The Last Of Papa’s Babies

Love Still Good — Chico De Barge

My great-aunt, 99 years old, died this afternoon. She was old, and God at last remembered he had left her here, and took her to orun. She was the last of Papa’s childern. All the others have gone now, and she like Papa lived a long life.
I am sad, but not broken up; maybe more tears will come. I loved Auntie Olga, I loved her and she was a character to be sure. Quiet, unassuming, stoic and strong. Even though her body grew old, her mind was remarkably sharp and she made pointed statements that cut through to the heart of things. She also had wickedly naughty sense of humour, and when she used to go out, she was a natty dresser. I loved her because she loved me despite my childhood hatred of her.

I wrote something about her some ten years ago as part of my writings for The Guardian when I worked there as a freelancer.

I’m digging out, because it’s no less true now.

By DELAMIKO LORD
Illsutrated by MARLON GRIFFITH

I LIKE elephants. For various reasons, but mostly because they remind me of my great-aunt Olga. Now even though I have come to appreciate her, it wasn’t always that way.

Auntie Olga came to live with us in the early 1980’s, because the family didn’t think that it was safe for her and my great-grandmother to live together alone. The family was worried about their failing health, so they packed them both up and moved them into my grandmother’s house.

When they came to live with us it seemed as though the world had been turned upside down. Everyone was bending over backwards to accomodate the two matriarchs of our considerably large clan.

We children had to be so quiet, it hurt. And we couldn’t eat this or that because the “two” needed it. Not to mention the fact that the “two” snapped at me all the time. I hated that they were there.

When Mama G died in 1982, the “two” became one. Everyone expected that Auntie Olga would die
shortly, because of the closeness of the two sisters – they had been together almost their whole lives. Because of Auntie’s frail health, they expected her to literally pine away.

However, as the months turned into years, this tiny frail woman stayed on. She made me miserable. There were times when my grandmother or mother would leave me in her care, and she would accuse me of being evil and trying to kill her and my grandmother, because we were loud and rambunctious. She was mean. I also felt that she usurped my grandmother’s attention, leaving very little left over for me.

Later it was explained to me that Auntie had never had children, and she had a hard time relating to them. War had been declared between Auntie and me, and although the mere fact that I was the younger, and doomed to lose, never daunted me.

I’d do things to make her crazy, like wash the plate I ate on, but not quite, so when she went to check to see if I had done it properly she would mutter to herself, and wash the plate over. It worked for spoons and knives too! I would steal the toilet paper from her bathroom, just to make her ask for a new one. Most of all I was very rude.

I’d call her a hag. And during the first few years that I lived there, I would ignore her, pretend that she didn’t exist. Although my mother and my grandmother would punish rne for it, I would stilldo it.

This war between us went on for years until I started to notice little things about her. Like, she’s woken up at 5 o’clock every moming for her entire life, and she prays three times a day. She cooks for everybody, and even though she has very bad arthritis, still manages to sweep, dean, wash. All this despite her fraility. She even broke coconuts.

My deep resentrnent of her had faded into grudging admiration, and then into respect. She feels tte same way about me as well. She no longer snaps, though she occasionally grumbles to herself “These blasted children…”

Elephants live for a long time. Even though they suffer from many of the ailments of old age, they can be cantankerous, and mean, but they are gentle as well. And when they walk, every step is
measured. They go slowly, and watch where their feet fall. They look purposeful, as if they know exactly where they are going.

Just like my great-aunt Olga.

First published in the Sunshine Magazine (kiddie magazine) in the Sunday Guardian November 20th 1994.

You know, in the end, we had a little game we played. She was house-bound for most of the last twenty years of her life, and I had left home at 19, so we saw each other infrequently. However, when we’d see each other, we’d stick out our tongues at each other and pull faces until one of us laughed. It was something just between us.

In the end, despite our difficult relationship when I was a child, she became a great supporter and my memories of her are all good. The last year or so she was a lived, she lived in the government nursing home, so when I went back to Barbados I went to see her with my mother.

She looked even more frail than usual; she’d lost so much weight. They’d told me that her mind had started to go. I don’t believe it though, I think she just lost that iron control she had on her tongue and the things, deep secrets that shocked everyone to hear, just slipped out.

I cried the first time I saw her in the nursing home, because I knew how she must have hated it. This woman who knew where every pin was in her room, who lived an orderly organised disciplined life. Yet, she recognised me, and kissed me and cried when she saw me, happy. We played our tongue sticky out game and pulled faces at each other….

Ahhhh….. Olga, the last of Papa’s babies to go.

I was planning a feast for my Egun for tomorrow, and now I guess I know why.

She goes on the list of honoured dead.

Ibae Se Olga Bellerand-Woodley! Mafererun Egun! Ase, Olga! Ase, Ase, Ase!

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