The Spirit that Guides Us
With one eye on Rusty Mrs. Delia was still standing listening to Papa as he spoke. Having finished with Rex’s escapades Papa was now ready to move on to the others. “Monty saved my life” Papa continued. “I was working on our farm up in Bamboo Walk (bamboo forest) when I began to feel very poorly.” Papa at this time wrapped his right arm around his stomach in order to emphasize to Mrs. Delia the pain he had been feeling at that time. Papa continued to speak, “a piece of pain took me around my chest I thought I was having a heart attack” Ignoring Rusty for the moment Mrs. Delia again moved forward one half stride. Her attention now fully focused on Papa she asked, “What did you do?” Papa replied, “I said to Monty go home!” slowly releasing the hold he had on his own chest. Turning to Monty he continued, “I did not have to tell him twice.”
I remembered that day when Monty came home without Papa. Auntie was the first to see Monty and called me. “Go right now to see where your Papa is!” I remembered seeing deep concern in Auntie’s face as she spoke that day. “Here wait a minute let me get you a thermos with some hot water.” With Monty leading the way back to the field I arrived at the location where Papa had been laying slightly upright against the base of a Mango tree. Although Papa was feeling a bit better he showed his extreme delight to have seen us. Happier still he was to have received the thermos of hot water.
After he drank two cups of hot water he burped loudly and passed gas twice. We laughed at his passing of gas and we started on our way home. We did not know at that time however the cause of Papa’s pain would later be proven not to be healed by the passing of a little gas. Later that year Papa underwent surgery for an infected appendix.
Mrs. Delia listened attentively until it was time for her to speak. “Mr. Luther it’s about your dog, Bruna!” Papa immediately looked around. “Where is Bruna?” he said to me. But Auntie, as if she knew what was awaiting me, answered for me, “Bruna went up under the house somewhere.”
Papa again looked at me as if to confirm what Auntie had just said. I shook my head to indicate yes. Mrs. Delia continued, “My children said that your dog Bruna was at our home today.” Papa’s light humored facial expression changed to a more serious one. I too stopped my fidgeting in order to give my full attention to what Mrs. Delia had to say.
The last time I remember seeing Mrs. Delia for this length of time was in front of her stall in the butcher’s market. I had taken breakfast to the market for Papa. On Saturday mornings Papa would be up by 4am. After a quick cup of hot tea he would make the 25 minute bicycle ride to the market. Papa would be at his stall ready to sell meat to his first customers who would start to appear by 5:30am. Later in the morning I would bring his breakfast to him. Auntie’s religion which was Seventh Day Adventice formed three quarters of my own faith with the other quarter being that of my Papa’s Lodge membership.
Papa was a member of the Lodge and never went to Auntie’s church. Likewise Auntie has never and would never but more importantly could never go to Papa’s lodge. The Lodge was a men’s only religious place. Auntie’s position on the men’s only Lodge membership was summarized in one word “Devils!”
I went to church with Auntie every Saturday. Each Saturday morning while I was getting dressed for church Auntie would pack three things. First packed was my Bible; Second to be packed were that Sabbath morning’s bible studies material and finally my Papa’s breakfast. With my clothes having met Auntie’s approval I would load up my Bible and study books along with Papa’s breakfast and off to the market I would go. Traveling the main route from where we lived on Red Hazel Road would take me past our church on William Street. Continuing another one half mile beyond our church doors, would place me directly at the main entrance of the market.
The entrance to the market formed a part of the traffic circle at the town’s square in Port Antonio. Here you could get all forms of transportation to every part of the country. Directly across from the market entrance and on the outside piazza, was the Jerk meat vendor. The smoke from the vendor’s open roasting barbecue would drift across the traffic circle dangling its sweet scent onto the nostrils of all passersby.
Immediately behind the Jerk meat vendor laid one of the more popular bar in the town. Many times the patrons of the bar would walk outside, buy a piece of Jerk and return to the bar, meat in hand continuing with the drink they had momentarily abandoned. To the far left of the Jerk vendor sat the large wholesale grocer for food and food supplies. This had been Port Antonio’s first multilane grocery store. Quite the excitement when they first opened.
