March 1, 2013

Mummy loved the Lord

Fri Mar 01, 2013

Delivered on the occasion of her funeral service at the St George’s Cathedral, Kingstown

on Tuesday, February 27, 2013

by Clare Keizer

My sisters and aunts join with me in thanking everyone for your attendance here today and for the outpouring of love and support demonstrated to us at this difficult time. The response by so many people to mummy’s death is not surprising, as many of you took the time, during her lifetime, to express to her, what she meant to you. We thank you sincerely for this. Please know that your caring and appreciation meant the world to her.{{more}}

How does one put into words, in a few minutes, what it means to have been loved so completely and deeply by one’s mother?

Norma Keizer was a quiet, gentle soul, but had a strong, deep, complex personality, which I doubt anyone has completely fathomed.

She accomplished much in her life, but with little talk and fanfare. Mummy communicated far more frequently and effectively with her silences than any lecture or raised voice. As teenagers and young adults, we knew the transgression was a serious one when we received a letter from her. When we let her down, the heavy weight of her silent disappointment was more devastating than any tongue-lashing or beating could have been.

As children, whenever we asked questions, she never gave us the answers; she would tell us to look it up. From listening to the tributes of her former students, I realize this is how she operated with all her charges. When approached for help, she never took over, but provided guidance on the approach, with reassurance that we could do it. What a confidence boost when success followed! And when we failed, she encouraged us to assess where we had gone wrong, and try again. You see, the first time mummy wrote the entrance exam to the Girls’ High School, she failed. She told us that instead of answering the questions, she sat at the desk and cried for the duration of the test. How different things would have been, had she not given it another shot.

Her expectations of us were very high. She hated mediocrity. Whenever we got involved in a project or activity, she would say, “If you are not going to do it properly, don’t bother to do it.” We often laugh about a comment she, as Headmistress, made in one of Andrea’s reports: “Mediocre performance for a student with ability”.

It is this quiet confidence in our abilities, over the years, which has given us the confidence to go forward boldly in our varying endeavours. She had a different relationship with each of us, but none any less precious than the other.

Despite being an attentive mother, she was never overpowering and made sure we developed a sense of independence. Those dreaded visits to the dentist were made without her at our side, and as soon as school closed in July, one of our first tasks each year, would be to, on our own, visit the bookstores to do price comparisons, prior to purchasing school supplies for the upcoming year.

From as early as six or seven years old, each of us had our names added to the daily duty rota stuck up in the kitchen. We took turns feeding the dogs, washing the wares, setting the table and on Saturdays, baking bread.

Despite a wide range of interests and responsibilities outside the home, Norma’s children were always her first priority. She was always at home with us. We never had to wonder where our mother was. Our home was a very quiet place, something our friends commented on when they visited. It was quiet because when she was not resting, she was usually reading, correcting papers or doing the timetable. She also spent a lot of time crocheting, knitting, embroidering, tatting, sewing, baking, gardening, doing floral arrangements – she was so talented and made it all look so easy. Auntie Shirley says everything she knows how to do, Norma taught her – gardening, sewing, floral arrangement. Mummy passed on her love for reading, craft, and baking to us as well, in varying degrees. Her artistic expression extended outside of the home and saw her assisting mas bands with research for their presentations and serving as a judge at Mardi Gras. She even took woodwork classes with Mr Horace Lewis at the Technical Centre.

She was a good investigator and had excellent observational skills. She heard everything, even quiet whispers from yards away. We sometimes wondered if she had eyes at the back of her head! When someone stole my book bag in primary school, it took Mummy less than one hour to locate it in the washroom of a neighbouring school. She told us she had a “sixth sense”.

She had great intellectual curiosity and we often marvelled at her ability to read, listen to the radio and watch television, all at the same time.

Andrea remembers Mummy as being a terrible driver, who once, when trying to reverse into the carport at home, backed the car straight off the driveway, through the hedge, on to the grass. We suspect that was the last time Daddy allowed her to drive, as Simone and I only have vague memories of her behind the wheel of a vehicle.

