The Spirit that Guides Us
Despite Rusty’s random act of lunacy, ironically it was his judgment that Papa would depend on when determining the intentions of a new visitor to our gate. Any visitor failing to get Rusty’s approval would not be allowed to enter the yard without a personal escort by me or Papa. We would have had to accompany any such visitor in order for them to be granted entrance into our yard. Rusty would signal his disapproval of any unwelcomed visitor by his unique barking style. His bark was indistinguishable from the other dogs if he viewed you as a trusted visitor. Most approvals were met with a lazy glance whilst continuing to lay in silence. However mistrust would be greeted with an unmistakable combination of a whining, howling barking sound. Auntie when home alone, would not allow any visitor to enter the gates upon hearing Rusty’s howl of disapproval.
Bruna, the lone female, was the smallest in size yet the fiercest of the group. Her ferocity could be matched only by Rex on his best day. In balance with her fierceness was her easy acceptance of strangers. Bruna was the very first dog I owned. Papa gave her to me mostly because of her personality. Although she was my personal dog I was not allowed to treat the others with any less care. Still I was able to make it known to all who would listen that Bruna was my dog. Bruna was almost always at my side be it at home or when we traveled. She knew we were a team and unlike me she did not feel the need to act with any sense of fairness towards the others when spending time with me. She was fiercely protective of me.
On the day Mrs. Delia called on my Papa, Bruna having returned late from her daily stroll seemed very tired. Her quick withdrawal to her resting spot below the house after briefly nudging me made Bruna’s lack of energy most obvious. Recognizing Mrs. Delia at the gate, she not being a close acquaintance of the family, I did what was expected of me; I continued playing in my imaginary world. The dogs’ barking was abruptly shortened by Auntie’s command. Despite her command to be silent Rusty remained the lone dog who continued to express his suspicion about our unexpected guest. “Ok Rusty, that is enough, quiet now!” Auntie commanded again before turning to address Mrs. Delia. Rusty obeyed with his silence. “Mr. Luther is working in the back, could you return later?” Mrs. Delia did not appear to be in the mood of delaying her business with Papa. “No Miss Vie” she said firmly with politeness, “I need to speak to him now, it’s important.”
Auntie signaled me to move towards the gate. “Ok open the gate and come inside.” “What about the dogs?” inquired Mrs. Delia, her facial expression clearly reflecting her concern. For as long as I can remember, any stranger that had been asked to come into our yard would do so with great trepidation but none have ever been bitten or bothered by our dogs. Papa had raised our dogs in a way that ensured their respect and disciplined behavior when responding to the command of any member of our family. Papa had an enormous amount of respect for the intelligence of all dogs. He has often responded to others who have tried to put him at ease with the sentiment of, “My dog does not bite!” to which Papa would reply, “The only dog that does not bite is a dog wearing dentures”.
I was very confident in Auntie’s ability to command the dogs to sit and be quiet. “Come in and close the gate behind you, they won’t bother you if you don’t bother them.” said my Auntie with the slightest of smile. It was the type of smile that would be the closest thing to mischief that she could muster. Further, Auntie pointing to me, “With him there they will not bother you.” she assured Mrs. Delia. It was always interesting to watch the face of new visitors as they unlatched the gate in order to enter. Papa would always laugh prompting Auntie to immediately give a promissory note to God to pray for Papa at a later time.
Auntie did a lot of praying for Papa. With the dogs sitting at a ready watch for every and/or any singular muscular twitch of the visitor, the sudden and unexpected noisy clang of the gate’s latch, Papa having purposefully constructed it with that result in mind, would always startle the unsuspecting visitor. The dogs would fidget on cue at the sound of the latch’s loud clang as it opened.
The visitor would almost always immediately drop their hands from the latch located at the top of the gate in order to grab the handle in their effort to re-close the gate, attempting to make quick any retreat. Papa when in attendance would then comment, “Did the latch bite you?” always laughing as he spoke. It was usually around this time that Auntie would offer up yet another prayer for my Papa.
After each one of Papa’s indiscretions I would mentally, simultaneously repeat with Auntie her opening words to God, “Dearest father in heaven….”
Our front yard sat about six feet above street level on the south side of the main street. To our west and sitting twenty yards higher than our home was the home of Mr. Tom. For as long as I could remember his home was rented and continued to be a rental property even after the change of ownership. All other neighbors had remained the same. Immediately west of Mr. Tom’s house and at eye level with our home was that of the Shaklefords’. Their son Dennis and I were born in the same year. We both would have been eleven years of age by midyear. His younger sister Cherry, his brothers Tony and then Barry were all born one year apart respectively. Later additions to Dennis’ family were his sister, Yvette and then his third brother, Donavan.
My entire community of friends was within site line of my front yard. Adjoining our home to the east was the home of Mr. Johnson. Just above Mr. Johnson was my teacher Mrs. Townsend. Mr. Johnson had farmed the very small piece of land first as a producer of sweet potatoes and Eddoes. Later as he got a bit older he built a home on the property and had been living there by himself. The property east of Mr. Johnson and at eye level to us, one driveway beyond that of Mrs. Townsend, was the Shelton’s home. Here lived Danny, Lorna, Pauline, Dave and Marcia. Across the street and slightly off to the right of our front yard were Mrs. Lue and her daughter Madge. I liked Madge. I think she would count, at least in my mind, as my first girlfriend. Their home was the only property that separated us from the river that Earl would use as a road way for the next series of trips to the city center.
To the immediate east of Mrs. Lue, lived Erick and his wife Florence or Puttay as she was more affectionately known. Erick was the local master D.J. They had two sons and a daughter. The eldest child, Preston was the same age as Dennis and I. He was followed by his sister Marcia and younger brother Horace. To the immediate west of Mrs. Lue and slightly to the left of our front yard was Mr. Newby, the general store keeper. Our shopping at this store was restricted to the purchase of smaller weekly supplies such as cooking oil and raw sugar. Skipping one home, the home of Mrs. Thelma, we came to the home of two more of my friends, the Grants. The Grants had a daughter Collette and her younger brother Val. Collette was two years younger than I; her brother a year younger still.
Directly across the street from the Grants and on the same side as our home lived Mr. Ralston’s family, the Thaxters. Here lived my two remaining friends, Joy, the eldest and Barbara the middle child. The third was much too young to be my playmate. Mrs. Thelma had several children all were much older than I. Mrs. Thelma and several of her children suffered from an affliction that cause them great pain and periods of severe suffering. I did not know the cause of their pain at that time but now I think it could have simply been the result of undiagnosed migraines.
Our community was tied together by the various yet unique profession of each family unit. The Shelton’s, more specifically Mr. Shelton was a manager at the Wharf and was instrumental in securing jobs relating to loading the ship. The Townsends were both employees of the government and was most valuable in helping all students wanting to get into scarce school programs. The Shacklefords were Tinsmiths by profession. Mr. Shackleford was the only one within the boundaries of Portland that could repair any and all forms of radiators.
The Grants, worked with the legal profession and most if not all of our local communities’ legal requirements would be assisted by them. Mr. Ralston and Mr. Arthur (Mrs. Lue’s brother) were handy men as well as supplies of many other domestic services. While I can easily identify some of the profession of most of the families, no one family was able to restrict themselves to any single profession. As an example for many years we all bought ice from the Grants. They were the first in our small community to have had a freezer. They were also the first to have had a television.
On Friday and again on Saturday nights most of the children within as well as others from outside of our immediate neighborhood would be allowed to sit on their verandah to watch the Lone Ranger, Bonanza, Wild Wild West amongst many other shows of that period. The Shacklefords on their return Sunday trips from the farm would sell us pimentos. We supplied meats from the market and other farm provisions as payment or exchange in trade for other services we received. We lived in a very rich entangled community where each partner played a very valued as well as essential role.