There were candies never seen before by any of my friends. These candies were even more exotic than those sent to me by my mother from Canada at Christmas time. Food was packed neatly on shelves that stored many types of the same looking products. However what I remembered most was the colours. There were many wonderful, bright and attractive colours that served as the packaging for the many never before seen products.
Saturday morning trips were very stressful events for me. I was constantly being ridiculed by other young members of my church. The ridicule would come when they would pass me on my way to the market, while they made the very early trip to church. As an Adventist I was not allowed to do any business on the Sabbath. Going into the market place was certainly not on the list of allowable events. Making matters worse, Papa was a butcher of pork, a meat that was definitely forbidden by my Adventist fate. Ironically Papa could never eat pork. Auntie’s religious belief had nothing to do with that. Papa would get violently ill immediately after consuming any food product which included pork in whole or as part of its ingredients.
So it was on every Saturday morning I would try to leave very early in order to be at the market before the first crew of early parishioners would be on the streets. Every Saturday morning I would become frustrated with Auntie’s rather lackadaisical efforts to get Papa’s breakfast prepared on time. Soon I devised a plan that would reduce my frustration if and when Auntie was late with Papa’s breakfast, which was almost always.
On Saturday mornings when I was running late assuring my likely chances of an ordeal with ridicule, I would take the right fork at the cross roads. The cross roads was at the intersection of Red Hazel Road and William Street. It was also the same right fork at the crossroads that carried drivers to the Boston and Blue Lagoon area. Approximately one hundred yards along this right fork was a smaller intersection. Going to the left at that intersection would put me onto the road that ran along the sea coast. At the right corner of this smaller intersections lies my first school attended, Cross Road Public School. Arriving at the road that ran along the sea coast would require another left turn. Travel along this coastal road would then put me on a much longer but less stressful path into Port Antonio and onwards to the traffic circle in front of the market.
My arrival at the entrance to the market would quickly dismiss any anxiety that may have accompanied me along the road. I knew every merchant in the market and most by their first name. I knew where they sat and what they sold. They all knew me to be, “Luther’s boy!” Some knew me well enough to openly praise me for bringing my Papa’s breakfast. They would often shout out, “Don’t forget to pray for me when you get to church.” I was very much in command when I was in the protective environment of the market. There were three main corridors that served as entrances to the market.
The center and main corridor took me directly into the butchers market. The butchers’ market was a very busy, very loud place of numerous activities and multiple simultaneous transactions. The passage way that lead to the inner sanctum of the butchers’ market would first have me greeting the many vendors and sellers of all non meat products. These were the sellers of oranges, limes and other fruits followed by the sellers of rice, peas and other grains.
After passing the sellers of special imported candies and local sweets, I would hear the voices of the butchers long before seeing them. Each butcher would be calling out to the prospective customer while identifying the type of meat and special offers they had for sale on that day. Each butcher would have the compulsory single, but many had two hanging scales readily awaiting the slightest sign by the customer wanting to make a meat purchase.
Papa’s voice was always very clear to me. His stall was the very first stall on the left when I entered the butchers’ market. Papa always had two scales hanging. If the customer did not like the weight as measured on one he would quickly move the cut portion to the other scale; all the time Papa would be explaining to the customer, “I cut the meat, you choose the scale.”
The butcher’s scales and its accuracy in measurement was one more thing that came under the control of the meat inspector. Raising above all others Papa’s voice could be heard explaining to a customer, “The small piece of pig’s foot is free.” Most customers did not want to pay the same price for the head or foot of the animal. Papa would always call out, “My meat have no head and no foot.” He would cut the meat ordered by the customer just short of the required weight and then make up the difference with a small piece of head or foot, while explaining to the customer, “Don’t worry, this small piece of head is free.” The customer would smile knowing full well it was not and the transaction would end with the customer responding, “next week when I come back I don’t want anything for free.”
The newer vendors of non meat products would have their stalls set up on the outside of the Market. They would be found starting in the back of the building continuing along both sides of the narrow north side lane that ran from the main street along the outside walls of the market. Traveling approximately forty more yards beyond the outdoor vendors located at the back of the market was the entrance to one of our many coastal harbours. Here you would find the many coastal restaurants and night clubs. Here too forming part of the many businesses at the back lane ways was Port Antonio’s main ice manufacturer. This was always a very busy place. A few more yards back towards the coastal road, taken by me earlier you would find the first of our two movie theaters.
