Occasional Essays
June 29, 2007

Chateaubelair and Aunt Rose

Last month I attended the funeral of my oldest friend. She was Rosabelle Cruickshank (Aunt Rose) who died at the great age of 101. We had been friends for over 50 years. I had gotten to know her purely by chance. At the end of my first year in the Grammar School, my grandmother with whom I lived had sent me to Chateaubelair to holiday with my aunt who was pastor of a Pentecostal church there. Aunt Rose lived diagonally opposite her and the two were great friends. Soon I was eating at Aunt Rose’ house as well as that of my aunt.{{more}} I would accompany Aunt Rose to her farm in a small procession lead by her donkey with me bringing up the rear. When we finished ‘A’ levels four of us boys walked around the island. In Chateaubelair we stayed in the school and were fed by Aunt Rose. Only the other day Castine Quashie reminded me that on that trip we were very hungry as we trudged through Windsor Forest. We had grossly underestimated the time it would take to get from Chateaubelair to Fancy.

Later, when I was the economist in the Planning Unit, my office was next to that of Mr ‘Chippy’ Browne. Aunt Rose would come to collect the money for the nutmegs she had sold to him and she would drop in to see me. Then, when I was responsible for the Land Settlement Estates I would visit Richmond and call in to see Aunt Rose. Even when I was abroad and visited home I would go to Richmond and on my return pass in to see Aunt Rose. This lead to a hilarious situation. Aunt Rose lived off the main road and as I turned the car to go there people sitting on the nearby bridge would shout ‘wrong road’. Only after I had parked the car in front of Aunt Rose’ house would they realise that I knew where I was going.

Chateaubelair has changed much since I first met Aunt Rose. Even the way we get there has been transformed. In those early days there was no motorable road to Chateaubelair. One had to go there by launch. Two of these, Vida and Eric, were owned by Mr Sam Slater, whose house in Chateaubelair was not far from Aunt Rose’s.

Sam had been a Minister in both the Government of the Labour Party and that of the PPP. Many use politics to enrich themselves. Not so with Sam! It impoverished him. So touched was I by this that I pleaded with Mr Cato, never a self-server, to introduce legislation to provide pensions for politicians. To my chagrin Sam died before the legislation became operational.

The launches were manned by people with well- known North Leeward names, such as Audain, Dennie and Providence. After all those years I can still remember the instructions that rang out as the launch approached the various jetties on the Leeward coast: ‘Check her, back her, stop her.’

As in the rest of St Vincent, the housing stock at Chateaubelair has improved, there are cars and minibuses parked on the road, mini supermarkets and a restaurant or two have opened. I have never enquired too closely where the money to do all this has come from but I suspect returned migrants have played quite a role.

From Mrs Millicent Iton’s excellent eulogy I learnt that Aunt Rose was quite a mover and shaker in her day. She was a pillar of the Methodist church for as long as she lived. She was the lady who baked cakes and arranged weddings. She was a money lender who helped people to finance their migration to England. She was obviously a smart woman for she grew nutmegs which are a high value crop and easy to transport by donkey in a place where there were no roads. Despite her simple lifestyle she died and left several properties.

I have on occasion, pondered how Aunt Rose contrived to live so long. In the first place she was a person with no spare flesh on her body. Secondly, as an unmarried lady she cultivated her own farm which meant that from an early age she must have developed an iron constitution. Finally she lived almost on the beach and must therefore have been able to consume a lot of fish, a diet known to be responsible for the longevity of many Japanese.

To her close relatives, nearly all of whom are adopted daughters, I extend my condolences. I do so in particularly to Hannah, who more or less devoted her life to the old lady.