Delroy Castella has a hard time telling his story, but fortunately he has his wife, Joan, and friend Jane Andres by his side to help him when he struggles for the words that refuse to come.
Delroy has been travelling to Niagara to work on local farms for decades. On Sept. 4, he was in an orchard picking peaches, a task with which he is very familiar. Normally an outgoing, talkative man accustomed to taking charge when needed, he found he was having difficulty forming words. It had worsened during his lunch break, but he returned to work for the afternoon.
Sitting at Andres’ dining room table Friday, Delroy tried to explain the sequence of events that day, with Joan and Andres stepping in to help when his frustration became evident.
Together, they explained, Delroy nodding in agreement — although some of the details Joan was hearing for the first time — that after he was done work for the day, he rode his bike to the medical clinic in Virgil, but could barely get out any words to explain why he was there. An ambulance was called, and took him to the hospital in Niagara Falls, where he was diagnosed as having had a stroke.
He was transferred from there to the Hotel Dieu Shaver Health and Rehabilitation Centre in St. Catharines, where he remained, receiving therapy as an inpatient, until Oct. 27.
At that point the Caribbean liaison people prepared to send him home to Jamaica, with the expectation of his therapy continuing there.
But, as Andres explained, Ken Eden, the former fire chief of NOTL, stepped in. Since retirement Eden has become involved with the migrant farmworkers community through his volunteering with Bikes for Farmworkers. He and other members of the Gateway Church in Virgil decided they weren’t going to let Delroy be sent home, until he has finishes his full regiment of therapy, says Andres. He has since been granted permission to stay for a few more weeks, to continue his therapy twice a week.
In the meantime, his wife Joan has arrived in Niagara-on-the-Lake and they are staying at Andres’ home.
Sitting at her table Friday, Delroy was receiving help with reading and writing skills from local Georgina Keller, whose background is in education.
Since he can’t communicate verbally, improving his ability to read and write is essential to communication, and even if and when his speech returns to what it was, literacy skills will still be a benefit to him, Keller says.
Joan sits with a small knitting loom on her lap, making toques, as taught to her by Tony Carrier, who knits the warm, wooly hats for farmworkers when they arrive in early spring.
Joan talks about how terrified she was when she heard the news about Delroy. “I was at home, crazy with worry. I could talk to him, but he couldn’t respond, so it was very hard to know how he was doing. I began singing to him, ‘God will take care of you, through every day, all the way,’” she sings, Andres joining in, finishing with “‘God will take care of you.’ And I know he will,” Joan says. “He knows that too,” she adds, reaching out to her husband.
Did it help Delroy to hear Joan singing to him, from so far away?
“Ya mon,” he says with strength and emotion, the first words to come to him easily, making the others laugh.
Andres recounts when he first arrived at Applewood, several of the men still working in greenhouses came to visit. Asked if he wanted a game of dominoes, he said, “Ya mon,” the first words he had managed to get out.
That game of dominoes meant a lot to him, but not as much as having Joan arrive to be by his side.
She admits to still feeling terrified at times, not knowing what the future holds for him.
“I love him,” she says softly.
She is also loving her very first visit to NOTL, this town where her husband has been spending eight months of the year for the last 30 years.
“It’s great to see where he has been coming for so many years, but it’s hard to think about going home without him,” she says.
Home includes their granddaughter, Unique, and Joan is anxious to return, but hesitant to leave Delroy.
She has a flight booked for early next week, although there are some efforts underway to change her departure date. Delroy has been chosen to lead this year’s Candlelight Stroll, and Andres and others would like to see Joan by his side.
Leading the stroll means being the recipient of the money raised from the annual event.
It will give them some cash with which to return home, where Delroy has a lot of work waiting for him on his farm of crops, such as yams and bananas, and cows to tend.
At this point, they don’t know what the future will bring, or whether Delroy will want or be able to return to Niagara next season. They are taking it one day at a time.
Joan’s not sure if she will be able to stay for the stroll, to be held Friday, Dec. 6, but she’s grateful she was able to visit for a short time, and to be reassured her husband is going to be okay — that even without speech, her usually talkative, social husband is still her Delroy. She needed to see that for herself.
“I’m so grateful to this community, and to all these people, each and every one of them,” says Joan. “Everybody is doing so much to help and support us in every way. He always talked about Jane and all the people here, always said good things about this community. This is proof that they are looking after him.”
The Candlelight Stroll, presented by the NOTL Chamber of Commerce, is Friday Dec. 6, with carols at the Court House steps beginning at 6:30 p.m.
At 7 p.m., Lord Mayor Betty Disero will introduce Castella and other members of the migrant worker community, who will light candles for those in attendance before boarding a Sentineal horse-drawn carriage to lead the stroll through the beautifully decorated Heritage District.
In addition to helping out Castella, the chamber will be giving a portion of the proceeds from the stroll to a Christmas Gift program that is asking for donations to purchase items for welcome kits when workers arrive in the spring.
The stroll route will be alive with entertainment from a wide selection of community choirs and musical entertainers, with Debbie Whitehouse and the Salvation Army singing carols from the steps of the Court House.
Donation boxes will be located at each candle stall on Queen Street for donations of non-perishable food for Newark Neighbours. Students from the VineRidge Academy will be on hand to assist with the food donations and share in the spirit of generous giving.