Friendship – A Kaleidoscope Of My Jamaican Childhood

Friendship - A Kaleidoscope Of My Jamaican Childhood

We cannot tell the precise moment when friendship is formed, As in filling a vessel drop by drop, there is, at last, a drop which makes it run over; so in a series of kindnesses, there is at last one which makes the heart run over.

(Samuel Johnson)

It is said that friends come into your life for a season and a reason.  My many years on this earth have given truth to this.  I am not one who can claim a host of friends.  I was an insecure only child and consequently a shy child and I believe I gave the impression that I was a self-sufficient child who was not in need of the bonds of friendship. Over time I came to believe the fallacy I had built up to protect myself. Yet, paradoxically, it is the only child who is in the greatest need of friendship.

We became friends out of necessity, out of a common purpose, and plain and simple physical contact.  We were seated together on a single bench unit, in sixth class at Mandeville Government School; squarely under the eagle eyes of Headmaster Reid, who was determined to make something of us, whether we liked it or not, whether we understood or not.  Rose, Jewell, and I were his ‘scholarship’ students. We studied together and fretted together that we would not pass the ‘scholarship exam’  All of us passed, but I was the only one who attended Manchester Secondary School and so the friendship effectively ended when we went our separate ways.

For a few years Novlyn and I attended Manchester Secondary. We lived close to each other in Brumalia and her mother and grandmother were visiting friends with my mother. Novlyn’s grandmother never wore shoes.  Although Novlyn was older than me she was in a lower form and seemed to constantly have problems with her school work. I enjoyed helping her, In retrospect it could have been because it gave me a sense of superiority. We walked home from school most afternoons.  And then Novlyn changed school, going instead to a private school – Manchester College – at nearby Lane, and owned by a Mr. Webb-Harris. I remember hearing Mrs. Marshall extolling the virtues of this school and quarreling that Mr. Sleggs did not like black children; that was why Novlyn had had to leave the school, but that she had been placed in a higher form and was doing so much better.  Novlyn and I remained friends. But alas, when Senior Cambridge results came out, she failed all her subjects. Mrs. Marshall decided that someone had ‘obeahed’ her daughter, and the fingers were pointing at my mother.  Friendships between adults and children ended rather abruptly. Shortly after, Novlyn left Mandeville for parts unknown.

Before this abrupt end to our friendship, one evening when I was walking home alone, later than usual because I had been playing netball, as I turned a deep corner, I was suddenly confronted by my mother who had obviously been lurking there, hoping to catch me out in God knows what. She did not even offer a lame excuse for this unexpected ‘meeting’. I was hurt and annoyed, but knowing my mother, I dare not question her. Years later, because it still rankled – just one in a catalogue of several hurts –  I asked her why she had confronted me in that way. Her response was that she had heard that Novlyn had a ‘big man boyfriend’ who she was visiting during school hours and who sometimes walked her home part of the way; so she was checking to see if he was with her, or if I had a boyfriend also. Ha! Even if I had wanted one –  and I did not – I would not have had the gall or audacity, to even contemplate it.

Shirley Gunter was the daughter of a family friend, Mr. Gunter who owned a dry-cleaning business in the town. Shirley had an air of sophistication and I longed to be like her. Shirley was always impeccably turned out and with a mother for a hairdresser, her hair was the envy of us all.  When the marriage ended,  Shirley and her mother left for the USA.

Lorna wore ‘foreign’ clothes and her exercise books and pens were also ‘foreign’ She lived at Royal Flat, about four miles from Mandeville,  with her grandparents, in the middle of a deep corner and opposite the Alms House. The house was dark, cool, and quiet.  For reasons that remain inexplicable to me to this day, I was allowed to visit Lorna. I can only assume that my mother or grandmother had known them beforehand. When Lorna also left for the USA, it struck me that I was always losing my friends. Afraid to face the pain of another separation, I retreated to that safe place within myself, where I was self-sufficient and self-contained. For the remainder of my high school years, I neither forged nor accepted offers of friendship.

