Grim Reaper Working OvertimeBy Anthony Milne
FIFTEEN years ago I began to see that my own friends were getting married and my parents' friends were getting divorced. Today, the stakes are up. My friends are getting divorced and my parents' friends are dying.
Suddenly, within the last month or two, the deaths have been getting completely out of hand. My parents have been to a dozen funerals or more, two on one day last week. They, at 69 and 76, are the fittest people their age I know, and I expect them, without complacency, to be around for another 20 years or so. (So much for inheritance).
Yet they speak now of being, like their friends, in the "departure lounge". But death holds no fear for them because of the unwavering intensity of their faith in God, the afterlife, and devotion to the teachings of Roman Catholic Church.
"Once to dead," my father says fearlessly, "and after that the judgement." He is without doubt now and I see no reason he will not be the same when the moment comes at last.
MR BARKER of Point Cumana, best friend of Mr and Mrs Mayyou, my former landlords for many years, who is Mrs Mayyou's cousin, enjoys funerals immensely. Perhaps it is the religious ritual, or a means a preparing for his own moment. There must also be genuine sympathy for the bereaved and the opportunity to meet fellow-mourners he hasn't seen for some time.
Mr and Mrs Mayyou, to whom I too am related, are also funeral-goers. Social decency demands it, as does genuine concern for the fate of the soul of the departed and the emotions of close relatives of the deceased. Some people suffer really demolishing sadness with the death of a spouse or close relative. They need all the empathy they can be given.
The first thing Mrs Mayyou does each morning is look at the obituaries in the newspaper. If someone she knows has gone away, she announces it immediately, with concern, and sometimes surprise or relief. Careful note is taken of the time and venue of the funeral. Phone calls are made.
"Thank God he is gone, he suffered so much." "But I saw her only last week at West Mall." "How will Ermine manage without him?" "It's really for the best, child. He was a beast."
Less frequently has been the tragic snuffing out of a young person. Mr and Mrs Mayyou will have known their parents and grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, brothers, sisters with whom they mourn.
FOR anyone to whom it matters, it is important to understand the milieu in which Mr and Mrs mourn. Let me say right away that Mr and Mrs Mayyou are retired, middle-income, Roman Catholic, French Creoles. Like most of their friends they are conservative to the point of cliché.
They love their country and are determined not to leave, in spite of years of racial abuse from members of the public, academics and the State. 'They don't just want what we have,' says Mrs Mayyou's brother-in-law. 'They want our souls.' All along they have been the easy, sometimes fearful villains, themselves accused of racism.
Now, with the new Government, all that has suddenly changed. Who have been the real racists all along? Where are their cohorts from? Trinidad? Very unlikely. They are thousands of illegal immigrants from Grenada and St Vincent come to rewrite the history of the land where generations of Mayyous have lived.
Meanwhile, Mr and Mrs Mayyou and many of their friends are are generous and devoted to religious work for the poor. Disgusted by the state of public works and the state bureaucracy whose rules they faithfully adhere to, they pay no bribes but befriend sympathetic workers in the public utilities they depend on.
They are convinced that religious faith and action is the answer to Trinidad and Tobago's woes and pray fervently about it. They find solace and strength in their religious groups.
These are white and mixed middle-class Trinidadians, in the main, many of whom have lived quietly, working hard, raising their families and making their contribution to the nation. So far their presence has not been found to be illegal, and it will be most interesting to see whether they understand and will be able to take advantage of the Equal Opportunity legislation before Parliament, whether anyone will speak on their behalf, or whether they will be completely ignored or find the laws have become their death knell.
THESE are the dead: I begin with the most recent.
Hutch Camacho had been ill for some months. He was a longtime friend of Mr Mayyou, played football for Trinidad, and worked for a dry-goods firm for most of his life. He was someone I knew from childhood. He received the last sacrament from Fr Andy Morrison of Guyana, here to launch his book, who was staying with Mr and Mrs Mayyou. That was a blessing.
Gerard Decle was a man of business all his life. I was in the same class as his son in St Mary's College. Gerard, said Mrs Mayyou, hadn't "looked good" during the past few months.
