It’s a Friday morning 6am to be exact and mum is shouting out my name from downstairs. It’s my day off from uni and I’m being woken up to accompany mum to the hospital. She’s been putting of this trip for months but she couldn’t take the pain any longer. So we’re going to the hospital to get her wisdom teeth removed. It’s a simple day procedure. Well it was meant to be but as the day pans out it turns out to be longer than we expected!
We arrive on time 7am and are seated in the reception area. There’s a young girl with her boyfriend and mother. Two old Indian men with their wives. We wait for a couple of hours. By midday the others in the waiting room have gone into surgery and their loved ones have left trying to pass time whilst they wait for their loved ones to come out from surgery. At last mum is called in, to get prepared for surgery. Whilst she’s away. A granny and her 23yr old grandson rush into the reception area. He’s late for his surgery and his grandmothers telling him off! He goes to get ready and she sits in the reception area. It’s just me and her now. She’s a small elderly lady in her 70s. About 5ft tall wearing a long, loose grey coat. Her black hair is wispy with bits of white; tucked into a grey hat.
I continue reading my book and she leaves to get a coffee. She comes back and sits down. A nurse walks in to reception and tells her there’s a sign reading ‘you’re not allowed to eat or drink’ guess it wasn’t in the best of places as neither of us noticed it! She apologises and the nurse takes her into a side room where she goes to finish her drink. A little while later she returns and I catch her eye, she says to me “I feel so bad I hate breaking regulations” and that was how our conversation filled afternoon began, one I’ll never forget.
Her name is Dorothy, she’s Jamaican. We start talking and she comes across as a lovely prim and proper woman. I’m intrigued by her strong will and personality, I start asking her about herself. She tells me she arrived in England by boat as a young teen to join her father who was already living and working here. Her mother stayed back in Jamaica because she didn’t like the idea of travelling for such a long period of time.
England 1950s was a stark contrast to Jamaica but she soon settled in. Racism was strife, she recalls seeing the signs ‘No Blacks, No Irish, No dogs’ For a short while she lived with her aunty. She tells me there were plenty of jobs going unlike the current climate of today. She got herself a job print screening silk fabric it was run by a Spanish guy. Her co-worker was an Irish man and one day he asked her “Dotty is your blood black?” She laughs dryly as she recalls this. He wouldn’t believe her, that they shared the same colour blood. So she took a needle and pricked her finger.
She was in her early 20s when she met a guy one day and they hit it off. He was a gentleman she tells me. They had only been out a couple of times when they decided to take a trip to the cinema joined by other friends too. The guy’s friend kept giving her weird looks. She thought he was a bit weird and dodgy and tried to avoid him best she could. But one day a little while after their cinema date her date’s friend came to see her and asked her if she knew who her boyfriend lived with? She thought he was jealous and wanted to make trouble. He gave her the address of his home and told her to go find out. She was confused but thought she ought to go see what he was talking about. She reached his house and knocked on the door to find a woman with two young children open the door. A girl and a boy. She said she could still picture the little boys face, the spitting image of his fathers. And he had told her that he lived with his mother. She told his wife that she had been dating her husband for a couple of weeks now and had had no idea that he was married. His wife wasn’t angry as Dorothy thought she may have been, perhaps her husband’s antics were something of a regular occurrence.
*A nurse walks in to the reception area and informs Dorothy that her grandson may be asleep for a while until the anaesthetic wares of and that she might want to go home and wait there. She looks at me and says “will you be okay here?” I reassure her I’ll be fine, even though I’m hoping she will stay and continue her story. She then says something to me that will probably stay with me for a long time. She tells me “once you become a mother you’re a mother to all children not just your own” she really is a lovely strong wise old lady. *
Dorothy was a strong lady but couldn’t stop her tears from falling, she found herself crying on the bus journey home. A gentleman approached her asking if she was okay and if she needed any help. She had just been humiliated and used by one man and wasn’t interested in talking to another. He was a good looking fellow Jamaican but she just wasn’t interested.
She later discovered the man from the bus used to work on the buses. She tells me in those days the communities were close knitted and it was easy to track someone down. He found out where she lived and he who would constantly call on her asking her for a date. She used to get her aunty to send him away.
After a couple of months she gave in and agreed to one date. They began dating and after a while her father told her that he thought he was a good man and would take care of her. He told her that he would be happy if she accepted his marriage proposal. She did. I asked her if she loved him. She said in the beginning she didn’t but agreed to marry him to keep her father happy but as time went on, she started to warm to him and could see that he was a kind decent man and would do his best to keep her happy. Not long after she got married her father passed away.
They had six children, 3 girls and 3 boys, 18 grandchildren and a handful of great grandchildren! For most of her life she worked as a nurse in various hospitals and worked hard to save up to ensure her later years were comfortable enough. Her husband passed away in the 90’s and she never married again. She tells me she never felt the need to. And enjoyed her independence too much.
Dotty is one of the strongest and wisest people I have ever come across. It’s often said we can learn a lot from our elders and it’s true they have lived through many more years than us and often have experienced and learnt a lot more. She was inspiring and I loved spending the afternoon listening to her various anecdotes and her advice on working hard and ensuring you become an independent strong woman.
I had the feeling that I wasn’t the first person to have had such an intriguing conversation with Dorothy but I’m glad she decided to keep me company, whilst I waited for mum to recover from her surgery. She brightened up what was becoming a stressful and long day!