He was my youngest Aunt’s boyfriend, Kharl Campblin, tall, handsome, olive-skinned, with pronounced knock-knees. I remember first meeting him at Brumalia when he accompanied her to the country, I suppose to meet the family. I was in high school.  I remember meeting him another time when I spent a summer holiday with my grandmother’s friends, the Ennises on Westminster Road, off Red Hills Road in Kingston. My aunt was boarding with the Ennises and he lived directly across the road. Then she went overseas to study and he disappeared. I later learnt that, on her return home with a new love, she sent him packing; so he went to England to lick his wounds. When the new romance fizzled, he came home to reclaim who he should not have lost in the first place. They got married in 1963 and moved into the family home at Haldane Avenue.  The relationship between my Aunt and I deteriorated to the point where I was forced to leave. The relationship has never been fully repaired.  Throughout the years, Kharl maintained contact with me, as friend and counselor. He tried migration in the turbulent decade of the seventies, but he could not cope with the materialism and barrenness of the soul in the USA.  So he returned home. Alone. He became the friend of my friends, a charming, honest and sincere gentleman. A ten-minute visit stretched for hours with robust discussions – from Rosicrucianism to politics.  Many were the nights Kharl fed me on my way home from night school. He was famous for his cabbage and yellow yam dinner and many partook of his culinary expertise in this single dish. He lived simply and fully, dispensing advice, wisdom, and encouragement to his many friends. He eventually re-migrated.  Kharl died in 2011 from complications of diabetes.  His loss is unimaginable.

I met Neville his younger brother at Haldane Avenue, where he also lived for a short while. Neville, very tall, slim and seemingly shy, but once you get to know him; he has a risqué sense of humour, that belies his serious visage. Perhaps the only clue to the lighter side of Neville’s personality is his lisp. We have serious discussions, passionate disagreements, punctuated by light moments, and deliberate Freudian slips.  Friendships that have persisted and withstood the test of time, as well as personal individual growth, are to be treasured. I treasure Neville’s friendship.

On the first day, I reported for work at the Headquarters of the Jamaica Library Service’s Schools Library Service Department I met  Joan Dolphy, who seemed to belong to a world completely different from anything I had ever experienced. For one, Joan spoke with what was obviously a precise, over-emphasized British accent as if she were trying to advertise her difference, which was already obvious. It was also obvious that she was the darling of the department head. She treated me with a type of patronizing contempt reserved for a lesser mortal. Until I left for my posting in Mandeville, some three months later, I became accustomed to Joan’s sometimes bizarre and eccentric behaviour, which included wearing pillbox church hats with hatpins to work,  deboning sardines prior to eating and, on one memorable occasion, for no apparent reason, refusing to pack the bookshelves with me. By this time I had decided that Joan was strange, so I largely ignored her.

I gained Joan’s ‘approval’ when I earned a distinction in my first professional examination and over the years we became and still remain good friends.

I found out that once you remove the façade which she had carefully created over the years, beneath you find a warm, loving, sensitive, and yes practical woman who has overcome the unspeakable tragedy of her husband’s murder and has successfully reared her two children to become fine citizens.  I cherish the bonds of friendship we eventually forged, after such a shaky start more than fifty years ago. She now lives in the USA and visits occasionally.

The most beautiful discovery true friends make is that they can grow separately without growing apart.

(Elizabeth Foley)

Carmen is a statuesque, beautiful black woman.  She was my buddy.  She was the sister I never grew up with, the close girlfriend I did not know how much I had missed until we became friends. She had a quick smile and a caustic tongue, much like mine. We could read each other’s minds.  Carmen worked next door at the Kingston and Sr. Andrew Parish Library, and I  at the Schools Library Service next door. We wore each other’s clothes and make-up. On some occasions, we must have made an interesting spectacle. Carmen is 5ft. eight inches. I am five ft. three inches. Picture Carmen in my mini-skirt or me in hers.   We were always in each other’s company, to the extent that when we went to meetings the Director separated us, because individually we were fine, but together a  potentially disruptive force.  Our friendship extended over many years. She was my sole attendant at my wedding in 1965  and I was a regular visitor to her home when she married Desmond.  The friendship weathered my several transfers across the island, our sojourns to England at different times. However, when she left the library service, made new friends, had new experiences, we drifted apart.

I was nineteen years of age and was sent to the St. Ann Parish Library in St. Ann’s Bay to fill in for a member of staff on vacation leave. I had begun to study for the British Library Association’s First Professional Examination. One subject was the history of English Literature. A perusal of the syllabus clearly indicated that my high school  literature was woefully inadequate. I needed a tutor. Badly.  Some kind person suggested I speak with Mrs. Christobel Fuller, the Literature Mistress at Ferncourt High School. She lived in St. Ann’s Bay.