Just before entering into the butcher’s market area I would pass Mrs. Delia’s stall. Last Saturday morning as I was about to pass her stall, an argument erupted. The argument was being instigated by an egg buying customer who did not agree with the grade Mrs. Delia had given to her eggs. Mrs. Delia had a certain group of eggs described as duck eggs and the female customer called them bird eggs. These arguments were a constant and necessary part of the market’s family of vendors and customers. Nothing serious ever transpires from these transactions more than the customer saying. “You keep your eggs, cause I don’t need them while the vendor responds with “You leave my eggs right there cause they don’t need you.”
Papa has always had a soft spot for his female clients. As a result of his treatment of women he had an almost all female clientele. In fairness there was a predominance of female buyers in the market. Papa was noted as having the largest female customer base.
Papa would say, “A man knowing that his family is in need of a daily serving of meat would find a way of giving his family meat once a month no matter how well that man was treated at the meat counter. A woman knowing her family could survive on one serving of meat per month, would buy meat daily if you treated her with respect at your meat counter.
When it came to respect Papa was king to the ladies. Of all the times I was in the market only one woman got on my Papa’s bad side. She was the girlfriend of one of the meat inspectors. She would often come to the market to order meat but not return to pick it up. Her behavior was tolerated by Papa because she was the sweetheart of the meat inspector. Other butchers who had also been victimized by her behavior had often threatened to expose her relationship to the wife of the meat inspector. None ever dared doing so, fearing their actions would have their meat declared unfit for consumption by an irate meat inspector.
She had taken a large quantity of meat from Papa with the promise of payment that would never seem to arrive. On several occasions Papa had asked her for his payment but to no avail. Still she continued to come to the market taking meat from other butchers without any regard for their losses. Each time the butchers would grin and bear it. One Saturday afternoon after arriving home from the market Papa was full of glee as he began to tell Auntie and I how he believes that the inspector’s sweetheart will not be too soon coming back to his stall for any more free meat. Immediately Auntie started to pray! “Heavenly Father,” she started but Papa stopped her with, “It was the Heavenly Father’s idea.” Auntie continued, “Luther! What devil behavior have you been up to?”
With his face squirreled with his trademark mischievous smile, Papa continued, “Well I was getting ready to leave the market when I notice her talking to two of her other high society free loading friends. Though I could have easily walked around them I did not. Still wearing my bloodied meat clothes and butcher’s apron I walked right into the middle of their conversation. I stopped and asked one of her friends if she will be coming for meat next week because I may have some mutton. While she was answering me and with my back turned to the miserable inspector’s girlfriend, I dropped the biggest fart right on her. It was not loud just very violent in its odor.”
You should have seen her face at the first scent of my fart. I looked at her and smiled. I knew right at that very moment she would not be back at my stall for anymore free meat.” Auntie smiled but continued praying for Papa and me. She prayed for me because I was laughing louder than my Papa.
One of the most exciting times at the market came on Christmas Eve. At some point before the Christmas season all the folks who were registered with the local government office as families needing assistance would be issued a series of tickets. With each ticket came the privilege of acquiring one free portion of what the government office describes as basic necessities.
One ticket would purchase one pound of flour. Another ticket would purchase one pound of rice. Some tickets would allow a certain quantity of bread and still others would give you butter and oil. The vendors would have been compensated by the government officer for a predetermined quantity of their specific produce. In exchange for the guaranteed sale each vendor would be responsible for packaging their particular produce in the proper portion and total quantities needed.
The entire market was awash with each participating vendor’s stall neatly arranged with portions of those particular items. The most exciting part of this day for me was to be with Papa in the market. The butchers were responsible for supplying one pound of meat to each meat ticket holder. The butchers would be working from very early morning cutting one pound portions of meat.
Papa would cut and I would arrange the meat into neatly organized rows in anticipation of the soon to arrive masses of ticket holders. Each butcher would be solicited by the government officials to participate. Butchers with more seniority would be given the greater share of the total allotment of sales. The butchers’ market was a place of shared delight when you look at all the counters full of neatly arranged one pound portions of beef, mutton and pork. On this day there would be no need for competitive bantering of the butchers in an attempt to entice the customer. Instead all the butchers would on this single day behave like brothers in one fraternity.
