Thursday, May 19, 2011

Shirley’s Smile

This past week marked the one year anniversary of my sister’s funeral. It was a year ago last month that Shirley’s constant smile was taken away from us.

It’s hard to remember a time when I didn’t see that smile. She was a warm personality. I had four sisters, all with defined and distinct personalities. Shirley was clearly “the social one.”

The best way I can describe her is as “the hostess with the mostess.” Shirley was usually at the epicentre of any gathering that took place and most of those gatherings took place at her house. Her home always seemed to be open to visitors. Even right to the end, before she went into hospital, whenever I dropped by, there always seemed to be someone there.

Shirley got married when I was just four years old. Even though my sister was a smiling beautiful woman, that day was a moment that even exceeded her cheery disposition. That was the day she wed the man she would be married to for the rest of her life . . . 48 years.
For as long as I can remember, Shirley and Bertie always had a gathering of some kind at their home. Food was always consumed. Games were always played. Laughter was always heard.

Shirley loved to play games. There was a period when we played canasta into all hours of the night, but her passion was wordplay. She liked crossword puzzles. You could find old crossword puzzles from now defunct newspapers stashed away in corners of her house.

But anyone who knew Shirley knew how much she loved to play Scrabble. We spent hours and hours and hours and hours playing Scrabble. Actually, to be perfectly honest, we spent hours and hours and hours and hours waiting for Shirley to play a word!

She would take her seven little tiles and constantly rearrange the letters and then stare at them for a bit. And then maybe she would pick up three or four of them and lean in, to place them on the board – her opponents also leaning forward to see what gem of a word she was about to display. In mid air she would freeze. Sit back, return the letters to their original place and ponder some more about what her word would be.

There would be a sigh from everyone around the table. Shirley would just giggle. Most people use an egg timer to play Scrabble. With Shirley, you needed a calendar.

Shirley’s life, like her Scrabble play, was meticulous. She was a proud Barbadian who went to Queen's College. As her professional life began, “Miss QC” worked at Bell Canada, then for 25 years at Naval Engineering before retiring.

During that time she also went back to school and got a degree in library studies. She was driven that way, always working to improve herself.

Retirement didn’t slow her down. She was the secretary at St. Lawrence Anglican Church and she also taught Sunday school.

But there was always time to socialize, whether it was church functions, or Barbados House, or even back further in the day as a member of the Sepia Girls’ Club at the Negro Community Centre.

Shirley’s bubbly personality and her strong faith were always a positive force. And one of the things that was so marvellous about her was that positive force always shined through, even at times of extreme adversity.

Shirley had two daughters; Cheryl, her oldest, and Rosalind, who sadly, isn’t with us anymore. She passed away on July 17, 1990.

Rosalind was born with the double whammy of being mentally handicapped and with cerebral palsy. Children born with these afflictions rarely make it into double digits, age-wise. Many families who have children like this have difficulty coping and often reach a point where their children are institutionalized. As far as Shirley & Bertie were concerned, this was not an option for the girl they called “Precious.”
With the same meticulous style, strong faith, love for her child, and yes, those warm social skills that she was known for, Shirley took care of her daughter and Rosalind lead as content a life as was humanly possible. The end result; she lived to almost twice her expected age, reaching 18. The love she showed for “Precious” spoke volumes about who Shirley was.

She played her favourite games. She enjoyed her favourite music. She never failed to sing along with a Merrymen or Platters tune and she could Dollar Wine with the best of them. She was the life of the party. If you had ever seen any of her photo albums, and they contained hundreds of pictures, you would notice that clearly fun was always being had by all. She may not have travelled the world or gone to the “hep” social events of the day, but she lived life to the fullest. And she always had that smile.

That’s why I didn’t shed many tears during the weeks of her bedside vigil, at her passing or at her funeral. After all, it just wasn’t Shirley’s style. Rather than cry for what we’ve lost, it was better to smile for what we had; for having Shirley. And if there were any tears, they were tears of joyful memories.

It was at her gravesite before she was laid to rest with her daughter, that I instructed the cemetery to open her casket one last time, so that family members could each place a Scrabble tile next to her now stilled heart. Shirley wasn’t going anywhere without Scrabble.

Everybody was saying goodbye to someone dear. With such a social character as Shirley, many lost a friend last year. My other sisters Joyce, Yolanda, Jennifer and I lost a sibling. Cheryl lost a mother. Jordan & Damica lost their Grammy. Bertie lost his wife and soul mate of nearly half a century.

But on April 25, 2010 one person actually gained. Rosalind Carole Goddard was reunited with her mother. I know that now that Rosalind has her mother back they are laughing together, as they always did. I hope that Rosalind has the patience needed to wait for Shirley to play her next Scrabble word.

I’ll always think of Shirley with her smile . . . and as a triple word score.
That’s the Stuph – the way I see it.