Elton Crooks was a man's man. A close friend of Mr and Mrs Mayyou, he was someone I knew virtually as long as I know myself. He had had a serious illness for some time. He was best known as Trinidad and Tobago best marksman during the Fifties. He had successfully represented Trinidad and Tobago at rifle shoots at Bisley, in Britain, bringing home medals to add to those he had won locally. They were all stolen when a thief broke into his house.
Miss Marryshow, as I knew her, was once a neighbour of the Mayyous in Diego Martin. A big, polite woman, she trained as a nurse and was a matron in hospitals here. She was the daughter of the famous Grenadian trade unionist and politician Albert Marryshow.
Gerry Parsons was another oil man, in Forest Reserve, who knew the Mayyou's for a long time and played football for Trinidad in his youth. His wife and daughter are fairly well known for completely different reasons. Towards the end Gerry's mind went and his was a sad death.
Filo Santos was a car man. He sold cars and cars were his hobby. One morning not long ago he was driving through St James, felt unwell and pulled over to the side of the road. In no time it was over, despite the attempts of passersby to give assistance.
Martin d'Abadie, my age, died awfully in a car accident in Venezuela. I knew him when we were were children but hadn't seen him in decades. Martin was from a large French Creole family. His sister was once Carnival Queen. Some of the children were blonde and blue-eyed, some darker. Martin was the darkest of all and was called "Lal". The cruelty of children. Perhaps this had something to do with with his disappearing to Venezuela years ago.
Mr and Mrs Mayyou hardly knew Derek Locke, in his thirties, but Mr Mayyou knew his grandfather's brother. Derek was in love with one of the Mayyou's neighbours. After it ended there was an awful scene. Derek drove off shouting in with anguish. The next day we heard he had hanged himself.
Eugene Bertrand was a longtime friend of Mr Mayyou. They were at St Mary's College together, and Eugene was the Sixth Trinidad Sea Scout's first patrol leader. He was the father of the well-known Bertrand brothers. An insistently self-made man, he was frustratingly debilitated by a stroke. His faith helped shield him from the worst.
Sheelagh Marshall, another longtime friend of the Mayyous, died suddenly. It was her heart. She was the wife of Max, West Indies cricket official, who has since been forced to discover how to get through the practical little things of life.
Butty Quesnel was a real estate agent, never married.
Maurice de Gannes, red faced, unmarried, with a touch of effeminacy, worked for Carib and was one of this country's great comedians, though he never appeared on a stage as far as I know. Maurice was a great attraction at any party and a most considerate and helpful person. After he retired he did a lot of church work. One day he collapsed and died and he passed through the church door.
Basil de Gannes was Maurice's brother. They lived together. Just weeks after Maurice died their house burnt down. Basil's charred body was found crouched under a bed.
Etienne Majani was a French-speaking French Creole with a Corsican surname and French wife. He was in the coconut industry for years.
Junior FarFan was the the brother of Esmond. They were World War II pilots, then flew for for BWIA. The Farfans, of Spanish descent, are one of the oldest families in Trinidad. One of them took part in a coup against Trinidad's Spanish Governor 400 years ago.
Old Abbot van Duin, from Holland, once the man in charge of Abbey at Mount St Benedict, had suffered with his heart. When he retired he was succeeded by Abbot Hildebrandt, then Abbot Francis.
Mr Mayyou remembers Raymond Hamel-Smith, one of the countless Hamel-Smith lawyers. He was an outspoken barrister who lived in St Clair and was a Mayor of Port of spain. He eventually went into the travel business, then emigrated to England where he died.
Mrs Mayyou cannot speak of the recent dead without very sadly remembering Vaughan Salandy. She knew him only as a television announcer, of course, but like thousands of viewers was terribly moved by his suicide.
As we enter the last quarter of the year, Mrs Mayyou wonders how many more will die.
(Anthony Milne <email@example.com>, was born in Trinidad and Tobago in 1951, educated there at St Mary's College, and subsequently in Canada and at the University of the West Indies, St Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago. He has worked as a journalist with Trinidad Express newspapers since July 1981, covering politics, parliament and just about everything else under the sun.)