It being Christmas Eve added to the cavalier attitude amongst the butchers, making that fraternity like atmosphere seemingly common place behavior. Their shared Christmas cheer was poured from a Ray and Nephew bottle. For those not sharing the pallet for this over-proof rum, a brand of one of our many local brandies stood beside the rum. Papa not a stranger to his Christmas brandy would always have a small portion in the bottom of his glass for his helper. On this day all merchants in the market were in the best of spirits, in more ways than one.
As the first of the ticket holders would arrive the only bantering that would be heard was the course voices of the many vendors in harmony singing verses of Christmas carols. Despite the personal life hardship of the tickets holders, on this one very special day they were made to feel that life was full with hope and prosperity. It was expected of each vendor to do their very best to ensure that each ticket holder was treated with respect and honored service. This was also the ruling government’s best way of ensuring votes for their local candidates come election time. Papa would always remind me that a vote will be forgotten immediately after each election however a smile will always be remembered.
Prior to this afternoon when Mrs. Delia came to our home, that morning in the market was the last time I had seen her for any length of time. Papa again asked Mrs. Delia to clarify what she had said. But again she responded with the same tale. “Your dog Bruna was at my house and went into my chicken house eating and destroying a week’s supply of eggs.”
This was something that Papa would not stand for. He wanted no quarrel with our neighbors. “Ok Mrs. Delia, are you certain it was our dog?” “Mr. Luther!” she replied, “We know your dog!” Papa knew that a claim of this nature meant only one of two things. I knew this would be the worst thing for my Bruna to become involved in. Papa had frequently stated; “Once a dog starts to eat eggs or chickens that dog would continue to be a serious problem.” I knew this would not end well. This was the second incident involving my Bruna concerning her alleged egg eating habit.
The look on Papa’s face was quite worrying to me. I had seen that look two times before. The first time was a very warm Sunday afternoon. We had arrived in the small village where our farm was located, carrying two hogs. Papa was in the lead with the larger of the two. I trailed a short distance behind with the other. The trip home had gone well to this point. The hogs traveled well on the road home. It was always Papa’s wish to travel with at least two hogs because hogs traveled better with company.
As we entered the tiny enclave of homes within sight of our property for housing the animals, my hog was suddenly startled by a dog. In an attempt to escape the dog, the hog bolted to higher grounds. Still holding on to the rope my lower arm was dragged against the embankment. Buried in the earthen embankment was a broken piece of glass that sliced into my right arm. At first I felt a pinch in my arm then I lost hold of the rope. The hog disappeared from view into the thick underbrush.
Looking at my arm I called Papa. He quickly tied the rope controlling his hog to a nearby tree and came to my side. I remember first seeing white fatty tissue where my arm had been sliced. Within a few moments several tiny spots of red began to appear. Those spots got larger and suddenly blood was everywhere.
Maybe it was the blood or fear but my wound became extremely painful. Papa quickly rapped my arm with some white undershirt material and carried me to the hospital. To this day I still have that scar on my arm and if you look closely you will see the points where the stitches were placed in order to close the wound. The real pain was received at the hospital where the nurses who stitched my arm did so without the use of any anesthetic. Papa had to help the nurses to hold me down on the bed in an effort to prevent me from moving my arm. For me however it was the second most painful time that I could remember.
I had received a cut on the side of my right foot again as a result of accidentally having stepped on broken glass. Though painful at the time, the wound healed as wounds usually do, given proper time and care. Long after my wound had healed I still had Sharpe pains whenever anything came in contact with that side of my foot. After a while the pains resulting from contact to that area of my foot became more and more unbearable. Papa decided it was time to visit the doctor to get some advice.
I remember sitting in the doctor’s office while he examined my foot. The doctor took a very small triangular rubber hammer and tapped on the area where I was experiencing some discomfort. That was painful! Again I remember the doctor looking at my Papa and saying two things to him. The first was, “I believe there is still glass inside the foot.” This first statement I understood even though I did not appreciate the gravity of the doctor’s statement. The second statement, I did not understand the meaning and most certainly not the unexplainable painful gravity of its interpretation. “We will have to lance the foot!” was the second thing the doctor said.