29 comments:

  1. Wonderfully written Peter. R.I.P. Auntie Shirley. Yvette

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  2. What a beautiful and touching tribute to your sister Shirley! I could feel her genuine character through your touching words! If she's anything like Yolanda, she must have been great! I feel your pain Peter! My sincere Condolences to you and yours. RIP beautiful Shirley!

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  3. Very nice, PAH. triple-word score.

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  4. Beautifully written Peter, she sounded like a lovely person. RB

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  5. Peter when we speak of deceased loved ones we keep them alive, so keep talking!

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  6. Lovely story about a lovely Lady. Your memories of your sister do indeed keep her alive for your family and your readers alike. Thank you for sharing.

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  7. Thank you Peter for your thoughtful words.......R.I.P. Mom & Rosalind. I miss you both.

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  8. What an incredible tribute to Shirley, Peter. I have many fond memories of your family. All those heartwarming times you mentioned made me smile, as well as the touching sentiment of the Scrabble tiles! ♥

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  9. Ramon StoppelenburgMay 19, 2011 at 2:12 PM

    "With Shirley, you needed a calendar." Great write up, Peter!

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  10. What a wonderful story Peter, She seemed like an incredible person, sister, wife and mother. And so are you for writing such a memoir of her life!
    In thoughts, Janet Manuel

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  11. What a beautiful tribute to your sister.

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  12. Thank you for sharing your beautiful memories or your beautiful sister with us.

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  13. Peter that is so beautiful and although i didnt know her, i can see she was a great asset to all who knew her, the world is surely missing someone special, and she will forever be in your heart and all who knew here

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  14. What a lovely way to celebrate your sister's life.

    Thanks so much for sharing!

    Kim

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  15. Peter ... you're so right ... celebrate her life ... what a wonderful tribute to your sister ... she was lucky to have you as a brother ...

    steve kowch

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  16. Peter this is a sadly sweet story of the essence of a being that lives in all the beauty and waking moments of your creative imagination, and which you graciously share with us. It is true! The spirit lives on even though the battered body goes back to dusty matter. I would love to see you immortalize this by extending this story to connect us with the beauty of all those lives whose spirits continue to enrich our lives in defiance of the still cold darkness of the grave. We celebrate with you.

    Clarence Bayne

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  17. Remembering the good times, when we all gathered at Auntie Shirley's home for holiday dinner. The boys would be down in the basement playing pool while the women would be upstairs laughing and preparing the feast.
    Those were some real good times.
    R.I.P Auntie Shirley

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  18. Aunty Shirley was a brilliant player at scrabble and I'm a better player because of her. I also remember Uncle Bertie, Aunty Shirley + Cheryl's relationship with Rosalind and the miracle Rosalind was along with her beautiful smile...I'm still telling the story! As a kid, Aunty Shirley made the best luches for me + my sisters! Thank you Peter for sharing your heart about your sister....my beautiful Aunt! Your expression & love for her has left great memories again + a smile on my face. Lots of love to you Peter!
    Jacquie

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  19. Peter, thanks for sharing this charming and beautiful portrait of your dear sister Shirley. I met her acquaintance at Barbados Association and I'm pleased to have had the pleasure of being in her company.

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  20. Words fail me. Thankfully, they didn't for you. Beautifully written tribute a warm and genuine person - which comes as no surprise given she was cut from the same cloth as you.

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  21. Your words paint a picture of a woman who loved life with simple pleasures.

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  22. That was as rich as the life of your dear sister you laid out for us Peter. XXX

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  23. Peter -- what a lovely, heartfelt tribute to a woman who lives on in you and your touching remembrance of her, and refusal to let her spirit die. Bless you -- as she was blessed, with such a brother.

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  24. It's uncommon that a person whose death takes so much away manages to leave so much behind. Shirley obviously left you with a wealth of memories, and the gift you give her is the gentleness with which you pass them on

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  25. This was heartbreaking and uplifting all at the same time.

    I've been fortunate that I haven't lost any loved ones in many years, but it was a reminder that I should cherish life, and cherish those who are close to me.

    You're truly blessed to have had a sister of such strong character and faith.

    Rest assured that she's with god now, not dead but simply in another place.

    -Peace,
    -Brian-

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  26. Hi Peter.Your words and thoughts of your sister Shirley,trully haeartwarming.It was a sad day for all the family (including me a cousin)but we have sweet memories of her,that we will always treasure.May she rest in peace.Monica/Harold

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  27. A lovely tribute, Peter. Ot was nice of you to share the essence of your sister with us.

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  28. I appreciate that people can choose HOW they want to focus their energy. In an event such as life, most choose to morn. You choose to celebrate! :-)

    While it appears that Shirley made that an easy...and an obvious choice, its always amazing to see, hear and read what it was that touches off the celebration of life.

    PAH, you sir, with the powerful gift of communication, did a spectacular job in sharing...and allowing us who did not know Shirley, celebrate her life along with you and those who were fortunate to be touched by her.

    Thank you PAH...Thank you Shirley

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