Family’s love conquers early slip-ups
LANA FLINCHED uncomfortably when she recalled the day she thought she had broken her mother’s heart beyond repair.
Her mother, Ione “Dor” Gibson, a labourer on a plantation, had worked long, hard hours cutting canes, planting and reaping crops with one thought in mind: making better for her seven children in her Vaucluse Tenantry, St Thomas home.
Then one day, 16-year-old Lana confirmed her mother Dor’s long suspected and worst fear – she was pregnant while still at the then all-girls Alexandra School.
“In those days, you didn’t have to tell: they could figure it out and my mother actually figured it out. That devastated her, to be honest. She didn’t have that in the path for me. She would have worked hard to send me to get an education, but unfortunately, we don’t see it that way when we are growing up.
“As a child I recognised how my mother made much from the little she had,” said Lana, now Mrs Gibson-Blades.
Her next painful revelation was to her role model sister, Averil, who was as disappointed as their mum.
“She is 13 years older than I am, and she was always the one I looked up to. I know that it would have been a great disappointment for her,” Lana recalled of that time in 1983.
Overcome by guilt, even though the family was already rallying behind her, Lana did almost every chore around the house, not only in an attempt to have Dor’s favour restored, but partly because she knew that without proper financing she had to do her fair share of housework to raise funds for the baby.
“Of course, it was a big setback, not having the big financial support that normally comes along with a child; and then still having to try to get some studies finished so that I could put myself in a position to be employed. I started braiding hair and things like that to make ends meet,” she said.
Lana watched as some of her former schoolmates progressed while she eventually landed a $50 a week job at Caribbean Data Services. With family on both sides assisting with the baby, along with the Gooding family from Shop Hill, Lana resumed the career path fate had intercepted.
“Yes, there were disappointments because at a time when most people would be finishing up school and preparing to flap their wings and move on, I had to be at home taking care of a child. I didn’t have a great social life during that time because Lio was first and foremost and I was working to ensure that I had adequate amounts for him all the time in those first couple of years because I was strictly looking to provide,” she said.
By now the wrath of her family was kindled against Everton “Lon” Blades, her first love.
“He was not readily accepted. After all, he was the one who had gotten her teenage daughter pregnant. But eventually, we all settled in and he had always accepted his responsibility. We never had a quarrel about that,” said Lana of her mother’s initial reaction to her future husband.
From CDS she moved on to Ebsco and when that closed, on the impressive recommendation of her boss Dereck Bowen, she was employed at RR Donnelly, where she started her management career, five weeks after entering as a proofreader.
Two years later the company closed and, again, on the recommendation of her boss she did an interview and in September 2004 started as assistant manager with Chefette. She ignored the label of “teenage mother” that could have stifled her ambition and left her as just a statistic.
Siblings (standing) Lio and Laneekwa watching as their parents Lon and Lana and grandmother Ione play with granddaughter Lanicha.
The experience of pregnancy and motherhood while so young was traumatic enough to scare Lana to the point where she wanted no more children, even though Lon had always said he wanted three.
“After my first child, I was frightened . . . it took me 14 years to get pregnant again. That’s how scared I was. He wanted three, I wanted one. So I compromised,” she said of the enduring union that was sealed in 1999 when they married just after adding daughter Laneekwa to the family.
Her confidence soaring as a result of all that her previous bosses had entrusted to her, Lana has taken to moulding young people.
“I let them know that you have to set goals and stick to your goals and don’t let people derail you, like people that would have been around for a while and they are not going anywhere and don’t want you to either. I love talking to the staff,” she said, referring to the interaction at the four branches under her charge.
Back home, still in the Shop Hill neighbourhood where she built a home along with some of her other siblings, it is Auntie Lana to the rescue whenever a young relative begins to act up. She will step in and, holding herself up as the example, explain how straying too far can lead to living with the regret of disappointing family.
“If I had my life to live over I wouldn’t want to be pregnant so early. I learned from it, dusted myself off and moved on, but I wouldn’t want to be pregnant so young,” she admitted, even though she has everything that society deems acceptable, like a management job, home and vehicle.
Nine years ago that world was shaken a little when one day she came home and in casual conversation with Lio about a friend’s young daughter being pregnant, he confessed to her that his girlfriend was pregnant.
“He was 21 and I took it like how my mother did. I was shocked. I didn’t have a child as part of his path either. I was looking to have two university graduates in my house by 2020. When he told me he was sure the baby was his, I told him he had to step up and be a father and he took heed. Lanicha is the apple of his eye,” she said with a laugh about the circle of life.