Essay: Grandmother Irene’s Tailor Company in Kingston, Jamaica by Gardenia c. Hung on ScribeSlice
My Grandmother Irene was a Certified Tailor in the world of Men’s Fashion when fine clothing and “haute couture” made trends during the 1930s and 1940s, at a time when Coco Chanel featured tailored clothing for men and women. In fact, Grandmother Irene met Coco Chanel, the French fashion designer in person for tailoring business referrals and fashion shows at the time. Grandmother Irene became the manager and owner of a Kingston Tailor Manufacturing Company in Jamaica, Cuba, USA, London, England, France, Italy, and Spain in Europe. Thanks to my Grandmother Irene and her sewing mistresses friends, I have always had fine fashion garments to wear. My parents always ordered custom-made dresses designed, embroidered, and sewn by private seamstresses for special occasions. One of the seamstresses who sewed for our family was named Ana Dela, the mother of Ana Maria, wife of Marcelino Simons, who was related to my Aunt Silvia Simons, daughter of the Engineer Dennis Simons from Kingston, Jamaica.
During the summers, Grandmother Irene offered to teach me how to sew in her antique Singer foot-pedaling sewing machine for fashion, as the French would say “haute couture”, custom-designed, tailored clothing, “sanforized”. Grandmother Irene showed me her vintage sewing templates for custom-tailored fashion clothing from Europe, and taught me how to use the fashion sewing templates to cut tailored clothing for ready-wear. I still have a sample garment which Grandmother Irene sewed to show me how to use Sanforization for men’s shorts.
Sanforization is a process of treatment used for cotton fabrics mainly and most textiles made from natural or chemical fibres, patented by Sanford Lockwood Cluett (1874–1968) in 1930. It is a method of stretching, shrinking and fixing the woven cloth in both length and width before cutting and producing, to reduce the shrinkage which would otherwise occur after washing.
The cloth is continually fed into the sanforizing machine and therein moistened with either water or steam. A rotating cylinder presses a rubber sleeve against another, heated, rotating cylinder. Thereby the sleeve briefly gets compressed and laterally expanded, afterwards relaxing to its normal thickness. The cloth to be treated is transported between rubber sleeve and heated cylinder and is forced to follow this brief compression and lateral expansion, and relaxation. It thus gets shrunk.
The greater the pressure applied to the rubber sleeve, the less the shrinking afterwards. The process may be repeated.
The aim of the process is a cloth which does not shrink significantly during clothes production by cutting, ironing, sewing or, especially, by wearing and washing the finished clothes. Cloth and articles made from it may be labelled to have a specific shrink-proof value (if pre-shrunk), e.g., of under 1%.
Aunt Silvia Simons has an English name because her Father Denis Simons was from Kingston, Jamaica; however, Aunt Silvia Hung-Simons lived in Santiago de Cuba on Santo Tomás Street, near José Martí Avenue where my Grandfather Santiago owned a Café Bar Restaurant while her husband Miguel Hung worked with my Father Roberto Hung during the time that he was studying for Law School at the University. Silvia speaks English as a native language like all her family. She also taught English as a Second Language following her training at the Teachers’ College in Santiago de Cuba, Normal School for Teachers in Cuba, where she met my Mother who was also a teacher after she lived in Kingston, Jamaica. In addition, her oldest brother Marcelino Simons was married to Ana Maria whose mother Ana Dela was a professional seamstress and embroidery craftsman in Santiago de Cuba. Silvia’s oldest sister Peggy Simons lived in Kingston, Jamaica with the family estate. There is also another brother named “Chino” who moved to Caracas, Venezuela with all his family from Santiago de Cuba. While the youngest brother named Sam Simons lived in Santiago de Cuba.
My Father Roberto Hung was a good family friend and brother-in-law to Silvia and her husband Miguel Hung, his oldest brother. When my Father became seventeen years old, Silvia gave birth to her first baby girl whose name is Olivia Hung-Simons, born on June 7th, the same date as my Father’s birthday. So, Roberto Hung became the Godfather of Silvia’s first daughter with Miguel Hung, his oldest brother.
Silvia Simons’ family name has a British origin from South England and the eastern coast of the United States, in the area of Raleigh, North Carolina and Virginia.
