Chats with my Mom #6

Nennen – Godmother.

1951 was a turning point. She had become a mother; she was also expecting her second child. Later that year, nearing Christmas, my grandfather asked permission of his children to marry his ‘one true love’ and his longtime friend Ms. Adelaide. It is at this stage in my mother’s story, where she holds her tongue. She chooses her answers carefully. She is hesitant, then deliberate in her responses to specific questions.

There is a gap. Of about two or three years, which she has extraordinarily little to speak of. The absence of a mother, the absence of a father. Three teenage girls and a couple little brothers, alone most days, and one could only imagine what they got up to. There were the adults who tried to play the part; aunts who would have tried their best to fill the void after the departure of my grandfather’s second wife Josephine. There are questions I deliberately avoid asking. Questions that I know she would never answer, as it would involve her betraying her siblings, and she is fiercely determined never to undermine their trust, so I skirt around the issue.

“Who was Nene?” I was curious about the woman all my older siblings knew.

“They were all known as nennen. But Adelaide was the one everyone knew.”

Adelaide Dyer – Nennen – Godmother

The anchor of the family.

I have on occasion as a child, overheard my father’s side of the family switching into creole conversations, as the subject matter was not meant for my juvenile ears. The older generation seldom used the language, except when around close friends, or when they needed discretion. Nennen, is the creole word for Godmother, and my mother was blessed with two, Josephine and Adelaide. The latter, Adelaide, God rest her soul, was always a part of my grandfather’s life.

Pa Dyer had gotten engaged to the lovely Josephine while on one of his trips abroad to the islands. He had returned to Trinidad for a brief visit when he discovered that Adelaide, his long-time sweetheart was pregnant with Little Jean. His heart wanted to be with Adelaide, and he felt divided because of the news. But Adelaide had made the decision easier for him when she gave her blessing. It would have been unfair to Josephine.

“She is the mother of your aunts Jean, Bernadette and Joslyn.”

I have two aunts named Jean. One I am familiar with affectionately known as Big Jean, because she is the eldest sibling, and little Jean, who is the daughter of Adelaide. They are the side of the family, that I only see on social media. My older siblings are familiar with them though and share stories about them if I ask.

“Was Adelaide a big part of your life?”

“Though she was a permanent fixture in Pa Dyer’s life, it wasn’t until about two years after Josephine died, that she came to live with us.”

“How did that affect the dynamics in the home?”

“We had been used to being a rebellious bunch. A home with not much adult supervision, we had grown accustomed to being independent, running the house how we wanted, and living the way we chose. We were children. Pa Dyer had his hands full.”

It was 1952 when Adelaide had finally moved in. The head of state, King George VI had just died, and the nation was now preparing to sing God Save The Queen. When Adelaide arrived, it was a God send for my mother and her sister. By then she was already expecting a second child, and Adelaide functioned as a go-between when Alfred Dyer was ready to put her out.

“She was influential in shaping the way I raised my children. She had intervened in my first pregnancy, saving me from the wrath of your grandfather. I was only a fifteen, still a child really, and Pa Dyer was not about to have a pregnant daughter under his roof.”

“Was he angry?”

“He was fuming. He had expectations of his daughters, and we had let him down.”

“You say we. Were you all problem teenagers?”

“Nothing of the sort. We were just kids who got up to know good when the adults weren’t around. He had already asked your auntie Jean to leave the home when she became pregnant with your cousin Michael. It was selfish of him, and looking back, he was hasty. Jean had always looked out for us. She was strong, fiery, always spoke her mind, and was and still is, the protective big sister. Pa Dyer was more worried about what people would think. It hit me quite hard when Jean left.”

In my mind I was criticizing my grandfather. You drank like a sailor, had kids all over the place, was never at home to supervise your children, yet expected them to live sheltered, protected lives. But I promised I will not judge the man, nor the people she tells me about. My mother had her first child at sixteen. The result of her dalliance with a family friend and neighbor, who had taken up lodging in the home. The man who would eventually become her husband and father to her twelve children was not someone Pa Dyer approved of. He was much older, perhaps a drinking buddy, and it was a betrayal of his trust.

“He had broken off our relationship when he found out. Determined, as he put it, that I was to a be a nun. It was wishful thinking. I became pregnant mere months later and Adelaide spoke with me, then your father. Negotiating a tense truce.”

The old lady does not say much about what she and her siblings were like at that time. Only to tell me that Pa Dyer became more violent, taking out his frustrations on my aunt Stephanie, and my cousin Randolph. They must have been the typical teenagers, wild, carefree. He drank more often, coming home later than necessary.

“Was Nennen the anchor the household needed?”

“Pa Dyer knew we were all women already. As much as he hated to admit it, we had to grow up quickly, and became women long before we were ready. But we were the little women who ran his home. He was polite to consult his children. He asked our blessing as it were, and there was an initial hesitancy, but eventually I signed off on it. Adelaide changed things; the house became a home. We needed someone who understood what young women were going through. He had no clue how to manage us.”

“What is your most endearing memory of her?”

“She laughed a lot. Was always full of advice and never judgmental. She was such a great soul always looking out for us, that she would be easily offended. She was the perfect balance that my father needed her in his life… maybe what we needed as well.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

November 2021
%d bloggers like this: