New Experience: Returning Home at Age 60
Sixty-something, but who cares about such a minor detail? Here I am again on the beautiful island of Saint Kitts in the Caribbean, after living abroad for forty years. There have been a few changes in my neighborhood.
- The building structure of my house has changed.
- The little girl who lived next door is now the mother of her own little girl.
- The children who pass by in school uniforms (added to school life while I was gone) greet me with “Good Morning” but they don’t know my name.
- More than half the people who live on my street think that I’m a stranger, and I think that they’re the strangers, because they and their houses were not here when I left.
So I have the responsibility to re-establish myself in my neighborhood. I get to begin again as the newcomer. I have the opportunity to forget the person I used to be, and become the person I want to be. I ignore the cultural habits I dislike under the pretense of forgetting; and I undertake new adventures fearlessly, having the privilege to say that I am new at them. One such adventure is gardening.
Gardener? Not Really
Beginning again at sixty-something, I could call myself a gardener, but I’d rather not. When I lived abroad, all I ever wanted in yard space were steps leading to the front door.
Now, thanks to my mother in her abler years, I have fruit trees—sugar apple, banana, papaya, guava, noni, pomegranate, lime and possibly more. Ferns dot the boundary of the yard all around. In the front, there’s a flower garden to be re-created. I want it to look as great as it did when my mother took care of it, and I’ll try, but I’ve made sure that everybody knows it is a new adventure for me.
Gradually, I’m learning, and surprising myself at how much I love it. I’ve had help planting, but I do the transplanting, the weeding and the watering. I’ve grown to love the feel of the wet soil between my fingers. I love the sight of tiny blossoms, and the sparkle of lingering raindrops on the colorful leaves of plants I cannot name.
To most people, not knowing the names of my own flowers may seem strange since the flower seeds come in labeled packets. Well, in my neighborhood, very few people—and only the very serious gardeners—buy flower seeds. Most of us benefit from the expertise of the experienced gardeners who know how to cut flower slips from their growing trees. Or they’ll give the seeds from the dried flowers.
We’ll scatter the seeds in our garden and enjoy the thrill of watching the tiny plants break through the soil and grow. From the gardening websites, I have identified some of the plants and flowers in my yard. By their unscientific names, they are known as the red ginger, the hibiscus—red and white, the yellow bell, chrysanthemums, the orange lily, a variety of crotons and soon I’ll know them all.
New Learning Opportunities
Beginning again, I have the opportunity to learn something I regretted not knowing while I lived abroad—the names and uses of the different bushes which grow in the yard and in the neighborhood. Bush tea is a popular habit and most Caribbean old folk know which leaf is good for what use. That will be one of my special projects while dabbling with plants. I am already nursing a few plants.
Good for flavoring and also for making tea. Fresh basil leaves provide antioxidant and immune-boosting properties. It helps the body combat viral infections including colds and flu. Just picking it produces a pleasant therapeutic scent.
- Aloe Vera
Also known as the miracle plant, it is used externally for skin problems and hair treatment. The more popular use is as a drink for detoxifying the body.
- Cattle Tongue
The cattle tongue bush is used to make tea. The Plants of the Eastern Caribbean Study by the University of the West Indies (Barbados) offers no information it, but the local people say it is good for colds, fever and diarrhea.
The cinnamon leaf makes a very healthy, good scented tea. The oil in the leaf promotes the growth of healthy bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract which aids in digestion. It contains vitamins and minerals and strengthens the immune system.
I’ve pulled up some of these plants thinking they were weeds, and I’ve watered some weeds thinking they were useful plants. There’s so much I don’t know, but I’m beginning again and learning some of the facts I should have learned years ago.
The neighbors who knew me previously wait to see if I am the ardent churchgoer they used to know. Thank God, I still am. Coming home is an alternative to the Holy Land pilgrimage. It motivates me to re-examine my faith and strengthen my beliefs in the God of my childhood.
Relatives with whom I have not been in touch come by expecting that we will automatically reconnect; and it’s happening. We recall old incidents, retell old jokes and share old pictures. The old love rekindles and my family circle suddenly grows bigger.
They expect me to attend funerals which seem to happen so much more often than I remember they did. The number of villagers from the past is dwindling and at the services, I get the opportunity to meet their offspring and be introduced as an old friend.
Re-establishing myself is so much easier than I thought it would be. It’s a new world with familiar people, in familiar surroundings. It’s a new me at sixty-something.
The National Anthem
The prideful lyrics of the National Anthem is something else new for me to learn.
Saint Kitts-Nevis National Anthem
© 2013 Dora Weithers