Thursday, May 19, 2011
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.
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.”
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.