At our first meeting, I was understandably nervous, but she put me at ease, with a smile that lit up her deeply-set piercing eyes.  And thus began a friendship spanning more than fifty years. Chris was an excellent teacher. We kept in somewhat desultorily until we both moved to Garveymeade in 1976. At that time she was principal of one of the leading high schools in St. Catherine.   Chris became Aunty Chris to my children and a friend to my mother. Blessed with a  svelte perfect size 10, Chris is a clothes horse, a lover of shoes and jewelry,  A  devoted member of the Baptist Church, she effectively used her singularly laid-back persona, to persuade me to ‘help out’ with teaching grammar to school drop-outs at her church school. Little did I know that, in retirement,  I was expected to teach English Language to students taking the Caribbean Examinations  Council CXC) Exams. During my four-year stint, I  came to deeply appreciate our educators and the depth of gratitude and respect we owe them. Initially, it was not easy, particularly for one whose only experience in the classroom was at the tertiary level. I also came to realise that no knowledge is wasted, as I was able to draw on what I had learned from my high school days.. My results were good and I had a sense of fulfillment for giving back to society in this small way. I thank Chris for this.

Initially my boss, then my friend. Daphne came into my life right after my marriage in 1965. when I was transferred to western Jamaica – St. James,  then to  Trelawny. I remember her at our headquarters, when I successfully asked to a short transfer to gain practical experience in cataloguing and classification for an exam. Daphne was the chief cataloguer. A junior library assistant and a chief cataloguer had absolutely nothing in common.  Hers was a rarefied air shared by such personages as the Director and the Deputy Director.  So, when years later, I realized she was going to be our boss, colleagues Gloria, Dorothy and I  were decidedly nervous. Our initial trepidation quickly dissolved when we realized that what Daphne wanted from us we were eminently capable of delivering and we did – hard work, efficiency and dedication.  Daphne is my daughter’s  godmother, and the type of friend who, despite the sometimes long periods of non-communication, we simply take up, exactly where we had left off.. Gloria and Dorothy have since  passed on  and we mourn their loss. At 96, Daphne’s memory  is razor-sharp.

Friendship needs no words.

(Marlene Dietrich)

 When I was transferred to the Trelawny Parish Library I was told that I would have a deputy who had been transferred there some months before. On my first day I met this petite, serious young woman, who, in a very business-like manner, brought me up to date on the library’s work programme.  In a short time we found we not only worked well together, we also had a lot in common that  resulted in a firm friendship.  Blossom turned out to be my cousin on my father’s side. We have remained friends over the years, punctuated by the highs and lows of life – romances, heartbreaks, marriages, divorce, illnesses and deaths – the sum total of man’s existence.    But, like others,  we have prevailed and the bonds of friendship remain unbreakable.

Apart from the bizarre behaviour, the beginning of my friendship with Sonia was similar to that of Joan at the Jamaica Library Service. She was also initially distant and aloof; so you could say I had had some practice.  Sonia worked in the Accounts Department of the UDC and  I was introduced to her by Marjorie, whose aunt was a friend of Lance’s mother.  Sonia has sparkling brown eyes, a great sense of humour and an uncanny ability for disorganized order. Her dresser drawers are unbelievably well organized; she is an excellent cook, but the kitchen is left in chaos.  Veronica, another friend from UDC, migrated shortly after we met and we lost contact. She returned home and misunderstandings led to a short period of estrangement, vigorously repaired by Michael. Today I consider myself fortunate to have Veronica as my friend, in my corner. She stood by me during Michael’s and my mother’s illnesses and subsequent deaths; and I hope I gave her some measure of comfort during her mother’s illness and death, which preceded that of Michael’s.   My sentiments are best expressed by C17th author, La Rochefoucauld:

A true friend is the greatest of all blessings, and that which we take the least care to acquire.’\

How many young women wore toe rings forty years ago?  If you were Sandra Miller-Hall from Montego Bay,  perhaps it would have been par for the course. In those days the ‘natives’ of Jamaica’s second largest city and the Caribbean’s tourism capital declared their city a republic – separate and  different from the rest of the country.   And Sandra, with her toe-ring, brightly-coloured hair and unusual dress sense, perfectly mirrored the sentiments of the citizenry. Beneath this mask, Sandra was then and remains an extremely hard-working, caring, outstanding member of her community. She is the ‘go-to-person for any need that arises in the community – from uniforms and lunch money for school children, to organizing fund-raising events for hospital equipment. And if she cannot do it alone, she marshals a team and gets it done.    We became friends when she was  Manager of the UDC’s Walter Fletcher Beach and have remained so over the years.

