(A tribute to my mom Irene Ann Samuda)
by Norman Samuda Smith
My mom flew away to Zion on June 13 1987. Although I have grown to accept her loss, a gap remains inside me, especially when her birthday and Mother's Day comes around. Cancer took away mom's life here on mother earth, her close friends said it was because she smoked, I know it wasn't that that took her away; in my opinion it was worry and stress...This is her story....
Irene Ann Samuda was born December 10 1929 in the Parish of Trelawny, Jamaica. There were many conflicting stories why she originally came to England, however, my 'sister' Tatlyn, who is the family historian, tells us that mom was the second born and most talented of the three children our grandparents Albert and Adina had. The eldest is Uncle Isaac, the youngest, my Aunt Hilda. After my Aunt was born, our grandparents moved to, and settled in Flagstaff, Maroon Town that is in the Parish of St James. As the family expanded, they extended their family ties to Crossroads, Maroon Town aswell; where mom and Aunt Hilda spent most of their teenage years.
Now, mom's family are offspring's of the Maroon nation, whom the Spanish (who colonized Jamaica before the British took over) called Cimarrons (wild ones or untamed). The Maroons were Israelite slaves, taken into captivity, shipped across the Atlantic via 'The middle passage', freed themselves from bondage and chains in Jamaica; to establishing communities and their own culture in the Trelawny, St James and St Thomas parishes of Xaymaca (Jamaica) - Xaymaca means 'Land of wood and water.'). They fought the British Army (Red Coats) for ninety-four years to keep their freedom. In 1738, Cudjoe (Mountain Lion Chief of the Maroons) and Red Coat Colonel Guthrie, signed a treaty at Petty River Bottom, giving the Maroons their right to govern themselves, and autonomy from British Rule. Apparently, that treaty still exists today. Other great Maroon chiefs were Accompong, Johnny, Quao, Cuffe, and Jamaica's first woman national hero, Queen Nanny of Nanny Town; an ancestral history of which I am well proud of.
As St Ann got older, she developed a genius for making men and women's clothes, especially wedding dresses. It was said, and my dad bears witness to this, that she used to take the measurements of people and make their garments without the guidance of a pattern. The end result, were clothes that fitted them like a glove. Therefore, it was for that reason why my grandparents decided to send her to England to further her career; for the economics and job prospects of Jamaica then, were not that good. So i n May 1951, she left Crossroads, Maroon Town and arrived in England, the Mother Country, at the age of twenty-one, along with multitudes of West Indians of that period who had high hopes and dreams of a better future.
Mom's first impressions of England were in one word "Grim."
"De sun wasn't shinin', it rain everyday for t'ree weeks. It was cold and de sky was yellow ! If I did have de chance to get back on de boat and go back to Jamaica, I would have done."
England's streets were not "Paved with gold." as they were told. St Ann spent her first three weeks in London, didn't like it, so decided to move on. When the train that commuted her from London pulled into Birmingham, she remembered seeing her fellow West Indian brethren rubbing their hands with delight; for they saw multitudes of buildings, row after row with chimneys puffing thick black smoke into the atmosphere. One brethren said...
"Look like there's plenty work in dis town."
They only found out later that those buildings that they thought were factories, were in fact houses that people lived in.
During the 1950's, mom encountered being spat at on the streets, being called nigger, coon, spook and sambo by men, women and children. She experienced colour bars from certain places of entertainment. Landlords and landladies refusing to offer her accommodation because of the colour of her skin, even colour bars from certain churches of worship. Racism of the highest degree which she and her fellow brethren and sistren could not understand....Momma used to tell me that the British West Indies has a history of many races of people being shipped across and living on their respected islands for over five hundred years. African, Asian, Chinese, Lebanese, British, Spanish, French etc. As generations have gone by, they have mixed, socially, culturally, inter-married and become one people. Hence-forth Jamaica's national motto..."Out of many, one people." So as far as mom was concerned, while she was growing up in Jamaica, racism did not exist in her eyes until she came to England. Further more, with England boasting the fact that she was the "Mother Country" for over two hundred years, did not ring true; for what mother would greet her children by calling them horrible names, initiate colour bars and refusing them accommodation in her own house?
Despite all these adversities, the West Indians stayed and tried to live a normal life as British citizens. They went to their respected jobs each day, in an effort to help their "Mother Country" - in mom's words - "Clean up Hitler mess."
A small Jewish company called Hoffman's employed mom; she earned extra money by making clothes and wedding dresses for the new friends she made. During the mid 1950's to the late 1960's, the first generation of Black British children of West Indian origin were being born. My mom and dad were married March 27 1954; my brother Bruce and I were born in 1957 and 1958 respectively.
