By Camille Rambharat
As I write I think about my grandmother, my first and most enduring image of a strong, forward-thinking woman. Strong, beautiful and classy, ‘Aiyee’, ‘Iris’, ‘Ma’ and later ‘Gwen’ when we found out her name wasn’t ‘Iris’ but ‘Gwendolyn’, was way ahead of her time. For that I am thankful.
Ma lived alone in Toronto after she was widowed at an early age with eight children. It was from her, and those before her, I got my strong sense of family, independence and identity. A woman who was unemployed and totally dependent on her husband was driven to reinvent herself and travel the world after the death of her husband. Leaving the comfort of a small, two-bedroom family home in Techier Village, Point Fortin, Ma reached Montreal, grip in hand, and, from Montreal, Ma reached Toronto with her grown children.
Ma was a very proud, African woman, mixed with First People and East Indian. She was not one to depend on her children to ‘mind her’. Ma moved into her own flat, went back to school and later than normal, worked for the first time in her life.
Married at a young age, ‘Ms Mac’, as she was also fondly called in the village, took good care of her husband and children. My grandfather was a charming, tall and very handsome man from Tobago. He was also very strict. To hear Ma tell stories about him in a loving way was one of the things that remained with me. Still, all her stories would end by her saying “them children father wasn’t easy yah know. I’ll run the other way if I saw that man today”. Today I, like most women know what that means, especially in our Caribbean setting. With her charming smile and infectious laughter, we would join Ma in laughter, not laughing at, but with her. Even in the laughter, I never took my eyes and ears off Ma. I always saw her deep love for her husband—my grandfather—as something enduring and as something I wanted.
Montreal brought everything new to Ma: climate, language, race and tolerance. Montreal was not Techier, and this French-speaking section of Canada was different even from the rest of Canada. To survive and prosper, Ma needed to dig deep, and the depth she dug and the diamonds she found within herself, became a lifelong study for me.
Two lessons I will share are these. I watched Ma’s faith put to the test numerous times. Don’t wait for things to go bad to run to Him. And second, be prepared to dig deep and find your diamonds.