If I were to be asked to describe an optimist – nay the quintessential optimist – I would unhesitatingly describe Beverley. I met her on campus during my undergraduate days and shortly after graduation she joined me at the UDC as my assistant in the Public Relations Department. We worked together for many years as good friends and colleagues. We were a formidable pair – efficient and driven.  I had the privilege of becoming her second daughter’s god mother, a duty at which I failed miserably, but Beverley and her family, as true Christians, have forgiven me this unfortunate lapse.  Strains inevitably arise in friendships and Beverley and I had our share. But we persevered, because in the final analysis, the friendship was far more important to both of us.

Veronica Stewart became my secretary when I was promoted to the position of Director of Administration at the UDC. An efficient woman. A woman of grace and dignity.   A devout Christian of the Baptist faith. Veronica lived her religious faith – in her work and in her interactions with her co-workers. Through perseverance and sheer hard work, she became a graduate of a tertiary institution and a Human Resources  Manager. They say most accidents happen in the home. So true in Veronica’s case. She damaged her spine in a domestic accident and was confined to a wheelchair. She faced this  life-changing experience  with her usual equanimity, grace, dignity, optimism and unshakeable faith that she would be healed. This was not to be. She transitioned as peacefully as he had lived.

Vivalyn is young enough to be my daughter. Easily. A bright young lawyer. Strong, frank and outspoken, she has had her share of life’s vicissitudes and prevailed, by successfully melding her  Christian  principles with the practical realities of life. She is wise beyond her years.   Vivalyn has a dry sense of humour and a contagious laugh that lights up her eyes.

Jewell is bright, mercurial,  always  on the move. Deeply rooted in her Christian faith, and her unshaken belief in the efficacy of prayer,  she  is a firm believer in the edict ‘show don’t tell’ And you are awed, when you do hear from the beneficiaries of  her numerous  selfless acts of kindness.

At first glance Janet is brash, outspoken, fears no one. At second glance, Janet is brash, outspoken, fears no one, but with a heart of gold. She is a couturier of distinction.  If you want to be dressed by Janet, you have to be prepared to wear bold fabric, bold colours, bold designs,  that will be seen on no one else,  that  will make people turn around and look at you.  If you want honesty, ask Janet. If you want home truths, ask Janet. If you want a good friend, Janet is one.

Granville and I became friends during our undergraduate days. And we have remained fast friends. He is my children’s ‘Uncle Granville.’ Bright, laid-back and self-effacing; at 6ft. plus this slim, bespectacled gentleman is a ladies’ man, a fact he half-heartedly denies  A highly skilled  journalist,  perhaps the secret lies in his wordsmithing skills. Granville chaired the launch of my book Going for Gold  on the 2002 IAAF/ Coca-Cola World Junior Championships in Athletics. Whenever we meet after long periods of non-communication, Granville invariably smiles in a self-deprecatory fashion and pre-empts me thus: “G, I know I deserve a cussing, but I promise to do better .” And he never does. But we still love each other anyway.


Good friends are like stars,

You don’t always see them, but you  know they are there


She laughingly insists on her correct name, Marlene Patricia and calls me Gloria-Mae.  We knew each other on  campus, but only as acquaintances.  When I went to the JIS in 1997,  I badly needed someone for the television department and promptly recruited her for the temporary position of Manager. As soon as that position was filled, Pat came to work with me at Head Office as my assistant. Pat is steel in kid gloves, precisely what was needed. Her assistance was invaluable. The changes made in some elements of the culture of the organization could not have been done without Marlene Patricia. Every head of an organization needs a Marlene Patricia. Someone who can read your mind, anticipate your actions. I was fortunate to have had her. Marlene Patricia has since migrated. We remain in touch.

