Friday, April 28, 2006

Defining Moments

Sweet, Sweet St. Mary
By SheerAlmshouse

I can still close my eyes and smell the earth, freshly roused by the daily rainfall. I see the smiles of adults and children as we pass them on the narrow trail-like road. They stand to the side as they hear the loud engine of the 70s Volkswagen bug approach.

I can still smell the sweet high country landscape covered with sugarcane, cocoa and banana trees. All these rich images will help to form the woman I will become, the woman I am –when I open my eyes.

I cannot help but visiting this profoundly visual and inspirational place when I think of what St. Mary represents to me. The memories go back over two decades. It seems longer in theory but still, somehow, it feels like yesterday.

My daddy grew up in the parish of his birth, and the birth of several generations of Morrison’s and Thompsons, to whom we are undoubtedly related. After all, in the Jamaican countryside, anyone who shares your name is seen as your cousin. We even describe them as second, and third cousins, indicating the strong families ties even where the blood bond weakens.

Theirs was a very small district that we called “Montry Gayle,” -which I have yet to locate on a map- in which my grandmother grew up. It wasn’t until recently that my grandmother set me straight that the village was in fact “Mount Regale,” located about three miles from Richmond. This was the place to which I would later travel with my father on weekends. As the only child for almost a decade, I was happy to make the journey with him.

My daddy always had a love for the land and everything living on it. He respected agriculture, and years of “upwardly mobile” university studies could not detach those heartstrings. He started raring goats, then went to pigs as he tried to find which hat suited him best as educated farmer.

It was on those regular weekend trips that my father and I would bond. He played the multiple roles of parent, playmate, comforter and educator as we took the country road to and from Kingston. It was then that I developed a keen interest in geography and social studies, and later in landscapes and of course, long winding trips into the countryside.

I remember playing with the children of the adopted daughter of my great grandmother, Mammy, climbing trees and taking turns running to the spring, turning many corners for about two miles uphill, and then sliding down the always wet, clay-like, rich St. Mary soil to the place where cool, sweet water poured from rocks.

My mother would lament the state of my clothes to my father upon our return from these trips. I played coy but I just could not resist the urge to slide down the slopes near the spring. I was a city girl on the loose in the country. Those Adventures of Sheer Almshouse came to an end the day I slipped and actually rolled all the way down. That was the last I saw of my favourite Popeye sweater and pink gingham skirt because I stuffed them under the guest bed at Mammy’s. Surely, I could not play the fool with my mother any longer.

It’s been years since I have visited St. Mary. The last time was a gathering of generations of Thompsons at the roots from which they sprung. It might have been the last. It seems that every generation rebels against the land and fights its hardest to be as far from it as possible.

We have a saying that “ wantie wantie cyaa gettie and gettie gettie no wantie.” Translated, it means “those who want it cant get it and those who get it don’t want it.” “It” here refers to any object desired. This seems ironic on so many different levels as I sit on an antique kitchen chair on a large step that doubles as a verandah for my studio apartment in the heart of noisy, nosey and peaceless Kingston.

I have essentially become a city girl with a country heart. I know the names of my neighbours, and I always make it a duty to smile and say hello. But even “hellos” now seem stifled in the concrete jungle. However, every time I come across bananas or sugarcane originating from St. Mary in the market, I have to ask the vendor’s surname- who knows? We may very well be related.


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