It may be surprising to many to know that Mummy had very few close friends. Those she had, she chose carefully. Her primary school teacher Mrs Viola John told me that mummy was always that way, preferring to sit and read in class, rather than spending her time chatting and playing.

Mummy closely guarded her heart and confided in very few persons. Among the handful of persons she counted as close and trusted friends is Pamela Hinkson, whom she met at Mary Seacole Hall, Mona, in 1957. Aunty Pam, who journeyed from Barbados to be with us today, said that as girls far away from home, she and Mummy were there for each other, something for which she will forever be grateful. They were study partners, and Aunty Pam said she practically lived in Mummy’s room. Another of Mummy’s friends from Mary Seacole Hall, my godmother, Grenadian Dr Gloria Mason-Thomas, who now lives in Antigua, says Norma was the one who got behind them to study.

Mummy genuinely loved our friends – male and female – and welcomed them warmly to our home. When she spoke of them, you would think they were her friends too. Auntie Shirley and Auntie Peggy attest to this as well. She embraced their friends as her friends.

Her sons-in-law Lennox and Glen never had cause to complain that she was anything other than warm and loving to them. She loved them as sons and never did a negative word about any of them pass her lips.

She was happiest when she had her family around her. Especially in her last years, when, for the most part, she was house-bound, her greatest pleasure was to have her daughters around her, just listening to us chitchat. Even as she lay on her sick bed, if we engaged in conversation and she couldn’t hear what we were saying, she would make a noise or call out to us, to indicate that she still wanted to be part of the conversation.

She was devoted to her grandchildren, and after being diagnosed with cancer last year, she shared with me how much she wished she could have lived to see them grow up.

Her grandson Shaka adored her, and in a poem he wrote about her a few years ago, he described her thus:

“My dear grandma Norma Keizer is as sweet, kind and soft as a stuffed animal in my bedroom and gentle and soothing as the breeze of the wind. She has a nice smile and tender, gentle hands, with eyes clear as crystal and ways pure as spring water from the valleys. My grandma is as caring, wise and understanding as an owl and generous and peaceful as a dove.” End of quotation.

But Mummy had a stubborn streak and did not like to be pushed around, especially when, in her opinion, an injustice was being perpetrated. When I was at Cave Hill in the late 1980s, she wrote me a letter expressing her disgust at what she saw as an attempt by some to reduce the status of the GHS and the Grammar School. She said the over-abundance of circulars from the ministry was causing her to vomit, but she was not going to quail, and would fight, because she knew the laws governing the GHS and the Grammar School. What she was expressing was perhaps not politically correct, but my mother did not care much about being politically correct.

The newspaper industry is a tough business, which can take a toll on one’s health if one is not careful. She was diabetic and hypertensive, and over the last 10 years of her life, she faced various health challenges, one after the other. In 2003, she went blind in one eye; that same year, she was diagnosed with cancer of the colon. After successfully battling that cancer, she began to experience pains in her legs and had difficulty walking. She also had inner ear problems, which affected her balance. In 2009, a few months before Daddy’s death, she fell while on a visit to the beach and broke her upper thigh. This excruciating injury necessitated hip replacement surgery. Learning to walk again was a long and difficult struggle, and we now realize she just did not have the energy required. In September 2012, it was realized that a slow growing mass on her right lung was malignant.

Although Mummy retired from active duty at Searchlight about six years ago, she remained a member of the Board up to the time of her death. She said very little in Board meetings, but listened attentively. When she made an intervention, however, we usually took her advice. I remember once we were discussing a particular proposal when she quietly said “Be careful with him, you know. He is a scamp!” Well, you know, that proposal was thrown out of the window.

Mummy was not a woman given to flattery or unwarranted praise. So, one evening, while driving home from Board meeting, when she quietly said “I was so proud of you at Board meeting this afternoon. You are doing a good job,” that meant a lot to me. You see, as long as I have known myself, I have wanted her to be proud of me.

And she was. She was proud of all of us, and we were of her. After the 100th anniversary celebrations of the Girls’ High School in 2011, she congratulated Andrea on a job well done, and just a few weeks ago, while on her sick bed, she bragged to Mrs Elaine Connell, Simone’s godmother, about how well Simone was doing in her studies in Barbados.