Although my parents managed to buy a house, a car and build a happy family life, it wasn't enough for mom, something was missing. All of her somber feelings and anxiety was a lot to do with the Maroon blood running through her veins; and just like her ancestors of the past, she wanted to be free of being bossed around, she wanted to be her own boss. My dad however, himself a talented man (Furniture maker, builder, plumber and mechanic) would have settled for just buying a four bedroom house with garage in the leafy suburbs of Birmingham; but my mom was a very stubborn, determined and independent woman. She was born into a family where the women out numbered the men 3 to 1; the women ran the family affairs. Therefore, the boy children of the family are traditionally taught to love and respect women, their mysteries and their woes. The girl children are traditionally taught to love, support, care for and respect their men. With these ingredients imbedded in our minds, we have been taught that when man finds his woman, or when woman finds her man, their union has the possibilities of a successful and loving partnership/marriage. So dad supported mom down every street and lane in her venture to establish her own business. By March 1962, mom had been awarded a World Diploma from the National Hairdressers Federation with honors for passing her exams, along with three other National Hairdressers Federation diplomas before that. By June 1962, she opened her own hairdressing business. The sign outside her shop read "Women's World Hair Boutique."
Mom often voiced with pride that she was the first black woman in Birmingham to drive a car and own a business, probably she was. In her glory days of the 1960's, her shop was packed six days a week with women of all colours and creeds waiting for their hair to be either cut, styled, permed, straightened etc. She and her three assistants (That she employed and trained ) did their best to see that their clientele were given the best service. Aside from being a successful businesswoman, she was a great mot her, the best, and my best friend. In the summer of 1964, she took me and Bruce on a one week guided coach tour of France and Belgium, and also financially helped our Aunt Hilda pay the fare for her children, our cousins, to come from Flagstaff, Maroon Town to London. Every year without fail, Bruce and I had a birthday party right up to our eighteenth birthday; she achieved so much in a short space of time. The 1970's brought with it union unrest, the miners strike, then strike after industrial strike, the three day working week, redundancies, power cuts, the energy crisis, and Britain being dubbed by her continental European neighbours as "The sick man of Europe." The Mother Country was in a recession. When the recession began to kick in by 1974, it was obvious that the small businesses would feel the pinch first. So as the every day person began to make cutbacks on luxuries like eating out, going to clubs and having their hair done, mom's income halved dramatically; coming to a halt by the early 1980's. The bills began to mount up and she couldn't earn quick enough to meet them, this lead to the worry and stress that I mentioned earlier. Yet despite these afflictions, mom remained ever faithful onto Jah, forever optimistic, believing that things would pick up. When Bruce and I told her that she had Cancer, I could see it in her eyes that she knew it was to far-gone for her to fight it. Thinking back now , eighteen months before she flew to Zion, she was visiting her doctor too many times during each month for my liking. She knew what was happening, and knowing mom's character, she wouldn't allow anyone to try and fix things when they could have done. Was it fear of the operating table, or was it an acceptance that her time had come? I still wonder, anyway, she took the news like a brave warrior queen that she was. She shrugged her shoulders and said..... "I'm in God's hands now."
From February to April 1987, Jah know, mom went to hell and back while she was in hospital, being poked and prodded by doctors, and having needles stuck in her arms. They took her blood and gave her some back. She was asked numerous questions about her problem, followed by test after test, all in vain to find out what was wrong with her. They came to a conclusion that there was an ulcer blocking the passage to her stomach, which explained the reason why it was bloated and why she couldn't digest her food . Then, no sooner when they said that, they thought it was something else, and then something else. Eventually, after a month of probing and no closer to an answer, on February 28 they decided to perform an exploratory operation. They found Cancer covering three quarters of her liver and were invading numerous parts of her stomach. They predicted that she wouldn't live longer than a few weeks. A couple of weeks after her operation, the doctors tried to persuade mom to be admitted into a hospice that specialized in treating cancer patients in their last days. Mom refused... "Me nu want to be treated like no invalid. I want to go home." she said.
So three weeks after their failed attempts to admit her into St Mary's Hospice, she was discharged on Good Friday, the end of April 1987. During the month of May, in between many-a-friend passing by to visit her, mom and I reasoned in detail about what I was going to do with my life. She was well concerned about me you see. For at that time, apart from me being a published writer, and being heavily involved with my drama group, these positive activities were not bringing in a regular income. I was officially unemployed, had no savings, and had two children with another on the way. When I couldn't come up with any answers (for I couldn't see no further than tomorrow) she said to me...
"Listen to your inner-voice whenever you hear it, coz dat inner- voice contains de wisdom of de almighty and of your ancestors. It has been given to you by me and yu father, which in turn was given to us by our mother and father and so on...So when yu hear people talk about eternal life, dis is it, de gift of God. I will be joinin dem soon, and you will be hearin my voice. So whatever decision you make, you will always be a winner, coz I will always be with you."
