I was barely out of pigtails in 1956 when I emigrated to Great Britain to become Mrs Pettigrew. Born Verona Franceta Bennett, daughter to Prince Bennett and Keliah Hall-Williamson, I was raised by my stepmother, Anne-Amanda Bennett, and you could say that I had lived a charmed and sheltered life.
England was the motherland to many of us in the West Indies then. I needed to escape the limitations of Jamaica. So I married the first man who asked me. I had wanted to migrate to America. But Tom sent the plane ticket for Englsnd, and I landed in London on a TWA flight. Thomas Pettigrew was all the noise among the Jamaican contingent of East London when I first arrived. He was especially popular because he had just bought a big house in Hackney Wick, quite an achievement for a Windrush immigrant in those days. With a readymade home and the added promise of further education in the hallowed corridors of power in England, marriage seemed like a good idea at the time.
I hardly knew Thomas Ranford Pettigrew back home in Jamaica. He had stopped me on the streets one day and said that he wanted me to be “his queen.” I laughed my head off. I just couldn’t take him seriously. I told him he’d better speak to Mama. But knowing my stepmother, I knew that she would take one look and have nothing at all to do with him. Next thing I heard, Tom had gone to England.
“The semiliterate shoemaker from the parish of Saint Mary had charmed the virgin school ma’am whom they all called Queenie,” is what everybody said.
In reality, Tom and I were nothing but a pair of incompatibles on the day that we got married. He was aged forty-six. I was just twenty-one.