With that said, the doctor reached into a cabinet, retrieved a bottle of something that when opened smelled very medical and pour some onto a rather large cotton swab. With the wet cotton swab he wiped clean the area of my foot that was of concern. I then watched as he repeated this cleaning process two more times. At the end of each cleaning he would throw the used swab into the garbage bin and restart with a new one. What happened next was so painful; even as I tell you this now the intensity of the pain is most certainly lost in translation. The doctor took what I now understand was a scalpel and with Papa holding on to me firmly yet gently so, the doctor took hold of my foot and without warning sliced the area open.
Before I realized what had happened it was already too late to cry so I did not. The doctor looked at my Papa, as if to say “Did he not feel that?” My Papa said to him, “he is very strong that way.” Such strength! Strong enough, that even I was beginning to feel proud of myself for being so still despite the pain. However within seconds all composure had vanished. My strength was completely lost when the doctor took a small tweezer and began to search for the small, extremely very elusive pieces of glass hidden somewhere in my now reopened wound. When I arrived home I did not eat supper. I went to bed early evening and did not awake until late morning. This time however once healed my foot was as good as new.
The second time I remember seeing Papa with that look of despair was when my mom first indicated that she wanted me to come to live in Canada with her. Auntie cried at hearing my mom’s request. Auntie said she knew that this day would come but hoped it would not. Adding to Auntie’s pain was the news that Papa’s earlier bouts of gas pain were in fact early signs of appendicitis. “Luther was scheduled for a hospital visit very soon,” my Auntie explained to my mom, “Could you do this at another time?” asked Auntie. My mom agreed and my Canadian departure date was delayed.
No one asked me what my thoughts about leaving Jamaica were. Had they done so, they would have found out that this was equally sorrowful for me. I was excited to be going to a place that had been talked about so very much. I was scared about leaving all my friends. I was lost in between sorry and fear to think of living far away without Papa and Auntie.
I do believe that being taken away from Jamaica in such a manner has had its long term effect on my adult life. It is as if you lost your best friend without having had a chance to have said your goodbyes. Later on in your life, being able to return only to find your friends have all grown and drifted away. That reality of change became my new anxiety. While I had a child’s body in Canada doing childhood things, my real childhood was lost the day I left Jamaica. Attempts at making new friends in my new home were accompanied by a fear of suddenly losing them and a sense of guilt of having abandoned my old friends in Jamaica.
Previous to the sadness of my expected departure only one other time did I remember Auntie exhibiting this much sorrow. That occasion came at the news of my uncle’s death, Auntie’s younger brother. Her younger brother was no stranger to the ladies. However with each new introduction also came cause for the naming of a new child. My uncle once told me, “As long as I remained single, my life would be a safe one.” Auntie would tell me that “If your uncle keeps up that behavior, time will catch up with him and living the single life will not rescue him from that fate.”
Auntie cared for him as a mother and a big sister. Each and every time uncle got into difficulties with the law, usually for drinking, she would reluctantly bail him out. At every meeting that came at the bailing out of my uncle, Auntie would tell him, “You should be giving the money you use for drinking to support your children.” Still all his known children, at least the ones that I knew, loved him dearly. He was a hard worker but he was equally determined to be just as hard a drinker and smoker.
These two worlds caught up to my uncle with the simple pronouncement by the physician, “You have cancer.” I remember my uncle coming to our home and saying to my Auntie, “I will not become a burden on you or anyone else for that matter.” That was the last time I saw my uncle alive. Several days later he was dead. Upon receiving the news of her brother’s death Auntie cried. She cried a lot, more so than I have ever seen her cry before. But though she cried over the passing of her brother her deepest sadness was marked on the day my mom made the announcement of my pending departure to Canada.
As long as I can remember my mom was always the lady in Canada but Auntie and Papa were my parents. Having a mother in Canada made me uniquely popular. Every Christmas I would be the one with the “American toys!” For the period that followed Christmas I was also the one with the “clothes from foreign!” My mom’s request for my moving to live with her in Canada was noted by being the third time I had seen her since that day so many years ago, atop the airport observation deck.
