Still, I don’t understand why my mother winces in embarrassment when my grandparents’ education comes up. No one ever directly asks us, but if their schooling is ever implied or hinted upon, her eyes, for a fleeting moment, converge towards the floor, and her chocolate skin flushes into deep burgundy. Perhaps it comes from a subconscious shame of them having been directly descended from slaves; indeed, their extremely English names failed to hide their heritage, her heritage. Or perhaps her shame comes from the association of illiteracy with ignorance, a common but severely ignorant notion in and of itself.
Andrew died not knowing his age. I bet he had been formally named months after birth, when his mother likely tired of calling him “Dat one deh“. When he was old enough, he became cognizant of WWI and other historical moments such as the first radio, first TV, first car on the island. When glaucoma set in during his latter years, he could not have been more content; he joked, “Di docta seh is see I see too much!”
He, like Margaret, had been children of tillers, and had learned to till the soil themselves. They knew all types of witchcraft such as when to plant, when to reap, when to milk and when to kill. They were alchemists and agricultural scientists.
Margaret, a dimunitive woman, would participate in the kills, as well as hauling cows, hoeing in the wrathful sun, and designing crop grids worthy of da Vincian exploration. She would sell the fruits of their labor in local markets for far less money than deserved.
This entrepreneur and artistic director raised only some of her children, though. Some never survived long enough after conception and others arrived still, too still to cry.
I never knew this as a child, of course, or my curious, unfiltered mouth would have launched The Inquisition.
“Where did you bury the bodies?”
“Where is your pain?”
But women of that generation didn’t know pain. I am not sure they had pain receptors, even. Or maybe their uteruses doubled as vast, sponge-like organs that mopped up tears of intangible loss.
It’s not that my grandfather didn’t care about education, but he was a man, a practical man. His mother had taught him how to turn the soil from brown to green; early on, he had decided that that was the way. The first of his seven children had been all boys, who he had begat with one woman, and Andrew came home every night, unlike his father, a wandering newsman. Andrew was a man, a progressive man.
Eventually girls came out, girls who cried; one of them was my mother. In retrospect, Margaret had been much like my mother. Ectoplasmically cool, calm and ladylike but mitochondrically ferocious and obstinate. I know this because all women have the superpower of telepathy, and Margaret told my mother, the crying baby girl, that she would defy preconceptions.
Margaret wasn’t one for clothes and jewelry and all that damn foolinish. She had one yard dress and one church dress. All other clothing would have rendered the cost of my mother’s schooling prohibitive. While she tilled and sold, my mother gleefully skipped eighteen miles to school. By the time my mother went to finishing school and learned about aristocratic things such as steak forks and salad forks, and asking ‘permission to finger chicken bones’, Margaret was down to one frock. My mother eventually became a teacher, the zenith of literacy, and the antithesis of my grandparents’ upbringing.
My earliest memories of them were formed when they were old, but jubilant people. They would skip gleefully when their grandchildren arrived, and had discovered the delights of electricity, which dangled from exposed wires. Margaret had hats now and probably three dresses, and she used too much salt which she neutralized with blood pressure pills; she proudly cooked in a kitchen with a kersene stove; personally, I had preferred the woodfiyah food. Her enamel pots, now artifacts, had been replaced with glistening chawkplate. Grandchildren were forbidden from using the pit latrine – Andrew would haughtily walk up to his tank, a Rube Goldberg-engineered reservoir, to fetch the water used to flush our excrement down the luxurious new toilet.
The house was now cozier and larger than my mother had remembered it, infused with the faint scent of maskita destroyer, an air freshener of sorts. The Brown House was the cultural mecca of Prickley Pole. They had teevee an’ fridge. There was laughter and music, real music from the Prickley Pole orchestra, a hodgepodge of banjos and violins; Andrew would sometimes join in on guitar, if only to seduce the men to an afterparty where he would calmly and confidently obliterate them on the game drawf.
Prickley Puddlians weren’t a people of excess, though; they all drank just enough, ate just enough organic food, and they knew just when to leave. As the last ones would depart, the mosquitoes would set in and Andrew would build a fire to fend them off. It was also the light he would use to try to teach me to play drawf.
“Yuh is a gyal, but yuh muss lawn”, said the Progressive.
Then he would yap on about me being the one who would someday change the family. “Juss like yuh madda“, he would say, as I gazed at the peeniewallies that would frolick around our conversations. But he would always get interrupted by a neighbor coming back.
“Lawd Gad, why yuh tek mi so hapazat, man?”
“Ma’as Andrew, mi juss memba seh mi neva ask yuh fi some ice”.
5 thoughts on “THE PROGRESSIVES”
This is sooo good. You paint such beautiful pictures. And the actual pictures made it even better. Prickley Puddlians took me out!
Awesome! This is an well-written article. I love how you have so ably encapsulated the details of your past In such an interesting and entertaining way. Well done…
This is such a beautifully written article. Every word captivated my attention, while I read slowly, ensuring a full meal. Great memories, and very touching too, especially for those who can relate to the situation. It’s amazing how you observed and conceived those thoughts from such an early age. This, I believe, demonstrates only, a ‘bit’ of your excellence. Bravo!
A very masterfully written piece of life story—-showing the drive, purpose and the determination that hard work, opportunity and ambition brings Great Story!
Wow! For a moment I thought I had entered a time warp. Well documented piece of history such great memories of my grandparents and the community that will always be a part of our lives. Looking forward to part two.