So how do you thank someone, who has taken you from crayons to perfume..lyrics from the song To Sir with Love
On Tuesday October 15th
2013 at Joseph’s Restaurant Cascade, Trinidad, an intimate group of about 25 girls, now women in their late fifties and early sixties sang the words “To “Jo” with Love” to our beloved teacher.
The St Theresa’s Convent Girls Intermediate Class, Form 1 G from the years 1967 -1972, the Reunistas, the Recyled Teens, as we fondly think of ourselves, had the enormous pleasure and privilege to celebrate friendships of 46 years. Most significantly, we came together to share an honorary thank you to our teacher, formerly Sr. Mary Jovita, now widowed and a grandmother, and ever still a teacher..
To us she is Jo. And to us, she is an indelible, unforgettable inspiration, who is an integral part of the intimate legacy of who we are and who we have become.
As one of the new crop of local nuns to start teaching right out of the Holy Faith Convent order, she was merely 20 years old when she introduced herself to the 35 or so, new Common Entrance, form 1 G class starting secondary school at St. Theresa’s. No more than a petite 4’6’’ and let’s just add 2 inches with the hood of the habit, for good measure, there was a curious precociousness about her.
With a rowdy bunch of misfits, there were those of us with very prestigious backgrounds. The family names preceded them. There were those with struggling families barely able to afford the uniform and books required to attend high school. Some traveled from the far East, all up by Caroni, 20 miles outside of the school district, and some others did not have enough money to buy bus fare to school on a daily basis.
There were the highly popular girls who knew each other from their former Holy Faith Convent private schools attendance. There were the many girls who had all of the strikingly beautiful assets of face, hair, eyes and shape. There were those who were the quiet and remained mostly to themselves. There were the rambunctious, which somehow, trouble would come seeking them… even when they were attending church services.
With an eclectic bunch of the few who were disposed to be studious, and more of us, that were keen on being in the “in crowd” Jo had her work cut out for her. She must have prayed real hard, because she found all of the most innovative ways to capture our attention and encourage camaraderie, sportsmanship and friendship.
In English and English Literature, our class performed Shakepeare’s As You Like It, Romeo and Juliet, Midsummer’s Night Dream with theatrical aplomb and lusty characterizations. As opposed to the teachings by the Irish nuns, our class also got to perform local plays. One of our favorite enactments was “Tief from Tief make God laf” . We took liberties with our local dialect and spewed our sentences with every flavor of local twang. In that play, there was more laughter from the actors’ performances, than there were from our school audiences. We learnt Chaucer and spoke “goode olde” English prose.
Jo championed these efforts with charismatic enthusiasm and devoted conviction.
Jo, led us as Girl Guides. We visited Tobago. We visited Toco. We visited Fort George. We went down de islands. We went to Our Lady of Fatima pilgrimages. We participated in school bazaars to make sure our school fund raising efforts were successful.
Many of our greatest pranks played on each other were unknown to Jo, while under her and other teachers’ watchful eyes.
Jo, was our netball, volleyball, sports coach. There seemed to be no exhaustion to her efforts to keep us virtuous and exhaustively occupied.
Jo encouraged our talents. Our class enjoyed participating in many music festivals under the choral tutelage and stellar instructions by Jo. In addition to classical singing, Jo was most instrumental in encouraging our local carol singing and paranging. Because our carol singing became so popular, and the demand for our house visits became so extensive, we perhaps, became the cause of our own misfortune of losing Jo’s accompaniment in our travels. Her outings with our caroling groups got derailed as the convent rules prevented her frolicking with us past their curfew hours.
Jo was untiring in her efforts to shepherd her very first class of secondary school age girls. Needless to say, we must have exhausted her beyond understanding. Yet, she never showed us indifference or even shared her own disappointments that we may not have been as serious and studious as she hoped she taught us to be.
After we left High School our lives have taken its many separate paths. Many of us stayed in Trinidad and became successful business entrepreneurs. Quite a few of us, left Trinidad and made new lives abroad, in London, the United States, Canada, Montreal and other far places throughout the world. Our stories are all rich in tragedies and luxuries. Each one of us has many facets of colorful lives that makes us all very individual and unique. We are grandmothers now. We are single. We are married, divorced and widowed.
Jo, also, has a new history. She is now a widow, a grandmother, and she continues to teach. A local private school in Port of Spain now has the jeweled prize of Jo as their steelpan and music teacher.
After four decades of separate lives, our Class of 1972 reconnected. A fellow classmate describes our reunion as follows:
To all you beautiful ladies
What can I say! What a wonderful Reunion of our Class of ‘72. So many of you took time out from your busy schedules to be there.
To the awesome ladies who took their vacation and flew in from abroad to attend this event thank you. I know it took lots of organizing on your part. It was definitely worth it.
To those of you who initially expressed embarrassment and apprehension to attend because you didn’t immediately remember some of our classmates thank you for making the effort and coming out to face the challenge. Hey it’s been 41 years and we’re getting on in age. The memory is not what it used to be. The idea was to re-connect and re-connect we did! All it took was a little jog of the old memory.
To those of you who only spent one or two years with us and still came, a special thank you for knowing that we consider you one of us. It was an honour having you there.
To those of you who couldn’t attend you were missed and we hope that when we do decide to meet again you will be there.
On the evening of the Reunion as part of our dedication event, we did a chorus of songs, like Chattanooga Choo Choo, Shine On Harvest Moon, Bubbles Bangles and Bright Shiny Beads all part of our Broadway repertoire, all taught to us by our illustrious and talented teacher Jo. We also recalled our version of ”In a Little town of San Rosita”, where everyone joined in the chorus refrain, with a lilting echo of OOO OOh after each line…and we sang the words of the best teacher student song in history To “Jo” with Love.
And the words were heartfelt, as the room full of beaming, beautiful, and exquisitely charming girls in their late 50s and early 60s sang their hearts out in unison…to
“A friend who taught us right from wrong and weak from strong
That’s a lot to learn, What can we give you in return
If you wanted the moon, we would try to write across the sky in letters
That would soar a thousand feet high
To “Jo” with Love”
Needless to say, this is just a new beginning to our future. The Reunistas, the Recyled Teens, The Form 1G St Theresa’s Class of 1972 continue to revel in the memories and cherish our treasured friendships.
Thank you Jo for sharing your light, your love, your rich humanity and your blessedness in each of the manylives you have touched. We love you ever more.