Thirty-one (31) years ago, in 1982, Aunt Silvia, my Uncle Miguel Hung and family invited me to visit them in South Miami, Kendall County, Florida during the summer to go with them on a Walt Disney World vacation for the 10th Anniversary of the amusement park and the grand opening of the Epcot Center in Orlando, Florida. Silvia drove her car with her two youngest sons, Santiago and Ray Hung-Simons, and made reservations for the Best Western Hotel at Disney World for everyone—four people. Since then, Silvia Simons has been a member of the Walt Disney Vacation Club around the world whenever she travels with friends and family on vacation during the year.
For the last thirty-one years, Aunt Silvia has become older while she has been a working senior widowed after my Uncle Miguel Hung died in South Miami, Kendall County, Florida.
Since 1982, I have not seen Aunt Silvia or her family. Four years ago, in 2009, Silvia’s daughter Olivia and her second granddaughter Michelle Leaver, were visiting Chicago and Oak Park, Illinois when they called me to arranged a meeting during on August 16, 2009, while Michelle was attending Columbia College Downtown. Olivia gave me Silvia’s home telephone and I called her during 2009 and 2010.
Three years have passed now in 2013. Aunt Silvia does not live at the same Miami address nor does she have the same home telephone number in Florida after she moved near her daughter Olivia and family.
Aunt Silvia may have changed her name over the last thirty-one years and remarried after my Uncle Miguel Hung died.
While Silvia Simons has become older woman and travels in the Chicagoland area and the Midwestern states of Indiana, and surrounding areas during the summer, she has never tried to contact me by telephone nor meet me in person. Even when she has a mobile telephone available, Silvia Simons never calls me nor does she arrange to meet me when she visits Downtown Chicago or Oak Park, Illinois. When Silvia travels with her Venezuelan family relatives, she does not want to meet the family of Roberto Hung in Illinois, USA.
When my Father Roberto Hung died on June 18, 1998 and he had his funeral at St. Pius X Catholic Church in Lombard, on June 25, 1998, Silvia Simons did not call nor did she send any sympathy card on behalf of the Simons Family.
Even when Silvia and her daughter Olivia Hung-Simons visit Illinois with her granddaughter Michelle and great grandson Joseph, she does not arrange to meet the surviving family of Roberto Hung or her niece and nephew who have been troubled by the crimes committed by Silvia Hung-Simons’ friends and family relatives from Venezuela in South America and the Caribbean.
My Father was Mr. Roberto Hung Juris Doctor in Law and Business Management and my Mother is Gardenia Fong Ramos Ph.D. in Education. Both of my parents worked for the University of Oriente in Santiago de Cuba after I was born. Since they were both very busy during their professional work and lifestyle in 1960, they hired Anita, a Cuban Black woman who lived near the mountains of the Sierra Maestra, Palma Soriano, as a Nanny and household staff to help me and take care of me while they were both at work during the day, afternoon, and sometimes in the evenings in Santiago de Cuba. Anita, the Nanny, helped me as a 2-year-old toddler and fed me using a glass milk bottle with a rubber nib. Anita gave me the milk bottle, while she took care of household chores, laundry, shopping, and other housekeeping tasks for my parents when they lived in Santiago de Cuba.
Anita, the Nanny, was a Black Jamaican descendant who lived in Santiago de Cuba, commuted to and from our home which was located at the corner of Avenida José Martí and Desiderio Fajardo No. 5 a street which was also known as San Fermín, to her own living quarters near Los Hoyos, a low-income neighborhood where the Cuban Blacks lived at that time. My Mother was helping Anita who was a young Black woman trying to work and get a high school education, literacy and support while working as a Nanny and household staff for my Father, also.
While Anita the Nanny was working for my parents during the decade of the 1960’s, I was given a milk bottle which was not washed properly and contained milk bacteria around the rubber rim of the nib which caused me to become seriously ill with “pertussis”, also known as “whooping cough”, bronchitis, and a severe respiratory infection which hospitalized me for several weeks at the Los Angeles Clinic in Santiago de Cuba. Due to this severe respiratory infection, I had to stay in the Children’s Ward with an oxygen mask in isolation while I was a 2-year-old toddler.
