Friday, April 18, 2008

A working love for 2008

Mom celebrating her 80th birthday with grandchildren (l-r) Anita, Noel, Patrique and Danya (Angelo, a US Airforce Sergeant, was unavoidably absent).

(a Tribute to my mother the amazing Maisie Lowrie, on the occasion of her 82nd birthday)

In this Jamaica, where Bob Marley wrote the song of the millennium, One Love, we are still not understanding this powerful word. If we did, we would not be losing so many of our children to guns and gangs. In the New Year, we need to use new words for love, so we do not hide from the work that it requires.

This work has given the world high-achieving countries and peaceful communities. This work was done by men and women who put partisan politics aside, and by community groups with a passion to empower their fellowmen. We, who have been blessed with good parents, have the responsibility to do even more for those who have grown up in a wasteland of lovelessness.

Today my family celebrates the 82nd birthday of my mother, Maisie Lowrie, a woman who lovingly worked for family and community. Widowed with four children, aged six years to seven months, she set up her little house and shop with assistance from her mother, in the heart of Savanna-la-mar, Westmoreland.

Although she was sent only to elementary school, she constantly drilled into us the importance of a good education. She wrote in large letters and pasted on the wall, two motivational ditties: "Good, better, best" and "Labour for learning".

There was only one day that Mom intentionally kept us home from school. My sister and I had filched three pence from the shop till and we were discovered. That was our Armageddon! We were installed at our usual sweetie/cigar area - and every customer was told about the "ingratitude" of these "fatherless children" for whom she had toiled so mightily to send to "the good Catholic school on Lewis Street". It was all true - she had actually bartered her sewing skills and grocery deliveries for our school fees. After that day of disgrace, Mom's children have been described as "honest to a fault".

We had become such fixtures in the Savanna-la-mar library that when Miss Ottey, the librarian, heard that we were "migrating" to Kingston after our mother remarried, she had a dinner at her house in honour of her most avid little readers!

Arriving in Kingston, suddenly the wife of an upwardly mobile accountant, Maisie now had a partner that shared her zeal for fulfilling the potential of their children. Our little house in Pembroke Hall should have been a brief stop in my new dad's meteoric rise after becoming a chartered accountant. But illness incapacitated him and he was confined to a wheelchair.

We have no idea how they did it with dad in and out of hospital (to this day the names of Howard Aris and Sir John Golding are spoken with reverence in our house). Once more, we became poor, but our parents would not compromise on our education. They insisted on not only sixth form, but also university education for all four of us, as we helped in dad's home office and worked part-time. Mom raised chickens and sold eggs as well.

Our school reports were filed in chronological precision by our father. Poor marks would bring tears from my mother - tears! The sentence familiar to many humble Jamaican children was oft repeated in our house: "We have nothing to give you but your education - take it!"

In Big Bridge, Westmoreland, little Maisie grew up in a family of farmers and fisherfolk. She remembers waking at four o'clock in the morning to prepare lunch for her father, mother and seven brothers who would leave at dawn for their rice field bordering the Cabarita River. Without the utilities we take for granted today, she washed and ironed their khaki suits, kept the house and yard clean.

Her dad, Joseph Williams, was an elder in the Presbyterian Church and had nightly Bible readings with his daughter. She taught Sunday School and under Mrs Swaby, learnt and taught baking. She and her sister Ivy (who sadly died this month) also attended sewing school.

Mom continued the tradition with us. By then we had converted to Catholicism and we said the Rosary, a total of 67 prayers, each night. As she was raised, so she encouraged us to work for the church. Thrift was a watchword in our house. Bank accounts were opened for each child, and though we could barely reach the counter at Victoria Mutual, we had to make our own regular deposits.

After our dad passed in 1977, Mom threw herself into church activities. She is a special minister at Our Lady of the Angels Church, still driving and taking the Blessed Sacrament to her shut-ins each Sunday. Relatives know that they must buy tickets for her church fund raisers - COD! She glories in her grandchildren and great-grandchild, and enjoys the camaraderie of her dear church sisters. A gifted baker, she made all our wedding cakes. Yesterday she was decorating her own birthday cake!

Earlier this year my mother drove herself to the bank, and just after she re-entered her car, a man jumped into the passenger seat beside her. "What are you doing in my car?" she asked the man. Then she proceeded to tell him about her faith. "You are a woman of God," commented the man. Before suddenly leaving her car, he pointed to her untouched handbag, and shouted, "See you bag there!"

My mother calmly proceeded to the supermarket at the other end of the shopping centre, and later when I made my nightly call she said, "By the way, guess what happened to me today." With my knees suddenly turning to jelly, I begged her not to drive anywhere alone again and she repeated the words that have become her motto: "I am a woman of faith, not of fear." We are humbled by her courageous journey that we hope will continue for many more years.

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