She loved all her girls, not just the three she gave birth to. In a letter she wrote to me on Valentine’s Day, 1986, she said, and I quote: “The schoolchildren demonstrated their love in many ways: cards, roses, lollipops and kisses. I love them, even the naughty ones!” End of quotation. When I reflect on the twinkle which usually appeared in her eyes when she spoke of “the naughty ones”, I believe it would have been more accurate had she said “I love them, ESPECIALLY the naughty ones.”

Her concern for the welfare of girls and women was not confined to those who passed through the portals of the GHS. Even though the netballers of the Bishop’s College Kingstown had legendary battles with her school, she was fond of the Bishop’s girls and followed their progress in life. In addition to this, former Commissioner of Police Randolph Toussaint said when he became commissioner, he realized the morale among women police officers was low. He said he contacted Mummy and every Wednesday afternoon, she would meet with the women officers to chat, counsel and teach, in an effort to lift their self-esteem and the way they functioned in the organization.

Her sisters Shirley and Peggy looked up to her and regarded her as their second mother. Mummy once told me the story about how Auntie Peggy came to attend the GHS. She said she, Norma, had just finished secondary school and had started teaching at Georgetown. She said Auntie Peggy, who had just completed primary school, came to her and said she wanted to attend the GHS. Mummy asked Auntie Peggy who would pay. Auntie Peggy looked her in the eye and said “You!”. And so it was.

Auntie Peggy said she owes what she has become in life to Mummy. When Mummy started working, the first order of the day was to use a significant portion of her $90 a month salary to move her family out of the rooming house they lived in on Back Street, to rented premises at McKies Hill. Auntie Peggy said things would have been very different for the family had they stayed at the rooming house. She said Mummy saved her from what she might have been.

Auntie Shirley says Mummy was both a sister and mother to her, who consistently encouraged her, reminding her that there is honour and dignity in honest toil. She said she would consult Mummy whenever she had difficult decisions to make, and while Mummy would tell her what she thought, she never made the decision for her. Mummy’s sisters, in turn, rewarded her with deep love and respect.

When I was a child, I hated my names – Clare Agatha. I found they were boring and old-fashioned. When I challenged Mummy as to why she had done me such an injustice, while giving Andrea and Simone, what to me, were more exciting, exotic names, she quietly said, I named you after the two persons I love most in this life — “Daddy”, meaning Clarence, and “Mamee”, her mother. Oh how she loved her mother! Granny was Mummy’s biggest cheerleader and supporter. Granny’s love for Mummy was completely sacrificial. When granny died in 1992, it shook Mummy’s world.

As for Daddy, she loved him like no other. So much so, she named two of her daughters after him. Andrea Clare and Clare Agatha. Despite ups and downs during their 49 years of marriage, there was never anyone else for Mummy. Right up to the time of her death, she was still asking for him.

We had excellent parents who complemented each other and provided a secure and happy home for us. While Mummy nurtured us and provided the structure, which guided our upbringing, Daddy was more indulgent and engaged us in activities outside of home and school. He was a bright, generous, loving man, who didn’t bear grudges. It was he who took us to church, to the beach, on drives to the countryside and on house-to-house visits with his friends. He was the chauffeur who dropped us at our friends’ house parties and picked us up at the stroke of midnight. He repeatedly reminded us of the need to work hard, as there was only room at the top. He loved to sing, dance, laugh and play the fool with us. He was street smart and was quite willing to confront any foe, real or imagined, who crossed our path.

He was also very proud of Mummy and supportive of her professionally.

We were truly blessed to have had them as our parents for as long as we did. Together, by the grace of God, they were able to provide us with an upbringing as removed from theirs as the east is from the west. We thank God for them.

And Mummy loved the Lord. Throughout her life, she had a quiet, deep abiding faith, which in the end, saw her accepting her fate and asking the Lord to take her safely into His arms. It is this knowledge which gives us comfort today and allows us to go forward, with the hope that one day, we will all meet again.

I thank you.