It is said that love is blind, friendship is clairvoyant

(Philippe Soupault)

I was at my gate one Saturday afternoon when this tall, pencil thin young man approached me and asked if I would mind taking part in a survey he was conducting. I was about to say ‘no thanks’ when with a  disarming smile he told me it was for a course he was taking at the university and he needed to complete the questionnaires that very day, so he would really appreciate my participation. I relented. The young man went on his way and I thought nothing else of the encounter.  A few months later,  when a staff member from  UDC’s HR Department came by my  office with another batch of new recruits she was introducing to department heads, there was the young man of the survey! Artley was now a co-worker. He had  two children the same age as mine. He drove a yellow volks wagon. I drove a blue. He lived in the Liguanea area and could collect my children from school on the way back to work,  after leaving his at home, and take mine to the office. Enough reasons for a friendship of over 40 years, most of which have been spent overseas? Yes!  A  ‘down-to-earth academic’ with an exceptionally incisive mind and  a dry sense of humour, Artley  is one of the nicest, kindest most giving human beings I have ever met.   His kindnesses are too many for me to mention. But let me mention a paltry few.

When I was doing my Masters and PhD programmes,  Artley provided me with a steady supply of books and magazine articles, and I state with absolute certainty that without them I would not have been able to successfully complete either at the levels I did. Artley was here for my graduation, for Michael’s funeral, a trip with so many delays as a stand-by passenger that the faint-hearted would have given up. He attended my mother’s ninetieth birthday party and funeral a year later.. His dress sense is impeccable and I am the beneficiary of his excellent taste.  I fear that the relationship is asymmetrical and have voiced my concerns to Artley, who dismisses me in his own inimitable style with one word that from him conveys so much “Really?’ So I have desisted from whining when I call and he says: “hang up and I’ll call you back.” arguing that his specials  for overseas calls are much cheaper than ours. I mentioned Artley’s slim, svelte figure of yesteryear. Today he is of much sturdier build, as I am, from the ageing process with its ravages to the body. Like our friendship, tt  is solid and comfortable, like an old shoe, one that you would never discard for a new pair.  Your old shoe  ‘knows’ your corns, the delicate spots on your sole, that one big toe that is slightly shorter than the other. Artley my friend is who Aristotle the great Greek philosopher once described.

What is a friend?

A friend is a single soul, dwelling in two bodies


Karl  entered my life at a critical juncture, the time of my divorce and when I was about to become a home-owner. He used his particular talent and professional skills to enhance my new home, making it attractive, safe and user-friendly for a single mother with two small children. My children grew up and  left home. My husband and  mother later lived with me in the same house. Today I am there alone and it is still an attractive, safe and user-friendly home for a senior citizen. And I remain oh so grateful to him.

At my age, I have had many friends. Some who made a lasting impact on my life and I sincerely  hope I was able to do the same in some small and benign way. I cannot however end this chapter without including  Rita, Clover, June, Yolande,   Stephney of my Jamaica Library Service days and Merle Shaw my neighbour. Our paths crossed  in close and intimate ways  and I thank them for the hands of friendship they offered to me  during our sojourn on life’s pathway.

Some people come into our lives and quickly go.

Some stay for awhile and leave footprints on our hearts

And we are never, ever the same


A few years ago I glibly said,  “I’m too old to make new friends.”  How wrong I was. I had known her  superficially for many years, as a friend of my friend Veronica. They had attended high school together.  About a year ago, I saw her in a supermarket and Veronica told me she had moved back home to look after her ageing father. She added that she was re-creating her garden and did I have any cuttings she could get. ‘Sure’ I said and Veronica took Sheryl to my home. As they say, the rest is history. We discovered that, in  addition to a mutual love of gardening,  and caring for loved ones, we have so much in common – shared experiences in childhood, our perception of life,  friendship and manoeuvring the crosshairs as a professional  woman in a male-dominated society.    She is a deeply spiritual woman, thoughtful, generous and compassionate to a fault. She lives her life, self-assured in her ability to face and overcome her daily challenges  and to contemplate her future boldly and confidently.  Sheryl is an elegant, multi-faceted woman with a surprisingly  irreverent  sense of humour.  And I have learnt so much from her. She has made me a kinder, considerate and more thoughtful person.

The language of friends is not words but meaning

(Marlene Dietrich)

Photo – Deposit Photos

About the author

Gloria Royale-Davis