Sunday at the Durants is a day for family and for long, lingering lunches together.
Matriarch Grace Durant considers Sundays as catching-up time using them to make up for days lost when as a young mother she was unable to get her family together for that kind of quality time. As the wife of a police officer and a working mother, hers was a constant balancing act.
When she worked in the Student Affairs Department of the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, dealing with student admissions and handling their myriad associated problems, Grace went home every day to be mother and wife. The problem was most times in those early years, work meant that her husband was the missing part of the equation.
“Now that I am retired I sometimes ask myself how did I manage to do all this and work as well,” she said. “I suppose it comes with planning and having a plan B. You know you have got this to do so you slot it in and just keep going.”
In Student Affairs, she also travelled sometimes to Eastern Caribbean countries visiting other campuses, all the while promoting Cave Hill.
“It was an interesting time working at the university,” she said. “You met students and parents and other lecturers from the various campuses. Interacting with students especially the ones from overseas who missed home, you became like a parent figure.”
Like other members of the department, she often opened her doors to overseas students including them in her family activities during Christmas holidays and other occasions when they were likely to be homesick.
Some of them have not forgotten. The surprise thoughtful note or card expressing appreciation she receives every once in a while says it all.
“Even when I travel to the islands now, I can hear in the street ‘Mrs Durant, do you remember me?’”
Sometimes she does not, but the joy comes from hearing the reminder, the relating of happy experiences at Cave Hill and her contribution to their sojourn there.
“Another thing that made me happy was seeing the students graduate. They come in and they are so innocent and you follow them through the years and it is as if they mature and grow up right before your very eyes, and they graduate and it is time for them to go out into the world.”
That legacy of support to young Cave Hill students as they worked to achieve their goals, stacks up favourably against Grace’s legacy of the women who marry policemen.
At age 23, she married Orville Durant who rose to the rank of Commissioner of Police and became a practicing attorney-at-law after he retired from the force. That experience of a policeman’s wife inspired her to form the now 30-year-old Police Wives Association.
“In those days it was day shift and night shift. I remember some days I am going to work in the mornings and he is now coming home from the night shift and then he has to spend the whole day in court, so when I am coming home in the evening he is getting ready to go back to work on the night shift.”
She was therefore the parent who had to take the lead in family life, foregoing a social life with her husband because “at that time my husband was very busy and his work in the Police Force would really have kept him not available. I had to keep things going with family.
“I think that was one of the reasons that prompted me to form the Police Wives Association . . . because I thought, not only me, other police wives with young children were in the same situation. With husbands busy working; we are the ones at home keeping things going, so I thought there was a need for us to come together as a body for communication and to support each other.”
She was made patron of the Police Wives Association in recognition of her contribution and is satisfied the organisation “has proved its worth” particularly in the lasting friendships that have developed among the wives.
The former Jaycees Carnival Queen contestant knows the fears and anxieties experienced by the spouse of a police officer. “Yes, there is anxiety and fear. You know the job he is doing is dangerous, you know he is at work and you are hoping when the phone rings it is not the hospital or the Commissioner calling to give bad news.”
From her own experience she says the life of a police officer takes away from family. “They miss important family activity; they miss children growing up. That’s why I believe the police wife has to be a special breed of person. It gives you independence and on your own you have to keep the family going.”
She recounts the times family Christmas celebrations in her household had to be put on hold.
“I remember there are many instances even a Christmas morning, you have your clothes pressed, you are going to church and looking forward to having a lovely day, lunch prepared and next thing you get a phone call saying ‘I can’t make it home there is something happening’.
“It is those things people are not conscious of. They give police a hard time forgetting they have children, and families and parents . . . . I hope people appreciate the work that policemen do,” said Grace, the mother of grown-up children Suzanne and Derrick and grandmother of four.
“Luckily, I had my mother who could help with the babysitting but it took a lot of balancing and juggling. You bring home work, the children gone to sleep and then you are up doing some work to get it ready to take in the next day.”
But after retiring about 10 years ago, this grandmother with a still trim figure declared with a dazzling smile, “I am not the everyday babysitting grandmother. I am too busy for that.”
And she does maintain a busy schedule. She is still heavily involved with the Police Wives Association, she also makes her contribution as a member of Works Partners in Service, made up of wives of Rotarians but which will include the spouses of female Rotarians. She is also a member of the altar guild of St Mary’s Anglican Church which allows her to show off her skills at flower arranging.
Retirement did not catch this septuagenarian napping. “You should prepare yourself for retirement,” she said, citing the professional course in flower design and interior decoration she undertook “so by the time I was ready to retire I had something I could do.”
Her attractive gift baskets and event coordinating skills coming out of these two courses are sought after by friends.
“You are retired, but you are busy. I find the days seem to be getting shorter and I think it is because I say ‘okay I am not rushing’. You get up when you want; do what you like when you want to. I am not rushing to do a lot in a whole day because I say I will do that tomorrow.”
The time she and her husband frequently go on vacation cruises is compensation for the many hours they were forced to be apart.
On Sunday, when the whole family sat around the dining table talking almost endlessly “about everything” with the grandchildren taking centre stage, they were once again catching up on lost time.
“For me it is a more relaxed way of life. That is the beauty of retirement,” she said.