In Kalidasa’s Sanskrit poem entitled "Salutation
to the Dawn", we find the words:
“today, well lived, makes every yesterday a dream of happiness and every tomorrow a vision
On that basis we can truly say that today we did
not come to mourn a death. We have come to celebrate a life. For Aunt Rose’s life was full of days well lived, and therefore worthy of celebration.
So what exactly is this life we celebrate? Let’s start with her childhood. I suppose her understanding
of family came from the Aunt who became her Mother, because Ma would not let any stranger raise her flesh-and-blood. And they became so much a mother and daughter that over the years Ma would say:
“That girl eh - I only ent make she!”
Now you all know that when Aunt Rose gives an instruction,
it had better be carried out. And her instruction was that whatever else is said
at her funeral, the world must be told that she understood and appreciated all that Ma did for her. So I have obeyed Aunt Rose’s instruction. My Granny,
on the other hand, is probably telling Aunt Rose right now:
“What nonsense is that? Your own flesh and blood is your own flesh and blood”.
Her cousins became her brothers and sister, including
one brother with whom she frequently was punished, because:
“if one do it, you sure the other one do it
And out of those five children, she is the one who
inherited the mouth without a cover on it. Ma and Aunt Rose would tell you what
they had to tell you, and who vex lorse!
There was important change in the life of that family
when they moved from Coffee Street in San Fernando to Duncan Village - from town to country. They attended Canaan Presbyterian Church and she joined the Christian Endeavour Group. And she met a handsome young man (yes, I have seen the pictures) named Roy Mootoo. They were just friends at first, with common interests. And he patiently taught her how to ride a bicycle, running behind holding the saddle to make sure she did
But we all know what “just friends” leads
to. And maybe those bicycle lessons were a premonition of the life to come, a
long life of:
“Don’t worry. I will hold on. I will not let you fall”.
Another premonition came when they were both students at Naparima Teachers
Training College - she a senior
and he a junior. And as a junior, Uncle Roy had to go through an initiation -
what we now call hazing. He dutifully picked his number, as all the juniors had
to do, and his act of humiliation at that initiation was to kneel and propose to Aunt Rose.
Little did they know! So it is no surprise that even after all those years
Uncle Roy still remembers the number he picked: the number 14.
The talk of Training College
brings us to Aunt Rose’s career as a teacher. Before Training
College she taught for a short while at Siparia
Union School, and after graduation
she was assigned to Hermitage Presbyterian. She had a long stay at that school,
and is remembered by her pupils and her fellow teachers alike. Which pupil would
forget a teacher who introduced uniforms to the school. And with these uniforms
Aunt Rose gave an admonition:
“Take off your uniform as soon as you get home. Don’t dirty it up”.
And which pupil could forget a teacher who got ointments
from her Brother the pharmacist to put on the children’s sores and cuts; or who sat with them through lunch and checked
that all the food was eaten; or who bought the first high school uniform for a girl who made them proud by passing the necessary
exams but needed a little financial support. And Aunt Rose surely appreciated
the older boys who on afternoons would walk with her through the lonely stretch of road through the trees to the safety of
the main road.
After Hermitage, she moved to Canaan Presbyterian
where she was assigned to the Post Primary class - the unruly and duncy students as they were considered. But the boys (in particular) soon found out that Aunt Rose was no push-over. She drew the proverbial line in the sand, and by dint of strict discipline and a nurturing approach she
was able to get good results from that class.
It is said that imitation is the sincerest form of
flattery, so Aunt Rose could be well-pleased with the many young teachers who she took under her wing (the word we use today
is mentoring), and who learned from her example. Her attendance and punctuality
record was exemplary. The things that kept Aunt Rose away from school were such
matters as a broken knee cap or maternity leave. Consider, also, a class where
few of the students had the “Janet and John” reading book. So she
had Uncle Roy use a pantograph (look it up, you younger ones) and a bamboo pen to transcribe the lessons onto poster-size
Aunt Rose became a Vice Principal at Freeport Presbyterian,
where the reception for a female in a leadership position was mixed. Some of
the male teachers were supportive, but some had an issue with reporting to a woman.
She persevered and was able to win over many of the objectors. But it
is a measure of Aunt Rose character that she refused an “Acting Principal” position when she felt that she was
being conveniently used in the situation. So she retired a vice principal.
Aunt Rose was Christian in the good sense of that
word. She regularly had morning devotions at home, and she believed in the power
of Prayer. So it is not surprising that what Donald remembers most about going
away to University is the comfort of having his mother say “I will pray for you”.
And a generation later her grand children would also know that she prayed for them as they approached important exams. But for me, Aunt Rose’s best example was that she would never allow others to
belittle her Presbyterian Church or her Canaan Congregation. She herself had
a lot to say about what was wrong and needed fixing, but that privilege was not extended to those outside the fold.
Aunt Rose attended church regularly, and she seldom
missed a service. She occupied a particular pew at Canaan, and that is only fair. Because it was Aunt Rose who pushed for a church building instead of the uncomfortable benches when services
were held in the school. And since her elder brother was one of the most proficient
and shameless beggars you could ever imagine, the church got built.
And her service to the Church was exemplary. She supervised the Sunday School, and arranged concerts. And at one of those concerts when the audience started to laugh at a boy who stammered, it was Aunt Rose
who came out from backstage to buff them and make them give the boy a chance.
Aunt Rose also led the Church Choir, and she was
a perfectionist! The choir enhanced regular worship services with anthems, and
also sang at weddings. She was open to the old favourites as well as the new
West Indian styled music that came up in the 1960s and early 1970s. And as wife
of the Chairman of the Local Board, Aunt Rose was absolutely supportive; and she was willing to say what needed to be said,
even when Uncle Roy was too polite to do so.