“Yes Mrs. Delia, what can I do for you?” inquired Papa who had now appeared from the backyard. His path to the front yard was along the west side of the house and at ground level putting him face to face with Mrs. Delia. Papa having washed his hands from whatever chores he had been doing still had a clean piece of rag in his hands with which he rubbed back and forth in an attempt to properly dry his hands.
Auntie would not normally have stayed on the verandah. Papa’s business was his own and she would have normally left him to deal with it. On this day nothing seemed quite normal. Firstly, it was late Saturday afternoon. Secondly, everyone knew not to have disturbed our home before sundown on this the closing of the Sabbath. More accurately no one would have disturbed us from sunset Friday evening until sunset on Saturday.
Auntie stood on the verandah while Papa offered Mrs. Delia his undivided attention accompanied by an honour guard comprising of three of our four dogs. The dogs each sat upright on their front legs at Papa’s feet. They listened intensely as if they understood every word being spoken. The only absentee, my Bruna, had remained under the house resting. Strange! I thought. She must really be tired. Normally she would be the first one at Papa’s feet.
Mrs. Delia moved closer to Papa but stopped only after having taken one half step. Her forward motion was quickly matched by Rusty’s sudden fully upright stance. Rusty then proceeded to walked directly to the front of Papa leaving no doubt of his intentions to position himself between Papa and Mrs. Delia. Papa expressed no visible objections to Rusty’s movement. Mrs. Delia was visibly frozen as expressed by her contorted facial expression and her breathing was temporarily halted.
The anxiety of the moment was quietly almost unnoticeably calm as Papa leaned forward and gently placed one hand on Rusty’s head. This single action of Papa’s served as a signal to Rusty to relax. The message communicated, Rusty showed his understanding by now having taken a full sitting position at Papa’s feet. With the removal of the perceived tension Mrs. Delia was able to return to a more relaxed expression both visibly and physically.
Unknown to Mrs. Delia before any serious conversation would begin she would have to listen to Papa’s brief but important message to all new visitors about the relationship of our dogs with our family. “This one,” Papa stated as he pointed to Rex, “is called Rex the intelligent.” He was lost in the bushes of Bell View many miles from here. He returned to us after two weeks of navigating the bush in his effort to find his way home. The amazing thing about his being lost is in knowing that he would have had to swim across the Rio Grande alone at some point on his homeward journey.”
Known internationally for its rafting the Rio Grande is at its narrowest point dangerous for most strong swimmers to cross. I have been across it many a times with Papa. Arriving usually before the Boat Man starts his day we would sit awhile and have tea from Papa’s thermos. Papa’s sense of timing would always impress me. The Boat Man’s arrival at the river’s edge on the opposite side came always just as we finished our tea. Many a mornings it would not be necessary for Papa to call across in order to get the Boat Man’s attention. Often times the Boat Man’s first fare would be the greeting of an early morning customer from his own side of the Rio Grande needing to get to our side.
These trips with Papa would start before the earliest bus traveling to that area. The 5:00am bus was the first public transportation to pass our home on a Sunday morning. Later in the morning many other choices such as taxies and mini vans services would be available. The majority of all transportation services started from the city center of Port Antonio. Transports traveling to the mountainous regions would travel passed our house. Others traveling to other destinations would take a different path at the cross roads intersection about three quarter mile before our home. Those taking the left fork of the crossroads would be able to get a distant view of the partially constructed home of the late Errol Flynn, the movie actor.
It is said that Errol Flynn came to this beautiful part of the island, Port Antonio, to build himself a summer home. The home was to be built on Navy Island just a short swim from Port Antonio City Center. Encouraged by this act, an unknown British actor then began building his home a few steps from a beautiful beach line no more than ten minutes drive outside the city centre. The builders wishing to cut cost chose a rather cheap way of mixing the mortar for the cement. Instead of transporting fresh water from the local village some distance away they chose instead to use the seawater just steps away from the building site. All went well for awhile. However before the builders had managed to reach the half way point of the project the building started to show signs of rust as could be seen by the very dark brown stains leaching out onto the newly built white concrete structure.
