from the archives
My entire childhood can be found painted on the walls of my maternal grandmother’s house. I’ve heard that memories start at around age 4 and even though I left Jamaica at 7, most of who I am was built in those short memory years.
It was there I learned that there is a fine line between responsibility and freedom. Waking up every morning and going to catch water from the community pipe for our drums before running off into the bush to play for hours. It was there my curiosity and sense of adventure came alive, creating worlds between trees and embodying different characters among friends. Not only did we dream up towns but we built them too. Using whatever materials we could find, nature and trash included, we built homes and shops. Walking, climbing and picking the feast of the wild. Our bellies were full with laughter and fruit.
On my grandmother’s verandah is where I learned to shell peas, wash naseberries and stockpile almond seeds. It's where my friends gathered to suss (gossip) and where we combed our hair. When the evening came it also became our boundary, God forbid if we got our feet dirty after the night’s bath!
Sleeping in granny’s house is where I learned to hate the dark. After the lights of the kerosene lamps went dim, it was only me, the blackest night, the sounds of my family breathing and the occasional rat scurrying across the roof. One could only pray that sleep would come quickly to save me from my own imagination.
But the same zink roof that amplified a tiny creature’s footsteps into the ugliest beast’s hooves, is the same roof that made the music of a rainy day. The sweetest choir lulling one to rest. Do you know the sound of country rain? From the first drops rushing everyone to take the clothes off the line and open the lids of the drums, to the downpour of heaven persisting on your stillness as you wait for mother nature to complete her lovemaking with the earth. Then there is the pitter patter of the end trail of her joy giving way to the community coming alive again. Oh to know nature in this way, to wait on her, to praise her.
It was my grandmother’s house that taught me about change. When we migrated I expected to come back to everything just as I left it. But nothing stays the same, for better or for worst. My friends changed and so did I. On visits, our conversations became a hungry how are you, hoping to connect again, desperate to find common ground, but the truth is we never really did. I moved from the simplest of life to the complex world of the US. A place with so many layers and intricacies that I was trying to understand and navigate. How do I explain to them that it’s nothing like the movies and things were hard. Not hard in a country life way but in a systematic stressed out way. One is not better than the other they are just different. Different in ways that I couldn’t explain.
Eventually my grandmother’s verandah disappeared, along with a few neighbors and family members. Etched into my memory these oracles and monuments haunt me. Every trip home there is a new change. Even though the physical changes to granny’s house (added rooms, a new patio, indoor kitchen and bathroom, running water and electricity) were all good things, the selfishness inside me cried with each new concrete block. Why did they change the verandah, of all things? It’s too different.
Selfishness aside, every change became a testament of my family’s resilience and hard work. We made it somehow. Fighters, scholars, hard workers, lovers. The only way to get beyond the poverty that rural life can bring is to fight. Fight to earn a living, fight for an education, fight for a better life, even if it means leaving where we love; granny’s house.
Some of the best years of my childhood can be found painted on the walls of my granny’s house. Pass the new front room and step into the heart, the core is the same. This house that taught me about change and love. The house that speaks to my adulthood. My family built a solid foundation but oh do we know how to renovate, decorate and make additions.
Coming home is like hearing the call for dinner after a romp through the bush. Leaving the memories of what was to face the reality of what is, then feeling the warmth of stew peas and rice filling a hunger that you forgot you had.