Since Anita the Nanny was blamed for negligence in giving me the dirty milk bottle with bacteria, she was dismissed from her household duties by my parents who had to stay home afterwards and take care of my health themselves. Anita the Cuban Nanny had a Black boyfriend who wanted to get married. So, after Anita the Nanny was dismissed, she left to get married and did not return to take care of me ever again, since she caused my respiratory infection as a child.
My Mother's youngest sister is Xiomara Fong Ramos, the wife of Pedro Zayas, who has travelled in the Cuba, the Bahamas, the Caribbean, Miami, Florida, and in the Chicagoland area in the USA, and in London, England, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Germany, and the Central European States.
Now Aunt Xiomara who is a senior retired urban planner lives in Santiago de Cuba with her husband Pedro Zayas and her Grandchildren who visit her during the summer in Cuba. Aunt Xiomara only has one son whose name is Pedro also, married to Xiomara with two children Eliannie and Rafael Alejandro Zayas. My Mother is the God-mother of Xiomara’s son Pedro.
My Mother’s third sister Xiomara was born on July 28, 1948, ten years after her oldest sister and middle sister Dulce María, all legitimate daughters of the Chinese national Alberto Fong and Cuban Irene Ramos Mejías, who managed the business of the Tailoring Garment Factory and Dry Cleaners, Downtown in Kingston, Jamaica. My Grandmother Irene’s oldest son José also known as “Pepín” was the first child from her first marriage. Then my Mother was born in 1938 as the first daughter of her second marriage to Alberto Fong in Santiago de Cuba. Her second broher José Alberto was born before the middle daughter Dulce María, Xiomara was afterwards, and the youngest son Miguel was born the last of six children begotten by Irene Ramos Mejías during her lifetime between Santiago de Cuba and Kingston, Jamaica.
During 1994, Aunt Xiomara visited Miami, Florida, and the Village of Lombard in York Township, DuPage County, Illinois USA. My Mother and youngest brother invited Aunt Xiomara to visit us, after our family purchased two (2) Lombard homes in the state of Illinois, United States of America. Aunt Xiomara travelled by herself to North America. When Aunt Xiomara arrived to O’Hare Airport, we went to pick her up for her holiday visit to Chicago and the Village of Lombard where she stayed with my Mother and youngest brother at 342 West Harrison Street near Main Street and Lilacia Park. That same year, other house guests were invited to our Lombard homes. Reverend Melvin A. Wittler and Mrs. Nancy Wittler (Patriquin) my in-laws and parents of my husband Nathan Scott Wittler, were driving across North America from South Vermont in New England during the Spring of 1994 and coincided with my Aunt Xiomara during our family reunion. My Father, Mr. Roberto Hung invited all of us to breakfast, lunch, and dinner at his expense as a welcoming host in our Lombard home at 502 S. Wesmtmore-Meyers Road and Washington Boulevard in District 5, York Township, DuPage County, Illinois USA.
While Aunt Xiomara was visiting us in the Village of Lombard, I used to pick her up in my sportscar Nissan 200SX and driver her to go shopping at the Oakbrook Center to purchase fashion clothes at Lord & Taylor, Marshall Field’s and other stores in DuPage County, Illinois. I bought Aunt Xiomara fashion garments as gifts to take back with her upon returning to Santiago de Cuba.
In the past, Uncle Pedro Zayas, Aunt Xiomara and her son Pedro lived in Europe and travelled through London, England, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Germany and the Central European States.
When Aunt Xiomara was a young girl, she used to help my Mother while she was studying to be a teacher at the Normal School for Teachers and the University of Oriente in Santiago de Cuba. Aunt Xiomara used to keep my Mother company as a youngest sister, closest friend, and chaperone when the latter met my Father, Roberto Hung when they were introduced at a social event in Santiago de Cuba, before my parents were married on March 23, 1957.
Aunt Xiomara is ten (10) years older than I am. Last July 28th, she celebrated her 64th birthday anniversary in Santiago de Cuba where she lives with her family, grandchildren, friends, and co-workers.
The family of my Aunt Xiomara and Uncle Pedro Zayas, they also have other relatives who live in state of New Jersey and across the United States of America and around the world.