What the builders had failed to realize is the quick and extremely corrosive properties of salt water when mixed with the iron rods that were being laid within the building blocks for the purpose of stability. The British actor soon abandoned the project never to return. To this day remnants of the foundation still stand in the area where fresh water was eventually used to continue the building.
Driving past the area of British actor’s home just a short distance beyond you would disembark if you wish to spend the day swimming at San San Beach, the very popular tourist beach resort in our area. Those traveling further would pass the well known Fern Hill Hotel, continuing on beyond the original Blue Lagoon on their way to the town of Boston. In Boston, one would find the area’s Jerk Pork vendors renowned not only island wide but would conjure pleasant memories for many a past international visitor.
Another well known stop along this route is the hot mineral baths of St. Thomas. The hot volcanic waters flow into a manmade bath house making this site a must see if not a quick unique bath stop for the visiting traveler. The full distance traveler on this route would eventually end their trip upon arriving in Kingston, the nation’s capital. Travel along this route was to travel along the north coastal route to Kingston. Drivers staying on the straight path bypassing the left fork at the cross roads would all pass our home.
The destination of the 5:00am bus was Fellow Ship a small town centre north of our home. Passing our home the 5:00am bus would arrive within a half an hour in this smaller town center five miles to the north. The journey of five miles, with its many stops along the way, was a winding mostly uphill narrow passageway to travel for the driver. Having arrived at its destination the driver would alert local residents by way of three long blasts on the horn of the bus. With this alert local Fellow Ship residents knew that within one half hour the bus would be making the first of its many return trips to Port Antonio for that day. Many times the 5:00am bus’ arrival in Fellow Ship would find Papa and me already having crossed the closer of our three possible boat crossings of the Rio Grande.
Except for school holidays I would make all these trips with Papa on a Sunday morning. I went to church on Saturdays with Auntie while Papa went to work at the market. Neither of those two events was to be compromised. We needed the income from Papa’s work at the market and we needed the guidance of our faith thus my devotion time on Saturdays.
There were usually two regular points at which Papa and I would cross the Rio Grande. The first available crossing was a mere mile beyond the center of Fellow Ship. This by far was most liked by me. I liked it because it offered an early rest stop on our return trip home. When returning from this crossing of the Rio Grande, the rest stop in Fellow Ship would always ensure me getting whatever treat I wanted from Papa. The second location at which we crossed the Rio Grande was at Bell View. This very small village was at least another hour walk north of Fellow Ship. Moore Town was the third and the least liked by me because it required another half an hour walking north of Bell View.
Our usual arrival time in Bell View was always much too early for the opening of its local businesses. The late departure of buses from the City center destined for Bell View made it an impractical mode of transportation for us. If we had a late start the buses’ arrival in Bell View would meet us on the banks of the Rio Grande preparing for our return voyage home. Most often the first northbound bus of the day would greet us along the road well on our return trip south. It was on one of these Sunday morning trips that Rex got into difficulties and for a while was lost to us.
Papa continued to explain to Mrs. Delia, “It was a regular early Sunday morning trip” for Papa, me and three of our four dogs. The Sun, already half way up the eastern sky, warmed our faces as we entered the boat for our crossing. Papa had expressed his concerns that this was the time we should have been returning not going. He had not been feeling well and so we had gotten off to a later than usual start. As Papa continued to speak I remembered on that particular morning I had wanted to take all four dogs with us but Papa said “No!” He always insisted that we leave at least one dog at home with Auntie to keep her company. My dog Bruna had been left behind to guard our Auntie. Not that Auntie needed to be defended it was just the way Papa did things.
