One of the most stubborn, fiercest, glamourous, vain, charming, pain in the butt, generous, cranky, out going, beautiful, women I know died today in St. Martin. My aunt was 85 and had been living in a home since last year. We saw her last Christmas and she had no idea who we were, the Alzhiemers was getting worse. She still had that stunning smile, flawless skin and that incredible voice but it was clear she would not be able to live on her own again.
She was always a mystery to us growing up. She had great style and was very big on good manners. Unfortunately, she was also strict as hell. When we were younger we thought she was a major pain. She didn't have kids of her own and she cut us no slack at all. She would come visit us in the states for weeks at a time. We heard she was married once, in her early 20's, but it was annulled. No one in the family talked about what happened. She never remarried.
After my grandfather retired and left Curacao, she moved with her parents back to St. Martin. She lived with her parents, since back then single women from "good families" did not live alone. However, for her generation and culture she was pretty independent. She had a great job at La Samanna and traveled a lot. She had friends all over the place. I remember once we took her upstate to some amazing house near Woodstock to visit a family she was friends with. I guess they used to go the hotel all the time and kept in touch. When my parent's American friends went to the island, they would always look her up.
When we move from the city to the suburbs it was not an easy transition. We went from a very diverse neighborhood to one that was not. As an adult, I can appreciate the great schools, big backyard, nice town but at the time,I couldn't wait to move back to the city.
The summer of my 16th birthday, one of the worst ever, we were in St. Martin staying at my paternal grandparents. My aunt was ready to take us into Marigot, the capital of the French side. Before we left the house she looks at me, my brother 12, and my sister 6, and says "okay we are going into town, no acting up. Hold your head up high for you are a Smith" (not really my last name but yes she actually said this). We almost busted out laughing. Is this woman for real? My brother heard the word nigger on a regular basis, our next door neighbor had tried to get other people on the block to buy our house so we couldn't move in and this woman is saying hold your head up? What planet is she on?
We used to think she was snobby but actually she had pride. Why should she feel less then anyone because she was a black woman? When I would tell her about some of the stuff going on in school, she couldn't understand it. I don't think she could wrap her head around the America she saw and loved, and what we were talking about. She only visited. So her attempts to make us feel great about life and our history was met at times with sarcasm. (yeah right, next time I'm getting a beat down I will stop the racists by saying, halt! for I am a Smith) Sarcasm is not a trait that goes over well with West Indians.
We might not have realized it then but those trips did have an impact. We refuse to let other people define us and they gave us a broader perspective on the world. Okay...maybe she was a little snobby.
I just spoke to my parents. My dad said she looked really serene. He is glad she is not suffering anymore. The last few months were pretty brutal. He sounded okay but I am worried about him. Before my parents moved back to St. Martin last year, he was flying back and forth trying to get my aunt help. Other people on the island were calling to tell him she was not herself. He wanted her to come see doctors in NYC but two of my cousins (their mom was her sister) and one of my uncles vetoed that idea.
They were basically ripping her off. She was in the early stages of the disease and they took advantage. One cousin got my aunt to change her will, pay for expensive trips, etc. My aunt had built her own house, which she rented out and lived with my grandfather until he died. My uncle pretty much moved in. When the phone was cut off because of lack of payment, he bought a cell phone instead of paying the bill. He thought she should pay it. This man has two houses on the island, yet did not lift a finger to help his sister. My dad goes home and says this is not right, she is sick and they look at him like he's crazy. Now my uncle lives two houses up from my parents. They speak at church and that's it. He has never been inside their new home and it was really awkward seeing him at church last Christmas. They were a really close group of siblings until my grandfather died and one of my greedy cousins started talking smack. I hope for her sake, my mom does not catch her alone. My mom, like her fellow islanders, has a sharp tongue and will say what is on her mind.
I wish the last few years of her life had been better. I just have to remember she was a pretty incredible person who lived a full life.