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Friday, January 25, 2008

Remembering Mary...

Mary Samuel is a woman larger than her considerable stature, larger than life, an institution in her own right. She has lived long and touched many, and we owe her much.

For as long as I have been in and around the St. Augustine campus of the University of the West Indies, Mary had been the proprietress of the Small Caf. The grand old dame always worked hard to make sure that we were fed and watered, opening her cafe even during the August vacation to support those who had supplementals, people in the Summer Programme and the odd exchange student.

She gamely survived competition from the Big Caf, Yvette and her station wagon, the arrival of franchised fried chicken, the construction of the SAC, and the ingress of all of the other newcomers that now scatter the campus.

It was Mary alone at one point that gave us nutritional variety, all affordable on a student's budget - hot breakfast in the morning, something different for lunch every day, and the grill remained warm all evening to heat up her special recipe hamburgers. And then there were her special treats. There's never been a better meal on campus than her curry crab and big thick cow-tongue dumplings, served hot from 3:00pm on a Friday with crisp fresh crestle.

It was in the year that I served on the Students' Guild executive council though that I got to know the lady a lot better.

Brusque but personable, a formidable woman of Tobagonian stock, she was mother to all of us, but Mammy to those many whom she held dear. I often found myself in her office, chatting over food or a cup of cold tin juice about school, cooking, the price of commercial kitchen equipment, the agony of keeping her prices reasonable, or life in general. She always encouraged us to do more, to do better, and she always had a good word for you, even when things weren't well with her.

I saw her more recently. Her Caf had changed considerably. Open air seating was now enclosed and occupied by a local coffee house chain. Her location had shifted and was smaller but spruced up, in keeping with the new surroundings. But she was the same old Mary. Bright eyes, big smile, that raucous laugh, dressed to the nines, and still always with a good word...

We say good bye and fare thee well to Mary today. Services for her will be held at the Tunapuna Open Bible Church from 2:00pm. She will be interred thereafter at the Tunapuna Cemetery.

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