Sat | Dec 4, 2021

Carolyn Cooper | Joan Clarke’s Easter promise

Published:Saturday | October 9, 2021 | 12:10 AM

A life in full bloom! That’s how Joan was beautifully portrayed at the thanksgiving celebration hosted by the Kencot Seventh-Day Adventist Church on Sunday, October 3.

Like the flowers in her lush garden, Joan flourished at home, school, church and in the world of work. She was born in the district of Friendship in the parish of Westmoreland. This was a most fortunate beginning. Over her 79 years, Joan proved to be a loyal friend to her family and her circle of confidantes. She lovingly nurtured her daughter, Jackie, as well as a host of other children in her extended family.

Joan blossomed quite early as a brilliant student. After graduating from St Hilda’s Diocesan High School with distinctions in chemistry, physics, zoology and mathematics, she taught science at Manning’s High School. Soon, she was off to The University of the West Indies, Mona, where she earned a BSc in mathematics.

Joan then worked as a microbiologist at the Medical Associates Hospital laboratory, launching a career that would take her to the Jamaica Bureau of Standards. Her first appointment there was as a standards scientific officer in the microbiology laboratory. For 27 years, Joan gave outstanding service to the bureau, becoming a group director and travelling the world to lecture and consult in her field.

At church, Joan was an exceptional spiritual guide. In 1985, she made history as the first woman to be ordained as an elder in the Seventh-Day Adventist Church in Jamaica. This was a truly remarkable achievement. The church was established here in 1890. It took almost a century for a woman to rise to the position of elder. Today, 36 years later, not even one woman has been ordained as a pastor in Jamaica! In the 19th century, one of the prominent leaders of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church in North America was a woman, Ellen G. White. Nevertheless, long into the last century, the institution denied women the opportunity to serve as elders and pastors. Joan broke the hallowed ceiling in Jamaica.

A RECIPE FOR DISASTER

Of all Joan’s distinguished accomplishments, it is her legendary Easter bun that many of us will longingly remember. In her professional life, Joan excelled in the field of quality assurance. In private life, she skilfully applied that expertise in the delicious science and art of bun making.

In the weeks before Easter, Joan’s kitchen became a state-of-the-art laboratory from which the sweet smells of Jamaican spices floated. From far and near, Joan’s friends would descend on her for their special Easter treat. And her buns travelled all over the world.

In April, my sister Donnette came home to celebrate her birthday. Even before she arrived, she was asking about bun from Joan. I breezily told her I had already ordered her bun. Joan was making a special one for Donnette without cherries and mixed fruit which she didn’t like. But because it wasn’t practical to bake just one custom-made bun, we were going to get two. A whole bun for each of us!

This was a recipe for disaster. So many tempting calories! Joan’s bun was irresistible, full house or not. It took superhuman discipline to eat only one slice at a time. I foolishly challenged myself with a near-impossible test. I was going to eat one slice every other day. Believe it or not, I succeeded for most of the month. But by the last week of April, I broke down and was eating a slice or two every day.

Donnette was much more sensible than me. She froze half of her bun and took it home.

HOT CROSS BUNS

The history of the Easter bun reveals a vital aspect of Joan’s life: her long-sustained generosity. Joan’s weighty Easter bun was descended from the much less substantial English hot cross bun. As children of the British Empire, we learned this song in primary school. We didn’t know it was the bun that was hot, not the cross:

“Hot cross buns!

Hot cross buns!

One a penny, two a penny,

Hot cross buns!”

There’s a second verse, which I don’t remember at all from those long ago days:

“If you have no daughters,

Give them to your sons.

One a penny, two a penny,

Hot cross buns!”

The earliest record of the hot cross bun in England comes from 1361. Brother Thomas Rodcliffe, a monk at St Albans Abbey, created the ‘Alban Bun’ which was given to the poor on Good Friday. That’s the significance of the cross on the bun. It represents the crucifixion of Jesus.

Like Brother Thomas, Joan would give buns to the less fortunate who certainly appreciated her kindness. She was always looking out for the needy. Last year, Joan got in touch about a family whose house had been destroyed. She was asking for donations to help them rebuild. She warned me that she didn’t want no small contribution. I had no option but to obey. A few months later, she called to let me know that the family had moved into their new home.

Easter will no longer be the same without Joan. I will miss her hearty laughter as she would ask, “Is now yu ordering bun? And is how much yu want”? But she would always do one last batch and another and another to make sure we all got our Easter bun. And she would even bake out-of-season ‘Easter’ bun for special occasions.

I certainly hope Joan’s top-a-top bun recipe has been preserved in writing. As a scientist, she would have known the value of documentation. Whoever inherits Joan’s legacy must surely keep alive her spirit of generosity. That’s the Easter promise of resurrection.

- Carolyn Cooper, PhD, is a specialist on culture and development. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and karokupa@gmail.com