By David Wayne Crosbie Girvan
Emigration: Jamaica to Panama
Mid Twentieth Century
Beryl Cynthia Crosbie
Mom, a Jamaican Angel
My Mother, Beryl Cynthia Girvan, was born in Jamaica on November 10, 1912 in the district of Four Paths, parish of Clarendon. She was the sixth of nine children of David Thom Girvan and Josephine Adele Girvan, née Delevante.
Mom attended an elementary school located about three miles from her home, Ebony Grove. Like her siblings, she went to Kingston for her secondary education. She attended St. Hughes high school. In those days, high schools were associated with churches, as evidenced by the names given to them. At the beginning, Mom boarded with one of her 4 paternal aunts (my maternal grandfather was the only boy of 5 living children. A baby girl died two weeks after birth).
I remember Mom’s stories about the beauty and size of Ebony Grove. For her, it was like living in a palace. It was a big house surrounded by lots of trees on 245 acres of land. Her loving stories about her wonderful childhood and growing-up in the country on the beautiful Island of Jamaica were captivating. My siblings and I would subconsciously be transported back in time to the beauty of her childhood. Our mental pictures might have been different, but the energy of the experience was mesmerizing.
Grandpa David’s death in 1947 was very disheartening for Mom. They were very close, and she loved him dearly. She would tell us how she would sit on his lap and talk with him, and how caring and loving he was. The sparkle in her eyes and the glow on her face communicated her love for him.
Mom would often tell us that her beloved Dad used to say that if you did not have anything nice to say about somebody, then don’t say anything. Mom herself lived by those principles. Like him, she walked the talk. I knew Grandpa was a great man, not only because Mom told me so, but because Mom herself was a great lady: a true reflection of her parents and their values.
I have vague memories of my maternal grandmother visiting us from Jamaica. I often wondered if they were actual recollections, or if they were unconsciously imbedded in my memory through Mom’s stories. Her fairy tale like narratives were so vivid and descriptive that you could not help feeling as if you were there. The joyful emotions imbedded in the body language of her stories had a positive influence on us. Grandma Josephine died in November of 1959; she was 81 years old.
“Loverboy” Meets Mom
Dad met Mom while he was vacationing in Jamaica in 1947. According to reliable sources, Dad called Aunt Edna, Mom’s eldest living sister at the time, and asked if he could come over to visit (Aunt Edna was married to Cecil Dewdney, Dad’s cousin). During his visit, Dad saw a picture of Mom, and he enquired about her. Aunt Edna said it was her sister Beryl. He then mentioned how beautiful she was, and asked if he could meet her (Mom was working at the time). He would not take no for an answer and he returned the next day.
When Dad wanted something, he could be annoyingly persistent. He was totally smitten by Mom, and after dating her for less than two weeks, he proposed. Mom and her family thought he was crazy. I am sure that Dad was on his best behaviour and at his charming best.
To everybody’s surprise, Mom accepted Dad’s proposal in February of 1948. Mom’s older brother, Uncle Thom, made some enquiries in order to obtain some information about Dad, the unknown suitor. The fact that he already had a 6 year-old daughter created some consternation among family members, but his charming explanations prevailed. The wedding was scheduled for April.
Nobody knew if Dad would show up for his wedding. Mom and her younger sister Gloria went to the airport to meet the plane on which Dad was supposed to arrive. He was the first passenger off the plane, impeccably dressed in a white suit and a perfectly fitting hat. I can just imagine Dad getting off that plane with his devilish smile, and his fire of confidence. The rest is history. Mom and Dad were married on April 27, 1948 in St. Michael’s church in Kingston, Jamaica. Dad returned to Panama with Mom on May 4, 1948, after honeymooning in Jamaica for a few days.
A Strong Family Bond
During our formative years, Mom conveyed her loving relationship with her immediate family through her stories. They were very descriptive, and dealt primarily with growing up in a very close and caring family. There was undoubtedly an underlying conflict in her stories: joy of remembering and sharing her memories with her children, and a certain sense of sadness because of the distance. She relied on letters, the rare visits from relatives and friends, and her occasional visits to Jamaica to keep her memories alive.
As we grew older, we were fortunate to visit our family in Jamaica on a few occasions. I remember discussions about who would accompany Mom on her trip to that beautiful island in the sun. We all wanted to experience the family love and bonding we had heard so much about. We were not disappointed; it was indeed a cultural experience.
During our visits to Jamaica, there were many family get-togethers. The gatherings at aunt Edna were particularly special. Aunt Edna was soft and caring, and very much the family matriarch. We had never seen so many family members in one place. My siblings and I were younger and timid; my cousins were older and vociferous. In later years, I visited Jamaica with my spouse and daughters to relive that magical experience and strong family bond fostered and perpetuated by the Girvan sisters (Edna, Mom, Lin and Gloria).
I am sure Mom must have questioned her decision to leave Jamaica and immigrate to Panama. It must have taken a great deal of courage to leave her birthplace, strong family bond, friendships and cultural environment behind, and venture into the unknown. The language and culture were decidedly different in Panama, and for all intents and purposes, she knew no one. It must have been an intimidating cultural transition.
An Extraordinary Lady
It is not difficult to understand what Dad saw in Mom. She was beautiful, soft-spoken, extremely gracious, and her slender silhouette made her look taller than her documented 5′ 8″ height. Her respectful, loving, timidly-caring and friendly demeanour added to her already angelic behaviour; you could almost see her aura.
Because Mom lived in Jamaica until her marriage in 1948, she only spoke English. If necessary, she could communicate in Jamaican patois, but her cultured upbringing prevented her from demonstrating those skills in public. Mom struggled with Spanish. Her conversations in Spanish were sometimes a source of dinner laughter for the rest of us, but she always took it in stride since she knew that we were just teasing her.
I enjoyed teasing Mom and making her laugh. She thought that I would make a good comedian. I often told her that Dad was the luckiest man in the world; he was lucky he met her before I did. Otherwise, I would have married her. Strangely enough, I would compare my many girlfriends with Mom. She was the perfect model.
Mom was a very special lady. This probably sounds like what a son might say, but believe me, she was very special. She had a unique rapport with every child, including her stepdaughter. She was special because she made everybody feel special.
Mom was the psychological and spiritual leader of our family. She always knew exactly what to say, how to say it, and when to say it. She was a mother, a friend and a confidant. She was very supportive of her husband and children, and her love was unconditional. We could tell Mom anything; she was a great listener. She was truly an extraordinary lady.
Mom and Dad have 4 children (David Wayne, Ricardo Antonio, Nilca Anita and Roberto Miguel) and Dad had a daughter Juana Maria (Marie) from a prior relationship. The close loving relationship of their 5 children is a true testimony of our parents’ unique loving story.
We love you, Mom. We will never forget you
Mom passed away on Sunday, July 27, 2003. It is literally impossible to describe what Mom meant to her family. I do not think I could find the right sequence of words to do justice to her memory, or to describe the extraordinary person that she was. I am sure that she was strategically placed on this earth for the primary purpose of taking care of her loved ones, and guiding us in our moments of need. She has been a very important influence in my life, and she has been instrumental to who I have become. I am a better person for having known her. She had a positive impact on the life of every person she met.
For me, her passing is an illusion. She will always be with us spiritually and mentally. I have such a vast storage of beautiful memories of Mom that all I have to do is go to my mental repertoire, pick a selection, and run the tape. I do that often, but the sorrow does not seem to go away. I miss her too much.
Mom will always be remembered. She will always have a special place in my heart. I think of her often. I remember our conversations, laughter, unselfish advice, a best friend and the uniqueness of a caring, compassionate and loving mother.
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