I just want to take my clothes off. I am home once again and it is hot, hot and dry. The last time I came home it was to take a break from being an entrepreneur, this time it is to start all over again – teaching. I always feel I need to come home before starting any new chapter in that book called Life.
So here I am in Jamaica. It is 32°C in the shade. I am spending some time with my mother who is 89 years old. She has Alzheimer’s and has forgotten her words. It is hot and I see all there is to be done in our family home. I see all the books and papers that have piled up over the half a century that we have lived in the house. I see all the upgrades that need to be made to our home but I am too hot to take it all on in the time that I have – two and a half weeks.
I decide to start with an easy task. I start looking through drawers and cupboards for anything, which can be thrown out – books, files, bills, cassettes, curtains and papers. I believe this is what we call spring-cleaning in the summer.
The waist high wooden bookcase with the glass doors has been in the corridor, which leads from my bedroom to my mother’s for as long as I can remember. It is filled with books that do not belong to me- they belonged to my father. My memories of him are a patchwork of scenes fitted together haphazardly along with anecdotes from family over the years.
My father was A. H. Brown. His mother, my grandmother was Mrs. Lily Watt. Rumour had it that she fell pregnant with my father while she was living in Cuba before she got married to Mr. Watt. I remember Mr. and Mrs. Watt used to live at 15 Friendship Lane, a small street
off Cross Road in Kingston. I used to visit the old wooden house after Sunday school every Sunday and I remember that Mr. Watt was much older than Mrs. Watt. I can still see him sitting on the low wooden chair on the tiny verandah of the wooden house. He had a round face with age spots neatly dispersed on his cheeks. For my entire childhood, I called my grandparents Mr. and Mrs. Watt, they always seemed like a strangers I would see on Sundays.
As I was clearing out the books out of the bookcase I found my father’s notebooks on electricity and the Bennetts Reference with all the electrical terms and details on electricity. He wanted to do further studies to become an electrical engineer and Lily Watt got upset with him one day and burnt all his books. From then on, their relationship went south, or maybe it had gone south before that. In spite of the fact that his studies were cut short, he did become an electrician and worked at one of the bauxite companies in Mandeville, which was about an hour and a half from Kingston, where we lived. Because of that, he was only home at the weekends and so I saw very little of him growing up. My mother made all the decisions regarding the house, our holidays and my education. She ran the show.
I remember hearing stories about how mean Lily Watt was. My mother told me that when she was introduced to her as her son’s fiancé, instead of saying the customary, “ I am delighted”, she actually said “ I am not delighted”. That story cracked me up and I wondered why my mother still went ahead and married my father. To add to that mystery, my aunt (his sister) even advised my mother not to marry my father – but she did anyway! Ah well….love is blind and deaf.
While clearing out the bookcase, I found books which shed light on who my father was and rekindled the now faded memories I have of him. I found the biography of Wes Hall, known as the fastest bowler for the West Indies. I remember the hum of the cricket commentators on the radio with their dry sense of humour. It was like someone droning on in a hum of monotonous, unintelligible sounds. It was all Greek to me at such a young age. A. H. Brown was an avid cricket fan and I do remember him listening to days and days of this cricket drone on our transistor radio.
The next few books I came across seem to fit into a special genre- they were the Diaries of Che Guevara, books on Lenin, and ones about the Vietnam war and other World War II writings. A H. used to say ad nauseum (that is why I remember it to this day), “A soldier never dies, he only fades away”. I recently discovered that it was a quote from General Douglas MacArthur in his farewell speech to the US Congress in 1951 after he was dismissed by President Truman. A. H. was a leftist, it seems, and interested in war. I think I might have appreciated him much more now that I am older and left-leaning myself. Imagine the colorful discussions we would have had on our verandah when I would tell him that I lived in both Vietnam and Russia. I would tell him how I experienced the remnants of the communist ideology and how I enjoyed the experience so much so that I had to visit Cuba to get the Caribbean beach–salsa version. How would he react when I would tell him that I was a fan of Fidel Castro and a supporter of the non-aligned movement of the 1970s? I know my father was some sort of volunteer for the British army in WWII. I wonder how he would react to my marrying a man from the Republic of Ireland whose family fought against the British? What about the arguments we would have had when I would tell how pointless I thought wars were?
A.H. had a sense of humour, he was sociable and loved women. I know this from the many half-siblings that I have. The last known count was about six, one was about my age. A. H. was the one who hung out with the male cousins and relatives and took them out on the town when they came to visit from near and far. He always had his buddies come to visit and spend long hours chatting on our verandah. However, in spite of the fact that he was such a cool guy, at a very early age, I saw that my father was not the marrying type. He was not a good match for my mother, who was focused, ambitious, strong-willed and independent. He just wanted to have a good time. Sometimes I wonder if I take after my father in that respect? My mother eventually got over her deaf and blind love and filed for a divorce. She kept the house.
My father died in 1990 when I was away at university in Belgium. It so happened that I was working on a project in Italy and in my rational mind, I could not justify flying home to Jamaica for his funeral. There are two things that are important about this event. One, I heard that all of his other kids attended the funeral and I did not. Shortly after his death, I received a letter from him. Apparently it was posted when he was alive but it only got to me after his death. Creepy. In that letter he was expressing his displeasure with my mother keeping house after the divorce. Ah well …… what rights do you have from the grave?
A.H. Brown you were a good laugh. I wonder how different you would have been if you had had a loving mother. I thank you for my mathematical mind and my love for having a good time. You are now that soldier who never died, but just faded away.