AUNTY ETHEL
AUNTY ETHEL

By Magnus RexDanquah

ONE thing I have always dreaded to write; and which I know I will never even have the courage to read myself before a congregation is a TRIBUTE to the greatest woman of my life – AUNTY ETHEL; more because of the many questions it leaves unanswered about life.

AUNTY ETHEL
AUNTY ETHEL
Mine was a special bond which I have over the years found so difficult to explain, not because there is none to give but because like life itself, our bond has its own mysteries; and therefore if the beginning of this tribute does not make sense, please bear with me as it will finally.

I was told that my mother, Jane Acquah-Cornelius (her niece) gave birth to yet another son after me and he died in a way that made her decide that I would not lose mine on her account. My mother, Jane, died two days short of my 4th birthday in 1959. For me the only mother I have always had and known has been her, Aunty Ethel.

For every child’s insatiable quest at that age, my innate desire to see my real father forced her, I believe to arrange and send me to Axim, where my father was working as a Bank Manager in 1961. However, my father died in 1968 whilst I was at Mfantsipim. I was 13 years old. I was back to Aunty Ethel.

Aunty Ethel was more than a ‘grandaunt’ to me, she was, has always been and will always be ‘my mother’ and perhaps to her, the ‘son’ she might have seen in me.

I recollect a day in 1973, when I was home from Mfantsipim as a Lower Sixth Form student and I needed to mend my shirt before going back to school. I sent the shirt to the Ethel Fashion Shop to be mended by one of the apprentices. In about 10 minutes later, I saw an apprentice carrying a sewing machine on her head with the instruction from Aunty Ethel that she would be home presently to teach me how to mend my shirt and any other thing that needed mending. To the extent that she taught me the rudiments of sewing, the first thing I bought with my first SSNIT students’ loan at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) was a brand new SINGER sewing machine, making it possible for me to sew all my bedsheets, pillow cases and others. It is amazing that I kept this sewing machine till sometime last year, 2014 that I gave the sewing machine out to my barber’s younger sister to learn sewing: after odd 40 years. That is the extent of her influence on my life.

If I was able to complete Mfantsipim School, both at the ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels in 1972 and 1974, it was more the result of her efforts.

Another incident I easily recollect was when I had my first daughter. I invited Aunty Ethel to the outdooring and naming ceremony in Accra on 27th December, 1989, a week after her birth. When she got to the naming part, she asked for the name from me and I said, ‘her name is Ethel Maame Akua Amissah Danquah.’ That gave her a bit of a shock. She asked why I did not name her, my first daughter after her niece and my biological mother, Jane Acquah-Cornelius? I simply answered that the next girl and daughter will be named after my mum. Indeed, I have always regarded her, Aunty Ethel as the ‘real’ mother and I am sure this is one act that my ‘other’ mum, Jane would not have questioned in any way.

I remember during my days at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), whenever I came home during the holidays, I was domesticated. It was difficult to even join my friends at evening functions such as dances, knowing that Aunty Ethel will work late into the night at the living room with the door leading to the gate open. After a while, I devised a way to outwit her eagle eyes. First, I threw my evening wear over the wall shared with Hope Press, walked in my shorts by the opened door to the gate; and then off to the dance at the Prisons Club House opposite the Sekondi Prisons to jam, making sure I come back before she sleeps. In my smugness, I thought myself too smart for her, for on my return I will change into my shorts, throw the evening wear over the wall back into our compound, and then walk back through the gate to my room as if nothing had happened. Then, my day of reckoning came when one night on my return, I threw my evening wear back into our compound, walked through the gate and there my ‘mum’ stood with them: ‘You think you are a guy, I watch you all the time and laugh to myself for you thinking that you had outwitted me; I only didn’t mind you for the respect of keeping such a thing from me, even though you were in the university. That was why I never bothered to expose you. Henceforth, just ask and I would allow you, please’.

That ended my trips to Atlantic Hotel as well as the Prisons, Tropicana and Ampezzo Clubs for night outs with school mates and friends.

Admittedly, one of the very few regrets of my life now is that I never found the time ever to sit down and exclusively talk to my ‘mum’, Aunty Ethel about myself growing up, the kind of child I was, who my parents – Amos William Danquah & her niece, Jane Acquah-Cornelius really were, and how she saw them to inform my life going forward.

