Grandma Would Have Been 111 Years Old....
Grandma (Mama) Would Have been 111 Years Old…
My elderly mentor, Frank, a retired Pharmacist, says that I do not write enough about the place of my birth in Saint Pauls, Saint Kitts. I always respond by telling Frank, save for my grandma, that I did not like my life growing up there; yet, it is those challenges growing up in Saint Kitts that I have learned to cherish and have been a mother lode of experiences to use in many aspects of my life, including my writings, so far. Ooh, the teasing one took because one was less fortunate in means than others in my hamlet of Saint Pauls. As long as I can remember, I did not know a father or a mother, but my beloved grandma, Edith Hazel… of course, grandma had told me about my parents. Incidentally, my father never married my mother and she had moved to another Island, Saint Croix, and marry, while my father was absent until my mid-teens. Like the wont in the Caribbean, I, along with many other children, was raised by grandmas and in retrospect, I personally would not have it any other way.
Perhaps, this is a good place to lovingly, profusely, opine about grandma… who was imbued with that positive arrogance, always telling me that she had marry her one and only love, Acilton Hazel, when she was 22, bored him ten children, nine boys and one girl, my beloved mother. Sometime in the late Fifties, grandma’s husband died, and, apparently then, grandma had a good life: there was a farm or as we call it in Saint Kitts, “A Ground;” numerous cattle, sheep, chickens, and pigs. Upon grandpa’s death, grandma sold all the cattle and gave up farming and the animal husbandry and sent seven of her sons to England, which then was looking for people to work in its factories – it was easy to send my uncles to England because Saint Kitts was a British Protectorate until the latter’s Independence in the Eighties. Anyway, one would think that grandma’s middle-class life would be sustained because of her sons she had sent to England - but only two sons looked back and remembered their mother… now and then sending her some British Pounds.
My mother was struggling too in neighboring Saint Croix, but would send succor when she could. I was happy because grandma was well read and she would tell me these stories, mostly Greek mythology she was privy to - to tell you how much grandma was well read is the fact that she named her first born, Adonis, in light of how beautiful he was as a baby. It is true that grandma mostly read her Bible, but she was always reading the local paper too and instilling in me the import of an education; it was grandma’s reading of the paper that contributed to my coming to these cornucopia shores, but that is a chronicle for later.
It was feast or famine growing up with grandma… during the “Crop Season,” between April and August were the months the sugarcane was harvested. The cane workers were paid substantially better during those times and grandma and I eked out a living by selling mangoes and parched peanuts. As a boy, my eyes were always red from being around the stone fires that we used to make the peanuts and then selling them at soccer or Cricket games. As a consequence of selling, I learned to count at an early age and knew intimately about the work ethic.
When I was ten or so, grandma took sick with what we call “the grip,” our local term for the Flu and it was then I knew about love. There I was scared out of my mind… watching cousins and Christian folks taking care of grandma and quietly asking God to kill me instead of grandma because the thought of living without her was unbearable. But The Almighty had different plans and spared her life and to enable her to keep making me ‘bush tea,’ normally lemon grass and if we were doing well… having butter-bread to go along. Grandma did not complain during these feasts or famines, but kept on going to church on Wednesdays and Sundays and compelling me to go along. The fool that I was then hated it… not knowing the glory of Christ and the faithful saying that train a child in the Lord and he will return to the Lord in his adulthood.
One of my fondest memories is watching grandma reading her Bible by the lamp at night and praying for her children whose names were recorded in the front of that massive Bible. In the Mid-Eighties while serving in the Army in Germany, grandma begged me over and over again to go to England to talk to my vagabond uncles and see how they were doing – I kept finding excuses for not going to England because I knew had I gone, I would have been jailed or killed or booted out of the Army for conduct unbecoming, which would have manifested in putting ass whippings on those uncles or at least I would have tried. Back to my youth, it was in my early teen years when grandma told me to read an editorial in the paper that this man had written - that man happened to be my father who had settled in California after leaving Saint Kitts and going to the Virgin Islands (Saint Thomas) where he had joined the Army and served in Vietnam.
Of all the lessons learned from living with grandma… above all is the Christianity grandma instilled in me as a boy… the truth is that back then, I did not know the matchless worth of knowing about Christ Jesus. I thank grandma for her many prayers and Christian Crusades she took me to - God only knows how she paid for the bus trips. I even appreciate the whippings that kept me out of trouble and serve as admonishments even when grandma wasn’t physically around me... case in point, I swear that while serving in the Army in Germany, I was about to get a Screaming-Eagle-Tattoo and God, with the sense of humor He Has, came in the voice of my grandma, saying: do not mark your skin! I was not even a formal Christian then, but such was the influence of my grandma.
When I look at my daughter… and my children to come, I pray to Christ Jesus that I do not become my father's son in many respects - but like that freckled-skin old lady, Edith Hazel, who died at 92, but who would have been 111 years old. I leave with one of my favorite musings from grandma: be respectful to everyone, calling he or she, sir or ma’am, but treating no one like he or she is Jesus-The-Christ! Happy Birthday, Edith (Avis) Hazel.