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Lewis Punnett Home loses last of its first occupants

Lewis Punnett Home loses  last of its first occupants

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by Sister Ellen Wilson Fri Jul 26, 2013

Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. My mother, now deceased, used to speak about her friend Stella who lives at “Poor Home”. One day she returned from Kingstown and was upset. She related to us (my siblings and I) that Stella had hugged her and someone asked her how she could let her do that and “she come from Poor Home”.{{more}} She said that she told the person that nothing was wrong with what she did and that Stella was looking and smelling clean. That’s our Stella. I met Stella during the early 1980s, while on attachment as a student nurse. However, it was not until I was assigned to the Lewis Punnett Home as a Ward Sister and interacting with her that I really got to know her.

History revealed that when Lewis Punnett Home was established in the early 1950s, through the generosity of Mr Lewis Punnett, to house the poor, Stella was among the group of people who were transferred there from where they were previously housed at Fort Charlotte. Her two partners, Advira Haywood and Irma Collins, have since passed on. I could recall Irma saying that she was about 12 years old when she came to Lewis Punnett Home in 1951, and Stella used to carry her on her back sometimes.

According to one staff member, it was while living at Lewis Punnett Home that Stella found love and became a mother to her children, four boys and two girls. One of the girls, Tish, was living with her, whereas the other children were adopted. Life for Stella and Tish was not easy, as they did not get along well. Stella never wanted to stop beating Tish and Tish never wanted to stop cursing Stella. Sadly, one day Tish died following a mishap.

To some staff, she was known as “Bomb”, “Peedeep” or Stella. Although she had problems with her speech and could not call names, which maybe/could be due to her surname, as some staff were curious about it, saying that it is not Vincentian. Past and present staff were given names such as, “big nuss”, “the tall one”, “one with the car”, “belt”, “book”, “cap”, “ring”, “she writing down dey”, “blue frock”, “foot to foot”. Out of curiosity, I enquired as to who was “foot to foot” and was told that Staff Nurse Sheldon Harry had an emergency on Female Ward and Nursing Assistant Nickla Sandy went with him.

Residents were known as “hand”, “crappo”, “meat” and “foot”; some of her friends were “mere” and “shop” and her sons, “pants” and “shop”. At times, she would give a description and right away, you would know who she was referring to.

Stella was easy to befriend and to many persons, a quiet, caring person with a sweet and infectious laugh, someone you enjoyed being around. This was noticeable in her daily interactions. When she did not see someone on duty, she would inquire about them or if unwell while on duty, she would say that they needed to see a doctor. My grandson was called “the lille (little) thing” and often she wanted to know how he was and if he had already gone to school for that morning. At rare times, when someone got her angry, she would cry and complain to the staff, as usual giving her description of the person, or tell them off. On one occasion, I had a good laugh when I heard her telling resident, Ms Sharpes and putting up five fingers, that she has four pants and she will call them to kick her a…up, because she is too “blasted fast” and needed to mind her business.

Age was just a number. Despite her age, Stella was a very independent and orderly person and was admired for this. This was evident as she can be seen performing her daily chores, inclusive of ensuring that her bed was neatly made, the dolls placed correctly and comfortably and doing her laundry, which she took pride in. When cleaning her area, you had to be sure to replace everything as they were, as she had a place for everything and everything had a place. She always had an answer for questions when asked, and would question staff such as when she was called for her medication, she would ask if it was food or if told that something looked wrong with her, she would reply, “yoh ah dacta? You ah right, ah gwine upstreet” (Kingstown).

On Saturdays, Stella would make her weekly visits to upstreet. Sometimes, she would leave as early as 6:00 am, returning at 6:00 pm. There she visited her friends in the market and elsewhere, including Milton Cato Memorial Hospital where she would receive her habitual soup. Stella knew her things in a special way. Money was either a big one or a small one. On returning from upstreet, she would say who she saw, whether it was Bibby or ring and which groceries that she received or purchased. Some popular items were sugar, milk, bread, batta (butter), cake and mauby. If at times we thought that she was not well enough to make the journey and told her she could not go, she would find an alternative route where she would not be seen leaving the compound. Jokingly, we would ask her if she had a boyfriend in town. She would reply to some persons giving them a sly smile, and lick her lips, some would be asked if they don’t have one too, some would be told that they were too fast, some their mouths wanted to pin up, while others would be ignored.

Sundays would be for worshiping, and she journeyed to Villa Flat to fellowship with the congregation at Mt Halibethan Christian Church of the World, something she enjoyed, despite the long walk and you dared not stop her. She would say that she is going yonder where they ringing bell. As recollected by a staff member, on many occasions, she tried to invite staff, saying, “You go hear de bell, come go in de room or come jump up”. Although she didn’t know the words of the hymns and songs, Stella was a great singer and using her own words did a rendition at one of our annual Easter concert. She did it her way. She also attended the monthly shut- in services at Kingstown Anglican and Methodist Churches and services held at the institution. Most times, she would be ready before the others.

Stella often participated in social activities conducted at the institution, and those hosted by organizations including the National Society of Persons with Disabilities and National Society of and for the Blind. Her last outing was the institution’s residents’ annual beach picnic in May this year. In November 2004, she received a Certificate of Appreciation from the National Disability Awareness Committee for many years of sacrificial and excellent service. The following month, December, the institution honoured her with a Golden Award in recognition of the many years spent there. On Mother’s Day this year, when the staff hosted Appreciation Service for staff and residents, she was one of the recipients.

Stella has touched many lives. She loved and was loved. She would be greatly missed. Some staff can attest to her assisting with light chores. For the staff nurses on night duty, she was the one drying the medication glasses. I had two unofficial security guards. Stella was the female. She usually came to the office, where we would chat or she sat there while I did my work, sometimes nodding off and had to be awakened. She would also visit the male ward and collect pig food daily for a gentleman in the community.

Lewis Punnett Home has lost its last long standing resident. On behalf of management, staff and residents, I would like to extend sincere condolences to the bereaved, which is a wide circle. It is so hard to say goodbye to someone who loved us and received the same. When staff received information about Stella’s death, they quickly said, “Sister, this is our funeral, we have to give her a good send off.” And here we are today, paying our last respects to our friend. Weeping may endure for the night, but joy cometh in the morning.

We would like to express heartfelt appreciation to everyone for being here today, for those persons who prayed, called give comforting words, supported us and even those who stood silently. Remembering her and seeking comfort in our treasured memories. Whatever storms we are going through at this period, remembering Jesus never fails, He is only a prayer away and His grace is sufficient for us.

In conclusion, I would like to share this poem with you:

All is Well

Death is nothing at all,
I have only slipped into the next room
I am I and you are you
Whatever we were to each other, that we are still.
Call me by my old familiar name,
Speak to me in the easy way which you always used
Put no difference in your tone,
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow
Laugh as we laughed at the little jokes
we enjoyed together.

Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word
That it always was,
Let it be spoken without effect,
Without the trace of shadow on it.
Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same as it ever was,
there is unbroken continuity.
Why should I be out of mind
because I am out of sight?
I am waiting for you, for an interval,
Somewhere very near,
Just around the corner.

All is well.

Stella French, “Bomb”, “Pedeep”, you have fought the fight; you have finished the race, now it is time to sleep (“seep”), as you would say. Gifted with life 1919, called to rest July 11, 2013. May you “seep” peacefully.

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