five months. By 1928 she was in Montego Bay where she hosted a reception after the wedding of Miss Enid Sylvia Williams to Mr. Dudley Feith Wynter, at St. James Catholic Church. (I note that Father J. J. Becker, S.J. officiated at the ceremony and he was a very good friend of my Aunt Tess, who, though baptized in the Methodist church in Port Royal by William Parke Murray in 1874, had converted to Roman Catholicism in adulthood).

Finally, I found an item in the Gleaner of January 12, 1943, reporting that Aunt Tess had arranged a "splendid concert" in aid of the Montego Bay Christmas Poor Dole Fund. Contributors to the programme included Dr. E. Gideon, Mr. Shand, Mr. P. Collymore, Ken Coy, Lawrence Davidson, Daphne Davidson, Hyacinth Mallett, and Hope Davis.


patricia said...

Boy, they sure do all look rather glum except for Grandma! I don't think I've seen that photo for a very long time. I love the fact that Grandma is holding Grandad's hand. Nice to see that they were still affectionate after so many years of marriage.

Love the higgler stories, especially the one about the lobsters!

The family history of dementia is really starting to worry me...maybe I should invest in some of those brain games...

Ara said...

What wonderful stories, Dorothy. Your family members come alive with each new post.

Judith said...

What a mind-boggling experience - to come home and yet....

You have the knack to make the intangible real!

Anonymous said...

In looking for the word "higglers", found during my doing genealogy extraction for the LDS Church, I ran across your blog. Have your checked with for more names. I have done hundreds of births and deaths from Jamaica (1886 and other dates) and they have all been sent to for your perusal.
Jaquelyn D in Virginia

Dorothy Kew said...

I too have been indexing the LDS films and have been doing Jamaican genealogy for a very long time so I am familiar with the current FamilySearch and use it regularly.

Arras Memorial

Arras Memorial

Trooper Victor Dey Smedmore

Trooper Victor Dey Smedmore
My uncle Victor