Bookers Stores (now Guyana Stores) – Georgetown – Guyana (1960s)
When I was a kid, our neighbor Auntie Katie lived alone and had no children. I always thought of her as a woman in her forties. Perhaps it was because she was much older than my mother, who was in her twenties during those early years.
Auntie Katie was a buxom woman with strong arms. She had puffy fingers and wrinkly fingertips. “From washing clothes,” she told me when I asked her about her hands. Her large wooden wash basin, filled with water when not in use, always stood at the foot of her backstairs. I enjoyed listening to the squishy sound she made when she rubbed the wet soapy clothes again the scrubbing board.
No one was allowed to enter her kitchen when she was making black-pudding. Her well-seasoned rice sausage, eaten with spicy sourie sauce, was my favorite Saturday evening treat. Among her many customers was an important visitor she addressed as ‘Brother Forbes.’ He was a young British-educated barrister-at-law who later became Guyana’s first Prime Minister in May 1966, when our country gained independence from Great Britain. With sales of her black-pudding, Auntie Katie helped to raise funds for Brother Forbes’ political party. She never missed his party meetings and rallies.
She and my mother argued a lot about political matters. I was too young then to understand what it all meant. Sometimes, they stopped speaking to each other for several weeks. Then, they were friends again. Whatever their differences, my mother respected Auntie Katie and often looked to her for advice.
Every Sunday morning, Auntie Katie dressed up to go to Church. She used hot iron combs to straighten her hair, usually kept tightly-braided and hidden under a headscarf. Her Church hat matched her dress and handbag. I dressed up with her colorful beaded necklaces and clip-on earrings.
Whenever my mother was busy with her sewing, Auntie Katie would keep an eye on us as we played in the yard. One Christmas season, when my mother had lots of dresses to sew for Old Year’s Night, she took me, my brother, and sister downtown to visit Santa Claus. The three major department stores – Bookers, Fogarty’s, and Bettencourt – each had their own Santa Claus. To our delight, we received presents (at a price) from all three Santas.
Auntie Katie was like a second mother to me. After we moved apart, I saw very little of her. But the years she was our neighbor were enough to teach me not to judge a person by the color of their skin. For this, I am forever grateful to her.
On Mother’s Day, I remember Auntie Katie, a good neighbor. I celebrate all women who have no children of their own but, like her, open their hearts to the children around them.