In my Papa’s world mine and Auntie’s concerns were always his primary concern. Auntie was a very big woman in girth it was more obvious due to her shortens. Papa often reminded me; “when you get to the age to have a woman make sure you get one with lots of body, something to hold on to. If you do as I say, guaranteed you will always be happy.”
Auntie would always remind him that it was her who chose to rescue a thin man in need of a nourishing woman. The one thing that Papa, I and most others in our town did agree on was the role that Auntie’s singing voice played in their early meeting. Auntie was a member of her church choir and her voice was a gift (we would joke) possibly given directly from God. Many in our community believed that it was this gift, the sweet sound of Auntie’s voice, whilst Papa rode past her church one Sabbath morning that lassoed his heart. Papa insisted that deep down Auntie was a nice young girl on the lookout for an older man with a “Bad boy” attitude. Papa was well over six feet whilst Auntie, stood five feet even. Of all Aunties’ siblings, two girls and two boys, both sisters were of the same build and height often times being mistaken for twins. Auntie was very physically strong and could more than handle herself in any sort of dispute. I could attest to Auntie’s strength because on occasion when she would grabbed me for a licking there was simply no escaping her grip. Once I remember getting the idea that she was just too large to catch me for a spanking so I ran away from her, traveling to the other side of the house. She simply gave up and life continued in its normal way for the rest of the day. The normality of the day quickly vanished later that night once I had gotten into my bed. She convinced me that it would have been much wiser not to have run away.
On the particular Sunday morning that Papa spoke of, Monty, Rex and Rusty having accompanied us were all preparing for our crossing of the Rio Grande at Bell View. Earlier Rusty had made it very clear that on this trip he would not be in the mood for the antics of the other two dogs. Rex, it seemed, did not take no for an answer. Upon entering the boat for our crossing, Rex once again attempted to harass Rusty. Suddenly and after having exhausted every modicum of patience, Rusty grabbed Rex by the back of the neck and in what seemed like a suicidal move dragged himself along with Rex out of the boat and into the cool rushing waters of the Rio Grande. Despite our best efforts we were unable to stop Rusty’s attack on Rex. The intensity of Rusty’s attack was in no way softened by their sudden and awkward fall into the river.
After what seemed an eternity of fighting between the two dogs, Rex disappeared below the water line and was lost from our sight. Rusty’s head reappeared above the surface some distance behind our boat and was last seen attempting to swim back in the direction from where we had departed. Despite his efforts to swim directly to shore Rusty’s battle was being lost to swiftness of the water’s currents. After a short while he too disappeared below the water line. Both Papa and I traveled very silently the rest of the journey to where we were to make our purchase.
On the way back Papa spoke of the incident. “That Rex would not stop harassing Rusty.” “Yes I know!” was my only response. The second time we spoke of the incident was after our return voyage across the Rio Grande. Upon our return crossing of the Rio Grande, much to our surprise, we were greeted by a very friendly dry and playful Rusty. I thought Papa would have been angry with Rusty but instead he simply said “You must be very hungry” and gave him a half slice of sandwich we had packed as a part of our lunch.
Two weeks later in the early Saturday afternoon a very frail Rex returned home. He looked as if he had lost half his original body weight. I had been playing under the Ackee tree that formed the outer road side barrier to our front gate. The Breadfruit tree formed the inside barrier on the opposite side of our front gate. Whilst playing in my imaginary world I suddenly heard Rusty’s barking but not like I remember hearing before.
At first I looked up at the space where the face of an adult would have appeared but there was no one there. Rusty’s forceful movements directly against the gate caused me to look down and there stood a very scrawny looking Rex. I called out for Papa who came half walking half running to the front yard. I opened the gate to let Rex in. Rusty would not stop barking.
Papa said to Rusty, “We all thought him lost, eh Rusty!” That afternoon Auntie made us all a huge meal. Everything Rex had eaten could have been seen from outside his body as the food attempted to reshape his belly.