Oswald Brown Writes
By OSWALD T. BROWN
The loss of a loved one is always painful and although death is inevitable, the pain is not lessened by this knowledge when someone close to you dies, even when an incurable disease or old age prepares us for their exit from this earth.
The deaths of my grandparents, Ben and Mabel Elliott—first Mama and then Papa—when I was a little boy were my first experiences with the debilitating nature of this level of excruciating pain. And when my saintly mother, Violet Corinne Elliott Brown, died in March of 1991, the depth of my despair was almost unfathomable.
I was living in Washington, D.C., at the time and had just seen my mother a couple months earlier during my annual Christmas visit to The Bahamas and she seemed to be in very good health. So when I received the call on March 10 from my Aunt Maria Elliott Forbes informing me that my mother had died, I became limp and incoherent and simply lost all composure.
Even this experience, however, was not as emotionally gut-wrenching as the drowning death of my wife Enid, my African Princess, in February of 1998. Enid was from the African nation of Liberia, and we had only been married for five months, but over a period of six years after we first men in January of 1992 in Washington, D.C., we nurtured and developed an intensely loving relationship as well as a close friendship. Her untimely and sudden death still pains me greatly whenever I think of the wonderful times we shared together.
I felt this same level of gut-wrenching pain last week Sunday when I heard about the death of my Aunt Sylvia Elliott Ross, one of two women who were very instrumental in steering my life in the right direction during those formative years when young minds are so impressionable and vulnerable to inculcating life-long bad habits.
Aunt Sylvia was actually my first cousin. Her father was my uncle Clarence Elliott, the oldest of Ben and Mabel Elliott’s eight children; my mother Violet was the oldest of the four daughters. But Cousin Sylvia and Papa and Mama’s youngest daughter, my Aunt Maria Elliott Forbes, were around the same age and they grew up like sisters. Consequently, all of the other grandchildren who were left in the care of Papa and Mama while our parents were on “The Contract” in the United States or working somewhere else in The Bahamas grew up calling her Aunt Sylvia.
In addition to myself, the five other grandchildren were cousins Agnes, Beryl and John, children of Uncle Lee; my late sister Elthreada Brown McPhee; and my cousin Alphonso “Boogaloo” Elliott, a son of my late Uncle Audley.
The grandchildren of Ben and Mabel Elliott were fortunate to have two very gifted and imaginative persons like Cousin Sylvia and Aunt Maria as mentors and guiding lights growing up on the Western Ridge of Stanyard Creek, Andros, in the 1940s and early 1950s. Both were “monitors” at Stanyard Creek All-Age School, which meant that us younger grandchildren had the benefit of two “teachers” living in the same house with us. They both ended up choosing teaching as their life-long careers, and there are unquestionably many students in New Providence who can vouch, as I certainly can, for the fact that Maria Forbes and Sylvia Ross were two excellent teachers.
Both were also staunch disciplinarians, a trait they no doubt picked up from Papa, a no-nonsense deeply religious man whose influence in the community was probably not matched by any other individual in Stanyard Creek. Papa owned the “major” grocery store, small though it was, on the Western Ridge and our family compound also consisted of a “big” and “small” house as well as a separate structure that was used as a kitchen. Papa had a very liberal policy with regard to regular customers of the grocery store. They could “trust” things they needed if they didn’t have the money at the time and pay whenever they got it.
Whatever influence Papa had as a grocer paled in comparison to when he donned his cassock as a catechist at Stanyard Creek’s St. Rita’s Roman Catholic Church. The priest assigned to Andros generally made his rounds of the various settlements once a month, so Papa was responsible for conducting Mass most of the time. So we all grew up as very devout and committed Roman Catholics. Indeed, attending church three times on Sundays—morning Mass, Sunday School and Evening Mass—was the norm for the Elliott household.
Christmas at Stanyard Creek was especially memorable. The entire settlement got involved in seeing to it that it was an enjoyable period for children as well as adults. This was facilitated by a series of Christmas concerts by the various religious denominations, which gave the children an opportunity to display their budding thespian skills or singing talent.
Thanks to Cousin Sylvia and Aunt Maria, the grandchildren of St. Rita’s catechist had the inside edge for the top parts in the Christmas play put on by the church, and invariably John, Boogallo and myself were cast as the Three Wise Men or some other leading roles.
All of our Christmases indeed were wonderful ones, but there is one that really stands out in my mind. I am not quite certain whether it was Christmas of 1949 or 1950, but I was either seven or eight years old. Cousin Sylvia and Aunt Maria left no stones unturned in putting their imaginative skills to work and requested all of the grandchildren to write essays to Santa Claus asking for the gifts that we individually wanted and they encouraged us to explain why we felt deserving of those gifts. They told us these letters would be mailed directly to Santa, and depending on whether or not we were able to convince him that we had been good boys and girls, our requests would be answered.
On Christmas Eve, we were told we had to go to bed early, and sometime during the night, Santa would bring our gifts. I can’t recall exactly what I wrote for, but I knew it wasn’t what I got when I woke up the next morning. In a nicely decorated bag with my name on it there were all sorts or goodies such as home-made candies, coconut cream cakes and other similar goodies that more likely than not were baked in our own kitchen.
Inside the bag, there was a letter from “Santa” explaining that there was an overwhelming number of requests for the items I had asked for and he simply ran out before he got to our house. He said he would keep me in mind for the next year and urged me to continue to be the exceptionally good boy that I said I had been in my letter to him.
I was deeply disappointed, but my disappointment evaporated almost instantaneously when I opened a gift from Boogaloo’s father, Uncle Audley, who had recently returned from The Contract. As he usually did, he had brought back sets of new clothing and shoes for all of us. That Christmas Day we were probably the best dressed children in all of Stanyard Creek.
Memories of those wonderful, wonderful years in Stanyard Creek flooded my mind last week Sunday when I heard about the death of my beloved Cousin Sylvia. And the tears flowed freely, as they are now. She was much more than a cousin; she was a wonderful “mother” and role model. Her funeral service will be held this Friday, August 24, at 11 a.m. at Our Lady’s Roman Catholic Church on Deveaux Street. I shall really, really miss her.
To her children—Leonard Ross, Jr., Leonardette Ross King, Lenroy and Lendrex—thanks for sharing her with me. Farewell Aunt Sylvia. May your soul Rest in Peace.
PHOTO CAPTION: My Cousin Sylvia Elliott Ross is pictured at left along with myself and Aunt Maria Elliott Forbes (right) outside the Crystal Palace Ballroom, where we attended a dinner held by Our Lady’s Roman Catholic Church several years ago.