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Short Stories about life growing up in the 1950s to be serialized in Searchlight

Short Stories about life growing up in the 1950s to be serialized in Searchlight
Margaret Sullivan and Nelcia Marshall Robinson

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Two Vincentian woman have co-authored a collection of short stories which chronicle their childhood experiences growing up in St Vincent in the 1950s.

Nelcia Marshall and Margaret Sullivan have written ‘Almonds and Sunday Dresses’ in celebration of over 60 years of friendship, beginning in 1957, and the formation of the Margaret & Nelcia Foundation for the Advancement of Young Women.

The series, which will be published weekly in the Weekend SEARCHLIGHT beginning November 22, is made up of 21 stories and the preface. Each of the stories is illustrated with a sketch by Solomon Robinson, Nelcia’s son.

In the preface to the collection entitled ‘Miss Olive’s Gift’, the authors say the stories tell of their days of innocence, but also of life’s lessons as passed down by our Elders.

“They set boundaries of school, church and play. They exposed us to work and leisure, experiences implanted as indelibly in our memory as almond stains on Sunday dresses, when we revelled in pounding almonds after church.”

“Our lives were quite uncomplicated, and we interacted freely with the whole community, adopting our friends’ parents and homes, playing the same games as the boys, and with the boys.

“Our experience of courtship among the grown men and women was limited to our delight in attending the weddings of many, very often as Flower Girls and Cushion Girls. So when does this freedom change, and how can girls and boys manage it? Margaret and I were discussing an incident I had witnessed, and our analysis led us into the realm of male/female relationships,” Nelcia said.

“I was greatly grieved when Mr Williams beat his son Jeff for making a ‘sweet eye’ at our neighbour’s daughter, who lived in an ‘upstairs’ house. We understood ‘sweet eye’ to mean ‘I like you’, and used to practice winking at each other, imitating the adults. So why did Louise have to complain about it? We acknowledged that today, this can be called Sexual Harassment, but is it?”

Louise’s Father, who was the respected Sanitary Inspector for the District, told Jeff’s Father of his behaviour.

“I watched frozen, as Mr Williams, who was a big man, more than six feet tall, threw Jeff to the ground, where he rolled into the drain. Mr. Williams, then put his heavily booted foot on Jeff, took off his broad, heavy leather belt, and proceeded to beat him mercilessly. I will always remember the trapped look in Jeff’s eyes, as he roared in pain. Today, this harsh discipline is called Child Abuse, and it is.”

“I remember being quite upset at Louise for causing this to happen to Jeff. Questions raised by Margaret and I were ‘Did she think Jeff should not indicate he liked her?’ Was it a case of class and race? She was the Sanitary Inspector’s daughter living in an ‘upstairs’ house, and he was the son of a Farmer. In addition, his mother was a Carib.”

When Miss Olive introduced us to the “Love Seat”, one of the stories in the collection, it was the first time that we began to think “courting” would one day apply to us. As we reflected on this momentous experience to be, it was difficult to understand how it would happen. Those Parents we heard were either scolding children for being ’mannish’ as in the case of Jeff, or constantly saying to each other in reference to their teenage daughters ‘The girl come young lady, you know. I tell she keep she head on, and if any boy tell she he like she, he better write she Father a letter. Otherwise, if I catch she with any boy, I go mash up the broomstick ‘pon she”.

In those days, the man had to write the Father for his daughter’s hand. Those who could not write, would come to the Teacher or the Priest for assistance.

As “small donkeys, with big ears”, we were even more perplexed by what we had heard, because we were playing all the games with the boys all the time, and no one stopped us, much less rebuked us. It was not uncommon to see us hugging each other, or for a boy to hold his sister’s or his neighbour’s daughter’s hand, as we walked to school, church or play. So what was this mysterious thing that would change this happy situation. Today, we know that it was a combination of fear and love on the part of parents, that resulted in their hesitancy to communicate to their children on male/female relationships.

Parents wanted their sons and daughters to marry, but how were they to meet their future spouses if they were not taught how to relate with the opposite sex? It seemed that neither those adults, nor children knew of the developmental tasks of the adolescent, as defined today, and to which we devote a Chapter as the conclusion to these stories. One of these tasks is “Achieving new and more mature relations with others, boys and girls in their age group. Another important task is preparing for marriage and family life. Sexual maturation is the basis for this developmental task. Achievement of this task is difficult because adolescents often confuse sexual feelings with intimacy. Indeed, this developmental task is usually not achieved until late adolescence or early adulthood”. In the light of this, should legislation align the age of consent with the age period of a child which is 18 years?

It is interesting and instructive, that it was the Maiden Aunt Olive who introduced love and courtship to us through the Love Seat. The designer of that artfully made piece of furniture knew that the couples must meet, communicate and find out about each other, as well as each other’s home and family. The Love Seat also knew that boundaries were necessary – “You may only look into each other’s face and eyes and communicate – this is what is most important at this stage”.

Through our stories, Our Love Seat to You, we hope that those 10 years old and over girls and boys who read them, will understand simple pleasures, be curious and questioning, and learn profound lessons. Sit in the Love Seat, with your love, face each other, discover and understand perfections and imperfections, and if you choose to marry, glow on your wedding day, whether your bride’s dress is made from 5 or 50 yards of lace.

The collection is dedicated to “all girls and boys; our childhood friends, especially Jennifer Edwards and Joyce Providence Toney; and to our children, grandchildren and their descendants.”