As a fund raiser, Aunt Rose was the perpetual organizer
of the Tea Stall, and as one person put it:
“If you want to plan a tea stall, do it how Mrs. Mootoo does it”.
From this fund-raising and management of Church funds
came one of the moral lessons of my life. Their house was burgled, and some of
the money stolen belonged to the Church. There was never a question of telling
the Church that it’s money had been lost. Aunt Rose and Uncle Roy had taken
the responsibility for the safekeeping of that money, and they had to replace it. Nothing
else was acceptable.
As with service to the Church, so too service to
Scouting. Uncle Roy was Skips (or Skipper), and his greatest support came from
Miss. Aunt Rose was what you might call “Troop Mother” to generations
of scouts. And when she decided that the girls were being short-changed she learned
what she could and then started a Guide Troop. And on a Thursday afternoon both
the Scouts and the Guides had their meetings, the Scouts being allowed to show off just a little bit as the Guides did some
We have remembered a lot, but there is still more. And I have kept the best for last. These
days we seldom hear the word “homemaker”, but that is exactly what Aunt Rose was.
Her pride and joy were her family - Uncle Roy, Barry, Donald and Donna Marie; later Audine, Pat and Yogi, and still
later the grandchildren Nicola, Colin, Michael, Marc, Rehanna and Shivanna. And
to this I would add all the nephews and nieces, because we all know from experience that she could be just as caring of us
as of her own children. And she would put a good buff on us too, when we needed
The Roy Mootoo family started on December 18, 1954,
perhaps in belated response to that proposal made during initiation at Naparima Training
College. It is curious in
this age to hear that an important factor in choosing that date was that they were both teachers so during the school holidays
would be convenient for the wedding. Barry was born on October 13, 1955. Because that was a difficult birth - 13 days of labour - Uncle Roy felt that Barry
would be an only child. He could not envisage Aunt Rose going through that again. But Aunt Rose had a very different idea. Her
son needed someone to play with, so on March 16, 1958, Donald and Donna Marie (the twins) were born. When later on Uncle Roy joked that Donna Marie now needed a sister to play with, Aunt Rose asked:
“You not fraid we get triplets?”
Nothing was more important to Aunt Rose than the
home she made for her family. As Donald reminded me, Saturday was cooking day
at Chez Mootoo. Bread was baked, because the children shouldn’t have to
eat store bread. A little hops, maybe, but not sandwich loaf. And meals were cooked ahead of time, to lighten the work load during the working week. She worked magic in the kitchen, turning flour into silk (for roti) and making the best crumb cake you
Aunt Rose’s specialty was sweet desserts, which
we all looked forward to. But when she was diagnosed as diabetic, she knew she
could not continue eating them. So, with her will of iron she continued to make
the desserts for others to enjoy but avoided them herself.
Aunt Rose sewed, and made floral arrangements. She crocheted, too, sometimes attempting ambitious projects which did not quite get
completed. And she cleaned with a vengeance.
Her philosophy went like this:
“I sweeping here. If you stand in the way, I will sweep you away too”.
But most of all, Aunt Rose wanted the best for her
children. She was strong when she had to be, so much so that Donna Marie considers
that strength in difficult circumstances to be Aunt Rose’s most memorable trait.
She pushed her children to do well, and could be exasperated when she did not see results. One of them was asked if he was planning to be a sanitary inspector, because of the types of reports cards
he brought home (but I can’t use the actual word she used to describe those report cards). But she was supportive, too, and would spare no effort to get them help if they needed it.
The children’s education came first. It is only after Donald and Donna Marie had graduated from University that Aunt Rose and Uncle Roy became
jet-setters. With the children on their own two feet, they would visit India
and Brazil and drive across the United States
on one trip and across Canada on another. And Aunt Rose admitted openly that she was “hot foot”. She enjoyed travel, and became a true frequent flier.
Aunt Rose’s family expanded. Audine, Pat and Yogi were welcomed not just as in-laws but also as her own children. She was concerned that the Jamaican Girl might not be comfortable in Trinidad,
but she need not have worried. And the Jamaican Girl, who just happens to be
a doctor, remembers them growing close as Aunt Rose battled the illnesses of her later years.
When they arrived, the grand children were the jewels
in her crown. Pictures were lovingly shown around, and then hung on the walls. And visits were many and often. It is
not my imagination that each of Aunt Rose’s grandchildren has developed a unique relationship with her, and she would
not have wanted it any other way.
That then is the history of so many days well lived. But before we end of this reminiscence, we need to look at the individual. Who was this person who journeyed this life well lived? Collectively,
we remember Aunt Rose in these terms:
< She was fearless and argumentative, ready to speak her mind no matter
< She loved music, and was blessed with musically gifted children, especially
< She loved to laugh, and would often respond to your joke with “that
is joke, but hear this one ...”
< She had high standards, and would not accept any “half picked duck”.
< She loved art, and was blessed with a husband with more than a little
< She liked to play cards, and when trailing in points she would console
herself with the saying “where racehorse reach, donkey will reach” (but she didn’t say donkey).
< She believed in the power of prayer, and loved her church.
< She enjoyed dancing.
< She could always find an occasion to expatiate that a wild goose never
layed a tame egg (and I first heard that word from her).
< She was meticulous in what she did, and she was a perfectionist.
< She enjoyed drama in the theatre, and sometimes made a little drama of
< She took pride in her clothes, but often complained that “I have
nothing to wear”.
That is why we are here to celebrate a life well lived. Aunt Rose, your life has enriched our lives, and you will live on every time we remember