Chats with My Mom #5


I had to miss a weekly chat with the old lady. Work was rather busy, and so was she for some reason. We spoke for about two minutes; a brief prayer and I love you. But on Sunday we had our much-anticipated phone call, and an extended conversation. On my heart was my maternal grandmother. While my grandfather had three wives, all of whom had an impact on the wellbeing and shaping of his children, only one was my direct blood line. Camilla Haynes.

I have noticed over the years, that my old lady never speaks much about her, if ever at all. So, on Sunday, I finally broached the topic.

“Mumsy, tell me about nana Camilla.” I asked her while driving to work.

She was silent for a minute, I wasn’t sure if she had heard me, or was ignoring me. But sometimes the phone lines are a bit messy, so I waited.

“I don’t really remember her much. I have these vague images. Perhaps jumbled memories. We split up as a family when I was still very small. I regret not having a photograph to share with you.”

We survived…

We thrived…

We lived.

My mother had moved in with her grandmother, Ivy Fernandes after my grandfather had been found out in his philandering. His actions had caused my mother, then only three years old, her little sister Stephanie still only about a year old, and her eldest sister my auntie Jean who was two years older, to be living divided lives.

“How difficult was it for you to grow up without a mother or your big sister?”

“Its hard to explain. You didn’t recognize there was a void. Mama Ivy did her best. But we would go and visit her sometimes on our way to see my grandmother. We would see your aunt Jean on and off. But we were close as siblings up until mum died.

“What was your grandmother’s name?”

“They called her Baby Louis. I don’t know why.”

Baby Louis Haynes, I learnt from my cousin Deborah, was from either Antigua or St. Lucia. Deborah, the cousin who has always been big sister to all of us, has been doing her own due diligence, researching the archives, and communicating with a family I do not know. The dynamics of the broken household, my grandfather’s womanizing, and the secrecy, oh lord the secrecy, ensured that many of his progeny never got to know each other until later in life.

“What was your mother’s name?”

“Mommy was called Lucille Camilla Haynes, but everyone called her Camilla.” She begins to rattle off a story, which I had to interrupt. I needed to get out my note pad.  When mom decides to get talkative about her past, it was important that I get the information correct.

“What happened between her and grandfather?”

“It wasn’t until his last wife Adelaide moved in that I learnt of the details. Apparently, Alfred (my grandfather) was having another affair, and my mother came to Adelaide’s family home to speak with her parents.”

Adelaide is another one of my grandfathers’ wives, and the woman he eventually settled down with until his death. He swore that she was the love of his life, the wounded woman who had waited until he had grown tired of sowing his wild oats, married another and had several more kids, before finally making a decent woman of her. A love story for the ages apparently. But that would have to wait for another time.

“Adelaide had run off to her room, embarrassed by it all. It was a noisy commotion outside, as Camilla and Alfred got into a fight, and he shoved Camilla unto the sidewalk.” She continued.

“So, grandfather was a bit of a violent man?”

“Only when he was drinking.” She still defended him.

“Is that when you finally had to move in with Ivy?”

“Yes. I was only three, so your nana Adelaide is the one who filled in the details many years later.”

I am amazed at how my mother still has a respect for the women who raised her. There didn’t seem a hint of resentment toward any of them. She loved talking to me about Josephine, and Adelaide, as though they had been the fondest of times. Today, we would have called them home wreckers.

“Was she a home wrecker?” I decided I would ask.

“Not at all. Adelaide never ill treated us. She wasn’t to blame for my father’s behavior.”

Sometimes I bring out the activist in my mother. She believes firmly in a woman’s right to choose, and to live as her conscience dictates. But it was at odds with the conservative Christian that I grew up with, and who encouraged a walk of precept and principle. Marriage was sacred… permanent. But people change with time and experience. I would dig deeper into that psyche at another opportunity.

“What is your most enduring memory of Camilla Haynes?”

“She broke my doll.”

That surprised me. There was a trauma in there after all. A child who lost her mother twice, before she lost her permanently, and her most enduring memory was a broken toy?

“Why this memory?”

“It is the clearest memory I have of her.”

“Tell me more.” I pressed her.

“I had been fighting with your auntie Jean over this doll. Several men had come to take Camilla away, as she hadn’t been doing so well.”

“What was wrong with her?”

“She suffered with anxiety, and other mental health issues. She wasn’t coping very well with grandfather’s shenanigans.”

I waited for a moment, wanting her to tell the story without me leading the narrative. I could sense she was gathering her thoughts.

“She was strapped to a bed, and two men in white were getting ready to take her away. She called me over as she had heard the ruckus outside between Jean and myself.”

“Was she angry?”

“Yes, very. I could remember her being very displeased that we were fighting.”

“Then what happened?”

“She took the doll and snapped it in two, then said, you have no reason to be fighting with your sister now. I was so angry.”

“Did you see her much after they took her away?”

“Not much at all. I saw more of my grandmother Baby Louis.”

“When did Camilla die?”

“She died about six months before Mama Ivy.”

I could sense the lingering sadness. Robbed of the two women you call mother while still nine years old. A father that was never home, and strangers raising you. There had to have been some latent fortitude that rose to the surface, and an instinct for survival that shut out the hurt and pressed on with life. A hurt that would have been buried deep.

“Were you there when she died?”

“No. She was nearly buried without anyone being present. Auntie Jean was there. And mama Ivy barely found out the day of, as she was at the market when someone told her. She dropped her basket and ran to the cemetery.”

“So how did you find out?”

“Ivy came home, sat us down, and told us that God would take care of us now.”

“You never got to say goodbye to your mother?”

“We had said our goodbyes the day she broke my doll. I never knew her after that.”

Her big sister Jean was moved on to live with another relative in the south of the country, and Josephine took on the title of mother to her and her baby sister Stephanie.

“Children adjust quickly or never at all.” She tells me.

“We thrived, we survived and we lived to tell the tale.”

Camilla Lucille Haynes was survived by Jean Martin, Gloria Byng, and Stephanie Self. Three girls, who adjusted quickly enough.

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November 2021
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