STORIES OF OUR FAMILIES
To forget one's ancestors is to be a brook without a source, a tree without a root.
Sheppard Family Archive
Bertha - A Saint
written on 28 October, 1986
by my father, Andrew D. Sheppard
(transcribed from personal family memorabilia)
She was born in Barbados and died in Trinidad. Her name was Albertha Walcott and she was always known and called by the name of Bertha. I was born in Trinidad and live in Barbados. When my eyes were first opened I saw Bertha and she took care of me until I was able to fend for myself. Bertha was my nurse, my religious teacher, my strength and has been a great influence on my character. Bertha, you see, grew up from childhood with my family in Trinidad. She arrived in that beautiful but impoverished island with her mother, who died, and Bertha was adopted by my father and mother. Yes, she was brought into a family which grew from two to twelve children with predictable regularity. Bertha was included in the family, but true to her Barbadian upbringing and good sense, she maintained her dignity and individuality. Truly, Bertha looked after all of us – I was number ten (10) child in this large family of twelve Sheppards.
Albertha Walcott always wore her blue Salvation Army uniform because she joined the Army as a young girl and was one of the Army’s most loyal and faithful followers and she never went anywhere unless she proudly wore her uniform and badge. She wore her uniform with great pride. She sang praises to our Lord all day and every day. She worked constantly, day and night. Bertha was always there. Bertha started the day by waking all of us up and made sure that we were all ready for school and that we had a good breakfast before we left home.
You must be wondering. Where was the mother of these children if Bertha was doing all this? It was a glorious situation. My mother, Elsie Mabel, was always there, supervising, tending and caring for her large flock, planning and directing meals, clothing and cleaning. A powerful woman. A faithful woman. A lady in every way. A saint unclaimed. A very religious lady who insisted in strict adherence to God’s word and we all grew in love and faith and with God’s Holy guidance.
Mama depended on Bertha to assist her in this tremendous task of raising so large a family. What a wonderful and strange alliance it was. Two women of completely different backgrounds living under the same roof and brought up under different circumstances in different islands – now with a common goal. To love and care and help these little helpless people to grow in Christian love and charity under extremely difficult conditions.
At first all appeared to be going well with our family. Our father was a successful businessman. We lived in one of the largest houses in the city of Port-of-Spain – ten bedrooms, six upstairs and four downstairs. The usual complement of maids, cooks and yard boy – labour was extremely cheap at that time and jobs were indeed rare.
Then it happened. The disastrous depression of the late 20’s early 30’s. Our father made a wrong business decision which was a calamity. Debt clouded his thoughts and the Devil showed him comfort in alcohol. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. A king of a man, thoughtful and kind and considerate for all – now broken and heading downhill. Where were his “friends” when he needed them most? You ask? You know!! – they disappeared. His health deteriorated until he died at 45 leaving a widow and twelve children. Eldest 22, youngest 4 years old. Poor Mama. What would she do? Pray and pray and work and plan. Money was scarce but faith and love were in great abundance. With Bertha’s help and care – we survived.
When the family was growing up, of course Christmas was a big thing. Jesus was everywhere. We were all members of the St. Ann’s Church of Scotland and we were Presbyterians. Ma and Bertha saw to it that we attended Sunday School and Church regularly. Mama was a pillar of the Church and chief organizer of fund-raising soirees and fairs, etc. We were prepared fully to celebrate the birth of Christ in a truly Christian spirit. After the fuss and bother of shopping, cooking and waiting for Santa Claus, we looked forward to mid-night on Christmas Eve. We were supposed to be asleep but were really barely sleeping. Then in all its glory came the sounds of a heavenly choir – oh, I’ll never forget it!! – “O, Come All Ye Faithful”, “Silent Night”, “Sweet Chiming Christmas Bells”, “While Shepherds Watch Their Flocks by Night” – those marvelous inventions of inspired minds. How they can move you! – We all dashed out of bed to see what was the matter – No Santa Claus! – Just Alberta Walcott – Bertha – and the entire Salvation Army Choir from Port-of-Spain with all their musicians sounding “Glory to God in the Highest – for unto Him is born this day – our Saviour Jesus Christ". Mama and Bertha made our Christmas. Happiness in being alive and well and to participate in this wonderful celebration was sufficient for us. We had God on our side and all will be well.
As we grew, we married – all twelve – and produced 58 children for Grandma, who loved all of them and wanted them around her all the time. We loved to see Mama with her grands and they all loved her.
Always present everywhere and at every function – who picked up the last glass and washed it and swept up? – Bertha. Never requested but always volunteered, was Bertha’s assistance in every way. Her Army uniform had four pockets, two higher and two at arms’ length. Bertha always kept “extra-strongs” (peppermint) in one upper pocket and regular sweets (candy) in the other. The left lower pocket had dry biscuits and the right – sweet biscuits. Something for everyone. The dry ones were for Bertha – a diabetic.
Bertha was known and loved everywhere in Port of Spain. On Sunday afternoons - traditionally – she took us for walks in the parks and socialized with everyone she met – she was proud of her family. Bertha knew everyone and with the slightest hint of a request, she would burst out in song – singing all the famous hymns she knew and some that she made up too. Bertha refused to be ill – her faith kept her going. She insisted in massaging our necks to relieve tension and we would give her a shilling, which she promptly turned over to the Army.
Bertha was an inspiration to all of us. She saw Mama pass away – her good friend and confidante. And still she stayed on – with our eldest sister, Jessie. She also helped to raise her four children to adulthood. And then her turn came. Bertha went to meet her Master in a geriatric hospital at age 85. Go thou, sweet angel, your work is through, so well and truly done.