Saturday, April 13, 2024

56 years of wedded bliss

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Teenager Lucille continually spurned advances from the more mature Leslie Clarke. 
“I was at a funeral and he talked to me. He told me he would like to marry me and what’s not. But I dismissed that.”
Her mother soon received a letter from the same man declaring his interest in marrying her daughter.
“My mother asked me if I knew this man and I said yes. But I dismissed him.”
Lucille’s mother did not.
“She said, ‘no, come back here’. She get serious, and in those days when your mother serious, you have to be there, not like children now.”
Leslie, 44, had seen the woman of his dreams and wanted 19-year-old Lucille to be his wife. He told his future mother-in-law that both his parents had died and “he really would like somebody to marry to stay in his home to do for him”. He even invited Lucille’s mother to see his home, to reassure her he was capable of taking care of her daughter.
Thus began what has turned out to be an enduring 56-year marriage for the Clifden, St Philip centenarian and his 75-year-old wife.
In the living room of their home last week, Lucille discussed her marriage and their long life together with the Sunday Sun while her husband was taking his morning nap.
She chuckled as she recounted the events of the day parental permission was sought for her to get married.
“I was going to church and mother said, ‘No, you can’t go to church tonight, because Leslie is talking to me tonight’. She tell him everything concerning me and then he said he would like to marry me and he and mother get serious. Real serious.” 
That was February, 1955. Just after 3 o’clock on Sunday, August 21, the same year, Lucille and Leslie walked down the aisle of Mount Tabor Moravian Church in St John as husband and wife, after reciting vows before Reverend Cuthbert Pilgrim.
Even now, Lucille’s eyes light up as she recounts her wedding day experience and her joy at becoming a wife. 
“That was the first time I ever slept away from home, that Sunday night.”
The wedding reception was a big event in the small St Philip community. As was the custom back then, family and friends arranged long tables with benches under a tarpaulin cover for the feast of “pudding [cake], hands of bananas, baked fowl” and a host of other dishes which everyone contributed for the occasion.
Behind the euphoria of being married, was she really in love with him?
“Yes, because I really didn’t like nobody so then,” she replied.
Was she concerned about the 25-year difference in their ages?
“No. I did not think about it and up to now I don’t think about it because there was nobody else in my life.”
Rather, at 19, Lucille was totally engrossed in her job loading canes from the plot of land her father had rented from Guinea Plantation.
“In those days you left school, some of the children might go learn needlework, fancy work, servant work. I went and I worked at Chapel for three shillings [72 cents] a day,” she recalled.
She had gone straight from Fourth Standard (Class 4) at St Philip’s Primary to work in her father’s “ground”, taking the place of her mother who had suffered an illness.
Meanwhile, her husband toiled at the nearby Guinea Plantation, where he had started at age 16 and from where he had to be gently persuaded to quit at age 91.
Together this couple worked hard to build a foundation for the five children the union would produce.
An enterprising woman, she took advantage of an opportunity to learn to operate an industrial sewing machine when classes were being offered for the new industries springing up in the Grazettes Industrial Estate as Barbados was looking to diversify the economy.
By day she took care of homemaking duties before heading off to evening classes which enabled her to secure a job with Juman’s Garment Factory.
“I would work loading his canes to get 30- or 40-something dollars a week. But at Juman’s, as a first-time operator, [I got] only $16 a week. But the good thing then, you only had to pay 24 cents from here to town and 12 cents from town to Grazettes.”
She rose to supervisor at the company and when she was laid off from that job, she went home and engaged in pig and sheep rearing, while planting ground provisions and other crops to supplement her husband’s meagre income.
But Lucille is not shy to admit that she took the lead role running the household. Her reply to the question about Leslie’s hand in disciplining the children and other participation in the day-to-day running of the house was a terse “none”.
“He worked, he put the money there and that’s it. What the house wants, what the children need, he left to me. He just used to bring home the money and put it there.
She says the difficulties of the 56-year marriage have been mainly economic.
“I have never heard mother and daddy quarrel. Mother would get loud sometimes but daddy would leave and go up the road.
“Well, I came up here (to her husband’s house) and tried to do the same thing.
Sometimes mostly me might make a fuss, not Leslie, he is a very quiet person; but you don’t get nobody replying to you so you keep your mouth shut. So this arguing thing, we never got into it.”
And based on her own experience, Lucille offers this advice to young people: “If they are not serious about marriage, do not go into it.
“I don’t think I was serious about it then, if I remember right. But as soon as problems confront me, I remember mother saying, ‘You got to eat the cou cou for the sake of the sauce.’ I used to say, ‘What stupidness she talking?’
“But now I realise you get into it (marriage) and as problems confront you, you have to deal with it. If it is too much for you to deal with, put it before God.”
As she talks, Lucille hears her husband stir in the bedroom and, realizing he is now awake, excuses herself to go and help him out to the living room. Slowly, she leads him to his favourite seat as she explains there is a “lady from the newspaper” there to talk to him.
A broad smile steals across his face and his wife takes a seat beside him on his right side since he has lost hearing in the left ear and sight in the left eye.
He explains that his wife’s hand was not the easiest conquest. But he is clearly happy with their long life together.
Lucille’s daily devotion does not escape him even though there is evidence of Alzheimer’s. He talks sporadically about how his wife takes care of him. The early morning bath, breakfast and relaxation with her on the expansive patio of their home with its commanding view across the St Philip countryside are the most satisfying features of the marriage in the twilight years for this couple.
As Lucille lovingly cradles her husband’s face, he smiles, looking intently at her and repeats for yet one more time: “She handle me good.”

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