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"Profile of Gladys"

PROFILE OF GLADYS - By Adelaide Casely-Hayford

We had quite a lot in common, my darling one gial pickin and I. We were both premature, utterly negligible, puny little infants causing our parents a lot of anxiety and trouble. We were both Wednesday's children - -full of woe. At an early age we both learned to suffer, but we possessed such iron constitutions that we survived. When Gladys was only three, she contracted bronchitis, then pneumonia and ended up with whooping cough, without any cessation whatsoever. We both had a keen sense of humour. Even when she was about to be stricken down with her short fatal illness in 1950, she wrote us a letter which was full of jokes and fun, radiating her joyous personality. I received that letter a few hours after the cable announcing her death.

She was a lonely little girl and I fully realised how inadequate I was as a playmate. When we played 'follow my leader,' she was disgusted with my leadership and would ask whether she might not take my place. Sometimes, with her spade and bucket, we would go down to the seashore together and she would watch with envious eyes some practically naked little boys with whom she longed to play. When I allowed her to do so, keeping an eye on them all the time, it did make her so happy. In her childhood days in England she found great solace in her imaginary friend, Peggy, whom we were admonished to treat with the utmost respect. When riding a bus, we were cautioned not to sit on Peggy and to allow her plenty of breathing space, much to the amazement of the other passengers.

She didn't like textbooks and hated arithmetic; but she was a voracious little reader, devouring Kingsley's "Heroes" from cover to cover at the age of seven. I tried to teach her, but not very successfully. Some ideas stuck in her brain, however, because one evening we were watching a beautiful sunset and she said, "Oh, mother, do look at that lovely archipelago in the sky."

To a child of her temperament, loneliness may have been an asset. It gave her unlimited time for meditation and her talents plenty of scope to develop. It may also have been the means of increasing her love of companionship, making her a most amazingly sociable little girl.

At the age of fifteen, she left me to go to Penrhos College, Colwyn Bay. The Headmistress, Miss Rose Hovey, had been my school friend and was quite prepared to take her. "Ma," as she was affectionately called, once wrote to tell me that Gladys had written a poem on "Ears" which was the finest ever written by a Penrhos girl. It would have been greatly to her advantage to have remained there, but without my knowledge, her father made other arrangements which were just as expensive and not nearly so effective.

After some years in England and the Gold Coast, she came back to help revive our little school, which was in a critical condition, and between herself and our white American teacher, wonders were performed.

Gladys was no respecter of persons and some of her guests were downright disreputable. As long as you were a human being in need, you could count on Gladys for help. Invariably she brought home these lame dogs and I, with my meagre income, had to extend hospitality sometimes quite grudgingly. She insisted that whatever we had must be shared. This outstanding capacity for love and kindness swallowed up her many eccentricities.

One day, she was walking along the thoroughfare near the market when she saw a man lying in the middle of the road. She pulled him to the kerb and seeing that he was still breathing, rushed into a shop for brandy and milk to revive him. By this time, quite a crowd had gathered, and one woman shouted out, "Nor make norbody tiff dah lili missis in poss oh! You nor see waitin e day do?" Gladys then realised that she was carrying her bag under her arm, so she looked all round the crowd and spotted one man. "Oh, " she said., handing it to him, "Please take care of it for me." After her ministrations., the sick man revived and an ambulance came to take him off. The crowd dispersed and Gladys suddenly realised that she had parted with her hand-bag. The man was still standing there and came up to her at once. "Missis," he said, "here is your bag." It transpired that this was a man, in and out of prison the whole time, but after the look of confidence and trust Gladys gave him, he admitted that he could not possibly steal from her.

Although there were times when I secretly felt that Gladys was inclined to be irreligious, I realise now how grossly I misjudged her. Whatever their appearance, she was everlastingly seeking for people's good qualities rather than condemning them. As Carlyle often pointed out, it is "this gift of tenderness and understanding sympathy that gives the measure of our intellects." Having definitely conquered fastidiousness, Gladys was a spiritual aristocrat.

It was only at her death that I realised what a place she had made for herself in the affections of the community. I went to my window about two hours after the radio had announced her death in Accra, and saw a group of market women looking up at the house disconsolately and utterly woe-begone.

In spite of my help, she was in a chronic state of financial embarrassment, largely brought about by her marriage (without my knowledge), to a man I had never even seen, and who was never able to support her and their little boy. Consequently, she suffered untold hardships.

She had no sense of values and never could discriminate in any way, either with human beings or commodities. Then too, she utterly lacked determination and perseverance. These traits were a great handicap throughout her life. Yet, on the other hand,, she could sit down and in a short time, write a poem which was a joy and inspiration to read. Once she casually posted some specimens of her work to Columbia University and immediately received an invitation to migrate there without delay. She left me to go, but never reached America, because of financial difficulties. As usual, her lack of discrimination prompted her to join a coloured jazz troupe with headquarters in Berlin. She bitterly regretted her decision in after years.

Meanwhile, her considerable literary talents continued to develop by leaps and bounds. She expressed herself chiefly in poems. Knowing that Cambridge, a suburb of Boston, was the supreme educational centre of the States as it sheltered Harvard University, with its Female section, Radcliffe College, I took some of her poems to a friend there. She was so impressed that she sent them to the editor of the Atlanta Monthly. To our great surprise, three of them were accepted and immediately appeared in this very literary American publication. Their appearance resulted in an offer for Gladys to enter Radcliffe College at once, but through my dear daughter's own action, another splendid opportunity was lost.

Life did not seem quite fair to her somehow and I must take my share of the blame. She wanted both her parents. Had her father lived., I know she would have been his right hand. Her optimism however always came to the rescue as in this poignant little verse:

With Pa, I feel so lonesome, 'cause
    Mammy she ain't there.
With Ma, I feel like crying', cause of
    Daddy's empty chair.
Then when I start a-straining at
    the leash to go away,
Ma wants a savoury omelette -- so I
    cook it and I stay.
Pa respects a person’s feelings an'
    he up and says to me
That as an individual, I had certain
    rights you see,
And he'd not encroach upon them;
    Thus we struck a friendship true,
That will go on enduring so long as
    skies are blue.
And when he says quite casual,
    "Would you like some ginger beer?"
I just unpack my box again and say,
    "Yes, Daddy dear!"

She was a patriot through and through, as her poem "My Africa" will show. In this she was her father’s own daughter, because undoubtedly, the Honourable Casely spent all his time, his talents, his energy and money on laying the fundamental structure of self-government in the Gold Coast, which is now almost an accomplished fact.


Oh land of tropic splendour, engirded by
    the seas,
Whose forest-crested mountains lift heads
    unto the breeze;
May patriotism render its praise on sea
    and shore,
Till Africa, great Africa becomes renowned
    once more,

May God walk on her mountains and in her
    plains be peace,
May laughter fill her valleys and may her
    sons increase:
Restored be strength and beauty and visions
    of the past;
Till Africa comes once again into her own
    at last.

Destroy race prejudices, break down the
    bars of old.
Let each man deem his brother of far more
    wealth than gold,
Till tribes be merged together to form one
    perfect whole,
With Africa its beating pulse and Africa
    its soul.

O Lord as we pass onward, through evolution
May we retain clear vision, that truth may
    light our eyes,
That joy and peace and laughter be ours
    instead of tears,
Till Africa gains strength and calm,
    progressing through the years.

From Mother and Daughter: Memoirs and Poems. By Adelaide and Gladys Casely-Hayford. Ed. Lucilda Hunter. The Sierra Leone University Press, 1983.

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