On a self-discovery journey, which started this year when I turned 60 on 9th February, 2015, I have started pestering my big brother about his thoughts and remembrance of my growing up in both Axim and Sekondi: those portions of my life that I do not seem to have any recollections of, especially as they relate to my ‘other’ mother, Jane.

Thus, one statement that will drive the second part of my tribute is a statement made by my big brother, Albert, in his piece acknowledging my ‘mum’ Aunty Ethel that: “Your life is an exemplar for any young person about the importance of making good choices and doing things the right way and being honourable and respectable. Aunty Ethel, you have left a remarkable legacy as evinced by the good deeds of Magnus Rex Danquah.”

This statement really set me thinking, because I have always had this inkling that I was a bit different in whatever it is, maybe because I stayed in Sekondi much longer than any of my siblings, or now the realization that it was the result of the influences, values, traits and ethics of my ‘mum’, Aunty Ethel; and more importantly her interpretation of life.

I knew my father, Amos William was a cheerful giver and compassionate but mine sometimes was overboard, which now I realize could only have come from my ‘mum’; they call me a ‘maverick’ behind my back at various fora and for a shy person I have always wondered where such strong independence of thoughts and actions could have come from, only for me now to realize that they could only have come from my ‘mum’, Aunty Ethel; my drive for creativity and innovations might be admired by others, but it never crossed my mind till date that it could be as a result of staying with one of the most talented, skilled ladies of her generation.

My big brother, Albert is not one who dispenses his words without forethought to please anybody, and therefore to state that I am a manifestation of my mum’s remarkable legacy speaks volumes.

My mum, Aunty Ethel taught me more than life itself; and the greatest lesson of all: “THAT LIFE IS ALL ABOUT DOORS”- doors that are either opened for one
• by another person,
• by academic / professional qualifications,
• by one’s family name,
• by a phone call from a good Samaritan,
• by the name of an alma mater like Mfantsipim,
• by an introductory letter written by another,
• by the past deeds of a living or dead relative,
• by the name of the church that one worships at,
• by the ‘competition’ one has or ‘friends’ one keeps,
• by the handshake of a person one meets even for the first time in life,
• by the name of the village one hails from, or
• by one’s self; and that each door is a unique opportunity of life that comes to all of us, equally in more diverse ways than one.

My mum’s teaching was and has always been, after one passes through each of these several doors, how you turn out to become in life is dependent on one’s self: one’s perception to life, one’s understanding of life, one’s appreciation of life, and one’s expectations of life through one’s love / commitment / dedication / devotion / loyalty to things that concern others than one’s self.

My mum thus taught me that what really matters most is the welfare of others than ourselves; that success in life is primarily not about money but the quality of one’s service to others and humanity; that honesty, sincerity and truthfulness are the requisite hallmarks that define a man; that boldness does not come from the physical strength of a person than what he makes of himself after passing through all the doors that opened before him through his / her journey of life here on earth.

My mum, above all taught me about Jesus Christ from the little tender age; and as she always said in her last days: “me Papa Jesus na medze gya wo”.

I saw my mum about three weeks to the date of her death, having visited her after a while; and when I decided to leave, the lady who was looking after her, Kakra, came to inform me that she wanted to move to the balcony to wave me off. This was a ritual every time I visited. Seeing her state, I promised to make my visits weekly henceforth but life on the highways of Ghana did not permit me only to be told on Tuesday, 25th August, 2015 that she was gone.

My personal loss is immeasurable but I trust that she is well.

I remember one of her birthdays (incidentally we share the same month of February – mine the 9th and hers, the 21st of February) that I arranged for a basket of natural flowers delivered to her in Sekondi. It took her forever to call virtually each day thereafter to comment about the beauty of the flowers and the effect it had had on her.

This is my short dedication to you:

“My dear Mum, Aunty Ethel,

When I was down and oh my soul so weary;
When troubles came and my heart burdened be;
When I was still and waited here in the silence;
Until you came and sat a while with me;
You raised me up so I could stand on mountains;
You raised me up to walk on stormy seas;
I was strong when I was on your shoulders;
Yes, you raised me up to be more than I could ever be”.

Mine will forever and always be a different bond; and I will forever adore and cherish every memory, knowing YOU are only sleeping in the Lord.

Sleep well till we meet on the resurrection morn, when I get to call you mother again.

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