Though I can remember standing on the visitor’s lookout deck at Jamaica’s national airport, watching a plane take off and being told “There goes your mom”; most believe I was too young to remember that incident. So too I remember sitting on our verandah late one evening with Auntie and Papa when a passing female merchant returning from her visit to Kingston, told my Auntie, that my Dad died and had been buried earlier in the week. I never knew my Dad. My recollection of the circumstances under which the news of my Dad’s death was delivered has always been questioned by the adults. I would have been three years of age at the time. Auntie said my memory of how things happened was correct but I must have been told of it much later in my years. Papa believed I remembered.
My Dad was a married man with children of his own when he met my mother. At the time of their meeting my mom was a teenager in high school. My father had one known affair during his marriage. That transgression was his affair with my mother. I grew up believing that maybe I had one possibly two siblings. This was proven wrong in my adult life. My father in fact had nine children with his wife and then his tenth child was me. Before his death he fathered one more child with his wife, my younger sister. Much later in my adult life I met my ten brothers and sisters, thanks to my youngest sister. I also met my father’s wife. My mom had two children but I have always been the lone child. This too would be a story for another time.
Papa again asked Mrs. Delia, “Are you sure that the dog was our Bruna?” as if he expected a different answer. But she held steadfast and insisted that the dog was my Bruna. I felt a growing emptiness within me at the very cold and callus certainty with which Mrs. Delia accused my Bruna. More so I felt fear and anxiety at what would be my Papa’s options for resolving this problem. Twice before, we had received complaints of a serious nature about our dogs. In both previous occasions they were male dogs being accused of traveling to the homes of the owners of female dogs. In their travels they each had been accused of causing damage to the property and goods of the neighbours.
Papa did not take long to rectify those issues. In both cases he castrated the dogs. Papa’s way of rectifying a problem was always well thought out. Papa believed that if you were going to complain about your neighbour then you should be prepared for the consequences of that neighbour’s solution to the problem. No one ever complained again about our male dogs.
It was not unusual to hear of an owner having their dog nurtured. More importantly, we were not of the financial class to have been able to pay the veterinarian fees for such service. For many owners faced with these problems the only option open to them was to ignore it and run the risk of having their dog poisoned. Papa cared two much for his dogs to have chosen the route of non action. I remembered the very first time he told Auntie what he was about to do, she told him “Not in this yard!” So Papa tied up the dog and with a helping hand from his two nephews, he castrated the dog outside the yard, on the opposite side of the street just across from our home.
Many folks told my Papa that the dog would not recover. Papa told them he knew what he was doing and the dog would be fine. He had earlier perfected his trade on male hogs. After removing the testicles from the dog he dressed the wound with some store bought antiseptic solution. Throughout the entire process the dog would continue to squeal and shriek. Papa then applied his own special solution consisting of wood ash from the back yard fireplace, a tiny drop of salt and an unknown white power. Within a week the dog was good as new. But more importantly no one dared to accuse his dog of being an unwelcome guest.
Papa has always done whatever was necessary to ensure we lived in a peaceful existence with our neighbours. I remembered after the first time he had done this, Auntie accused him of being a wicked man to the poor animal. His response caused my Auntie to stop speaking to him for the reminder of that day. When I asked her why she was mad at Papa she said, “I am mad with myself for not having a proper answer for him.”
What Papa had told her was this. “If your God saw it fit to sacrifice his only child to save mankind why would I not sacrifice just the testicles my dog for the sake of my family?”
This behavior of my Papa’s, quick and decisive response to problems gave him the right to make your life extremely difficult if you should cross him or any member of his family.
His strength came not from his words but from his actions. Most times my Papa did not have to say much. He was not a man that bluffed. He most certainly was not cavalier when it came to matters concerning his family. On one memorable occasion I remembered my favorite rooster went missing for three days. At the end of each day all chickens would return to their home regardless of where they would have traveled that day. On the third day of my rooster’s absence my Papa went into the middle of the street, again with machete in hand, he called out to our neighbours stating, “If anyone interfered with my boy’s rooster you had better let it go. I am not going to ask a second time!”
Later that night my rooster was crowing from its usual sleeping spot at the back of our home. Auntie claimed that it was prayer for Papa’s behavior and not the behavior itself that gave cause for the roaster’s return. Papa agreed that Auntie’s God knew he was serious and therefore showed whoever had the rooster the error of their ways.