My aunt and God-Mother, Althea Jarvis-Buntin was born in Dominica in 1940.
Unwilling to be constrained by the absence of opportunity available to her in her homeland, Aunt Althea, whom I affectionately referred to as Nen, took active steps to free herself of the constraints imposed upon her and her siblings and embarked on her journey to Canada on the only ticket available to her at the time – the domestic ticket.
Nen – instilled in me the work ethic and life outlook which enabled her to arrive in her new home as a domestic and to leave and return to her homeland with her head up high – being fully satisfied that she had laid a solid foundation for the many others in the family who came after her.
Nen’s voice always beamed with pride when she recounted my answer when at the age of six or so she asked me what I wanted to be and I replied a lawyer.
Nen – instilled in me a thirst for learning. Very early in my childhood she encouraged me to read. I fondly remember compiling several issues of her Readers Digest magazines at a time for me to take home and read. I made it a point to read things that I was not particularly familiar with simply to expand my knowledge. I took a keen interest in a portion of the magazine which featured stories about various organs or parts of the body – which typically had titles like Joe’s Liver etc. I had read so many of those articles that I had at one point set my sights on becoming a surgeon.
Nen – ensured that my thirst for knowledge was not short-lived. She was a gifted teacher and motivator. I remember at one point taking a great dislike of taking a bath. She found a quick and easy remedy. She bought me a beautiful sailboat complete with a sweet smelling soap to spruce up my bath time. It worked. I enjoyed many a long bath with my new sail boat. As I grew older and encountered new people, new ideas, new cuisine Nen somehow managed to rid me of my bad habits and narrow world views. My habit of rejecting foods I was not familiar with ended. I ultimately became a lover of most foods and if not giving it a taste and a very polite no thanks.
Nen took a special joy and pride in bringing happiness and comfort to others. I saw this firsthand as a child growing up with her. She always made it point to get us two or three gifts. One was not enough. She always knew what gifts to get us too. I later saw the demonstration of her love and warmth spirit when I had the opportunity to live with her and Uncle Ken when I graduated from McGill U and was in search of a new life in Ontario. She enjoyed a large and varied circle of friends and she took great pride and interest in frequently entertaining. I recall meeting the late Dr. Liverpool – uncle Ken’s cousin and him taking me to a party at the late Edward Greenspan’s home. I recall meeting the noted author Austin Clarke at her home.
Nen was the mother I did not have. When I started dating she took a keen interest in meeting with and talking to me about my girlfriends. I remember her taking myself and a particular girlfriend for dinner in Montreal. She was classy, engaging and down-to-earth. She possessed a keen ability to read people. She carried herself with a sense of dignity and self confidence which allowed her to sit down and debate issues of the day with anyone, including one of my most argumentative colleagues, who now goes by the initials M.A.A.W.
Music has a way of colouring and making more vivid certain memories. Nen loved to sing Linda Ronstadt’s Blue Bayou. I remember it like it was yesterday. I was spending Christmas holidays with her in Toronto. She and Uncle Ken lived in an apartment on Neptune Drive. That song was a huge hit at the time. It played frequently on the airwaves.
Then and many, many years after Nen would often belt out those lyrics –
I feel so bad I got a worried mind.
I’M so lonesome all the time
Since I left my baby behind on Blue Bayou
Saving nickels saving dimes
working till the sun don’t shine
Looking forward to happier times on Blue Bayou
I’m going back someday
Come what may
To Blue Bayou
Where the folks are fine
And the world is mine
On Blue Bayou
Where those fishing boats
With their sails afloat
If I could only see
That familiar sunrise
Through sleepy eyes
How happy I’d be…
Another one of her favorite songs was “The Lady in Red” by Chris De Burgh. She often sang this one with the utmost of passion.
I’ve never seen you looking so lovely as you did tonight,
I’ve never seen you shine so bright,
I’ve never seen so many men ask you if you wanted to dance,
They’re looking for a little romance, given half a chance,
And I have never seen that dress you’re wearing,
Or the highlights in your hair that catch your eyes,
I have been blind,
The lady in red is dancing with me, cheek to cheek.
There’s nobody here, its just you and me,
It’s where I want to be,
But I hardly know this beauty by my side,
I’ll never forget the way you look tonight;
I will always remember and cherish the great memories. When I arrived in Canada from Dominica on the 8th of January 1972 – Nen threw me a dashing birthday party for my 8th birthday – (February 13th) – complete with party hats and noisemakers.
I will always remember the taste and aroma of her Christmas fruit cake. Until very recently, Nen made it a point of sending me a Christmas cake every year.
Nen taught me to love and be loved. She taught me how to look for and appreciate what really matters in a person.
It aches me so that you had to endure such suffering before you left us. However, after speaking to you just days prior to your passing I felt a sense of calm and comfort in knowing that you were at peace with yourself, your plight and your creator. I took great comfort in the reason and dignity you displayed in our talk. You acknowledged that your plight was all part of life and that you had had a good life.
I can not thank you enough for what you have done for me and indeed the entire family. You gave tirelessly and selflessly of yourself. I am eternally indebted to you. You are gone in the flesh but your spirit and my memories of you shall stay with me until I come to pass.
Rest in Peace my sweet Nen ! Rest in peace !
March 22nd, 2018