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Mary Marjorie (Madge) Gonsalves née Sheppard


This story of Madge was lovingly written in her memory  by her eldest child, George Gonsalves

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Our mother, sister, aunt, grandmother, Mary Marjorie Gonsalves, née Sheppard (“Madge”), was born on 28 December 1910. She was the second child and second daughter of Elsie Mabel Sheppard, née Gomez, and Charles Sebastian Theodore Sheppard. She was born in Port of Spain into a very talented musical family, but she inherited none of those talents. She could not play an instrument and was unable to carry a tune vocally.

As a child growing up, she remembered Sundays as being quite difficult. Her father was a wonderful mandolin player and her siblings mastered other instruments. In early days, the family observed strict sabbath laws. The day began with a cold breakfast, a walk to St. Ann’s Church, a couple of hours of church service and listening to a fire and brimstone sermon, then a walk back home to a cold lunch. The afternoon was spent singing hymns. Mum usually felt left out, since she could play no instruments and her voice did not add to the melodies of the hymns being sung. After tea, they would walk back to the church for Vespers.

Then came Monday and school. Mum disliked school in her early years. She appears to have had some learning difficulties and was not treated sympathetically by her teachers. One teacher, however, took her under her wing and helped her with her penmanship. Her handwriting was beautiful. Mum, however, had buck teeth, a cause for derision by her schoolmates.

Her protruding front teeth made her extremely self conscious. Her father, our Grandpa, took great pity of her. One day he spoke to a Venezuelan dentist who said he could put Mum in braces. The dentist demanded a huge sum of money in advance plus he said he needed a large number of gold sovereigns with which he was going to make the braces. Grandpa complied and Mum was fitted with the braces. A couple of weeks later, Mum’s mouth became septic and it was discovered that the braces were made of brass, not of gold. Gold could never be used to make braces. The unscrupulous dentist fled to Venezuela where, it was said, he perished in an automobile accident.  In order to combat the sepsis, Mum’s entire top teeth had to be removed as well as her palate. She suffered excruciating pain and spent months in recovery. She grew very thin and was fed mainly liquids. For the rest of her life, she had to wear a false palate as well as false teeth.

Mum recovered from her ailments, nurtured by what was a most caring and loving family. She also developed a very close bond with her father, who, one could say, spoilt her for the rest of his life. When she was 20 years old, she was alone in the house with Grandpa, when he had a an attack of phlebitis. His doctor came in to attend to him and gave him a shot of adrenaline. After the doctor left, the adrenaline precipitated a coronary thrombosis and Grandpa died in  my mother’s arms.

Years before this unfortunate event, whenever the siblings came down with mumps, measles, chickenpox or similar diseases, it was found that Mum was immune to them. She, therefore, assisted with  looking after the sick ones. Later, when her parents were in England and her little brother, Arthur, developed diphtheria, it was Mum who cared for him until his sad demise.

These experiences developed in Mum a profound interest in nursing and medical care. She studied  nursing at the Colonial Hospital in Port of Spain, Trinidad and later became interested in midwifery. Her profession took her through all areas of Port of Spain, and she was well respected.

In February, 1937, a passenger ship made an emergency stop in Port of Spain with a sick wealthy man on board. He was a Mr. Hussey whose wife had a connection with the Pillsbury Corporation. Those were very politically incorrect days and the call came for a white nurse. Mum appears to have been the only one to fill the bill and so she answered the call. The remuneration was good and the appeal of adventure was attractive, so she agreed to nurse Mr. Hussey back to Boston, It was her first trip outside of Trinidad and so she was very excited. 

The family treated Mum very well once they arrived in Boston and she lived a very opulent life until the return passage to Trinidad was arranged. She was shown around Boston and even lent a mink coat for a trip to New York to see a cousin who was there.

History repeated itself in April the very next year when another ship docked in Port of Spain seeking a white nurse, this time for a Mr. Lord of Lord and Taylor in New York. Here too she looked after him all the way to New York and was very well treated.   She was able to explore New York before her passage home was arranged,  I believe there were several displaced persons on the ship and Mum must have met Mr. Wolf and informed him about Grandma’s boarding house.

I found her name on this ship’s registry also.

In 1936, my father had gone to board at our grandmother’s boarding house. There he met my mother and they were married in 1940.

Mum brought many of her nieces and nephews into the world.

Joan, Betty Helen, Bernard, Charles, Patricia, Marjorie and Stanley,

she considered them to be her babies.


Vin and Madge - Trinidad, 14 September, 1940

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