This was the first time that I cried in front of my mom since we were informed of her illness. I can remember her cradling me in her arms while I cried. For me it was the first time that I really understood the spiritual side of life that she was always trying to teach me.
At the end of the first week of June 1987, I was in bed sleeping when I heard mom calling me. I jumped out of my sleep and answered as I usually did...
"YES MOM !"
No answer...I ran downstairs into the living-room to see mom slumped in the settee breathing heavily and staring at me, Jah I was scared.
"What's wrong mom ?" I asked.
She tried to speak but she couldn't, I knew she called me, but there again, she couldn't have, could she...? Every morning, mom's usual routine was to go into the living-room, draw the curtains, open the window, then go into the kitchen to make her breakfast. She didn't get as far as drawing the curtains, the pain must have hit her so badly that she collapsed into the settee. Only Jah knows how long she was slumped in that chair before her spirit woke me. I helped her back to bed, then went into the kitchen to make her some breakfast. She didn't eat a drop of her food, in fact all that week she ate nothing, she just drank water and didn't speak. Her health deteriorated rapidly over the next three days to the point where on Friday June 12th 1987, she was readmitted into Queen Elizabeth Hospital. 'Sister' Tatlyn came down from London to see her and brother Bruce who works for British Airways was flown from the Far East in time to see mom.
On Saturday June 13 1987, after Tatlyn, Bruce and I spent all day at mom's bedside until 8.00pm, we received a phone call from the hospital that mom had taken a turn for the worst. We drove to the hospital as fast as we could, arriving there at 10.05pm. As we ran down the corridors, Bruce leading the way, to me everything was in slow motion. A doctor stopped Bruce in his tracks and said something to him, Bruce said..."Oh no !" I knew then that mom had flown away to Zion. She was still warm when I touched her, she was at peace I could tell, and her features were relaxed for the first time in eight months.
Three days after the birth of my daughter Shereen, August 27 1987, while I slept, a picturesque scene of a valley appeared before my eyes. In this valley were hills and fields and the grass was a beautiful green, the flowers were colourful, more colourful than any well-kept garden. The sky was blue with no clouds, the sun was shining, the whole scene was like heaven.
Then a blinding light appeared in the distance from the direction of the sun, it grew larger and larger, until from the light my mom appeared climbing up and down the hills. She was dressed in white, her attire was like that of the prophets of old. As she climbed the hills, she used a long shepherd's crook to help her. She stood in front of me and smiled, then tapped me on the forehead with her crook.
"Normski...." she said (Normski was the nickname she gave me)
"...Yu a'right ?"
"Yes mom." I replied.
"Good, I know yu a'right. I want you to do one t'ing for me. Look after your temple, coz if yu don't look after it, yu won't be able to look after dem and those yu love de most. Yu understand what me seh to yu ?"
"I think so..." I replied puzzled.
"Nu worry, you will understand what I'm sayin when yu wake. Now go back to sleep. 'member, I will always be with you. I love you."
"And I love you too mom."
I stretched forth my arms to try and embrace her, she took a step back, smiled and touched my forehead with the crook, which made me lay down. I watched mom turn and walk away up and down the hills into the valley below toward the sun. As she got smaller in the distance, the blinding light got dimmer until it, mom and the whole valley scene disappeared. When I woke the next morning, I interpreted my vision to mean that my temple was my mind, body and soul. That I must keep it as fit as possible, eat good and exercise in order for me to look after my children, my family, and to help and respect my genuine friends. "Dem and those yu love de most." This is what I have strived to do since my vision, so far, so good.
Final note: A few of my close friends (Those of whom I value their opinion) have read this story, some have asked "Why ?" Others have said "Nah man, too personal." Only one has said "Nice one." I say, my mom wasn't a Nanny of Nanny Town or a Mary Seacole or an Audrey Jeffers, three great West Indian sisters who remain in the hearts and minds of millions of West Indians world wide, because they changed the course of history; but in the hearts and minds of my mom's brother and sister, my dad, her sons, nephews, nieces and grandchildren, she remains a heroine of our family circle. In an era in this country (England), when it was thought impossible for a black person to be successful in any business, mom achieved it. It was her driving ambition to be a free and successful business person, that has inspired us to strive on and encourage our present young generation to be a success in the "Mother Country".
I write this tribute to her because we all live on and share the earth; and I believe that we should share with each other our experiences that we gain in life, whether it be good, bad, happy or sad. I believe that this, my experience, should be shared among the multitude; and I truly believe that Jah stretched forth his hands and welcomed mom into his kingdom. I know right now that her love-light is shining down on them and those people she loves the most. For those of you who have recently gone through an experience similar to mine, or who are going through it now, have faith and stay strong - coz even in death, there is glory. St Ann is truly our Queen Amina - "A woman as capable as a man." - Jah Love.