Going overseas to attend a relative’s funeral is never easy. There are the last minute travel plans, the memories and saying farewell.
Avril called to inform me her Mom, Henrietta Amelia Dawkins, had died. Henrietta Amelia Dawkins, known to me as Aunt Ritta, was the wife of my Mother’s youngest brother, Panton.
Aunt Ritta had an active life. Born in Jamaica on 14 February 1931 in the district of Sand Shore, Manchioneal, Portland, she attended Tichfield Secondary School. On graduation immigrated to England to pursue a degree and post graduate studies in Nursing.
While in England she reconnected with the love of her life, Panton Dawkins, and they were married 10 December 1960. The union was blessed with four children: Patrick, Michael, Richard and Avril.
Aunt Ritta accepted a posting in New York and the family emmigrated to the United States of America in September 1968. Never one to sit still, she completed additional post graduate studies. In 1995 Aunt Ritta retired as Nurse Manager at North Central Bronx Hospital to care for her ailing husband who died in 1998.
When Aunt Ritta and Uncle Panton moved to New York, they were my family of choice to stay with although I had other relatives there. I remember after picking me up from the airport, Uncle Panton always stopped at Baskins Robbins for me to have my fill of Banana Split ice cream. Then we would head home.
When I stopped in New York on my journey to The Netherlands for a year, Aunt Ritta, taught me a few tricks about multi-layered dressing for the cold. These tricks have stayed with me and I still use them even in Sydney during the colder months.
Over the years we would spend many an hour on the phone chatting.
The last time I saw Aunt Ritta was in January 2020. My daughter, youngest grandson and myself stopped by for a day visit. We were heading home to Sydney after attending my Uncle’s funeral in Toronto. On this visit Aunt Ritta gave me this pink handbag and made me promise to attend her funeral.
When Avril called to tell me Aunt Ritta died, my first thought was to attend by Zoom. Then I remembered my promise and started making arrangements to attend in person with the pink bag.
In no time I was off to New York with Avril collecting me at the airport and me staying in Aunt Ritta’s family residence. I was very much on the road with Avril and Simone to finalise the funeral arrangements. There we were up late the night before the funeral, preparing 3 collage boards. The first focused on Aunt Ritta’s life, highlighting her younger years, marriage and later years. The second focused on her with her kids, while the third focused on her with the grand and great grand kids.
Before we knew it was Saturday 27 August 2022, the funeral day. The funeral service and repast was held at the First Presbyterian Church in Mount Vernon. I had a chance to meet relations I have not seen for some time and Aunt’s grand and great grand kids I had not met. Her grandson Patrick, a pastor, presented a fitting eulogy. Internment was at Kensico Cemetery, Valhalla, where she was laid to rest beside Uncle Panton.
The following day Avril spent some time trying unsuccessfully to find Baskin Robbins before we settled for another brand. So yes, I did have ice cream in New York, but alas not my favourite brand.
Farewell Aunt Ritta!