An Abundance Of Things
“Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.” Mother Theresa
My tiny District of Gibraltar, St. Ann is barely a dot on the map of Jamaica. Yet it was here, in the deep rural parts, that my five siblings and I spent our formative years. These years paved our way to the highways and byways of opportunity and prepared us all for the sometimes uncharted terrains. We were pioneers in many ways, as our older cousins, who represented success to our young and impressionable minds, did not travel the courses we took.
We did not have much in terms of ‘things’. We had enough – by our standard – but down the road from our three bedroom house and hall, there was Miss Daisy and Maas Joe. At 6′ tall, Maas Joe was not only perceived to ‘run his house’ but was the most successful farmer and modern-day equivalent of an “entrepreneur.”
Maas Joe was successful and, incidentally, he was a distant cousin of my mother. He and his household had “THINGS,” including a car and a massive house that was located right in the district’s square. The downstairs of the house was a huge, in my youthful eyes, grocery shop and the upstairs were the living quarters. Maas Joe owned most of the lands in the area, perhaps hundreds of acres, and boy did he work them!
Whenever he was working on the farm, Maas Joe would load the only Land Rover pick-up in the area with labourers of all ages. He owned many herds of cattle that grazed on the fodder next to the Primary School that I attended. Maas Joe had “THINGS.”
Perhaps they were fleeting moments of ‘need’ but sometimes I wished Maas Joe was my father.
The preceding words are from a post written and published on Claudette’s former blog. It is revived and republished here today as part of the Christmas focus for this month. This is the time of the year that many people, those who observe this holiday season, are very mindful of things – the ones they will give and those that they will receive. As such, we thought it right to share this piece on things – from my perspective and from my childhood. So let us continue with the tale of things.
The Place of Things in My Childhood
I was aware that with a good supply of “THINGS” one could live comfortably and would be able to buy anything he/she wanted. Looking back, something now dawns on me. Miss Daisy and Maas Joe did not smile, at least not in public. There was no raucous laughter echoing through their doors onto the street.
More significant, there was no gathering of the sisters (Miss Coolie – my mother, Miss Tuxie and the youngest Miss Pulachie). After church, the sisters would gather to exchange their weekend blessing of deliciously cooked rice and peas and chicken. How many ways can one cook fricassee chicken?
Most Sundays, the sisters cooked the same foods, yet they exchanged meals and joyous, gut-busting laughter and anything else that could be thrown into the mix of ‘togetherness’. It was never about “THINGS” for these three. They also shared an ever-amusing interaction as they started speaking in a strange ‘gypsy’ language. Us children were always fascinated when they started this charade. Instead of taking this as the cue to leave the room, we hovered in a corner within ear-shot until frustration set in as we could not decipher what they were saying.
It Was Never About “THINGS”
Our house was situated close to the Baptist Church and our cellar was the storage for the slippers and walking shoes of the women who travelled miles to attend church. Our ‘facilities’ provided relief for them in preparation for the 3-hour long service. We were awaken every Sunday by 5:30 a.m. to clean said ‘facilities’. The early wake up was to make sure it was presentable for the first ‘stranger’ who came by. “Stranger” for us simply meant someone who did not live in our household.
My dearly departed Mother was an upstanding “Market Woman” with an extremely loyal clientele. She sold at the Falmouth Market in Trelawny, the parish bordering St. Ann. Growing up, my elder brothers and sisters took turns to sell in the market, either with my mother or on their own when she was ill. I, Miss Coolie’s ‘wash-belly’, was never taken to the market.
I often tell my only child, Jared, about my astute mother’s juggling act. There was a point when three of us were attending Primary School at the same time. Unable to afford more, the single pencil my mother bought would be ‘cut’ in three pieces. We each took turns with the bit that had the eraser. Through this experience, we learned the value of caring for our ‘things’. We were forbidden from borrowing so we each kept our third of a pencil in a safe place until Friday. I really looked forward to my Monday morning treat when it was my turn to get the bit of the pencil with the eraser.
Our household was infused with a drive, energy and compelling desire to excel.
Excelling did not mean having cars, a huge house, acres of land as Maas Joe and Miss Daisy. To us, ‘things’ meant enough to provide fuel for the journey along the road to achievement of our life-long ambitions. Our mother never put us under any pressure to do our school work. Her repeated chant was instead, “Pickney, work hard because mi nuh have no legacy fi lef give oonu.” (Translation: Child, work hard as I have no legacy to leave for you.) Another perspective on ‘things’. We learned from an early age that we can only count the cows in our backyard, not anybody else’s. As Theodore Roosevelt so aptly stated:
For better is it to dare mighty ‘things’ to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure – than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a grey twilight that know not victory nor defeat.
The Most Significant Gift This Christmas
Not too long ago, there was a Facebook post asking those born in the 1960’s what was their favourite cartoon. I could not take part in this exercise because:
- There was no TV in Gibraltar in my childhood and the radio station signed off at 8:00 p.m. due to poor transmission.
- There was no electricity in my district until the late 1970’s.
The foregoing should have clued you in that my beginnings were humble and I must admit that I have been railroaded into indulging, bitten by the ‘material bug’. The challenge we live with today is not trying to provide enough for our children but convincing them that what they have is enough. Things change and not always for the better.
There was a beauty, simplicity and wonderment to my childhood and Gibraltar. It was one more about dreams and imagination than of material expectations. Cable, TV and video games did not yet exist,. This might seem crazy to many of you, considering the importance of things like cable TV in the United States. This is highlighted by the fact that United States pay TV brought in $85.5 billion in revenue in 2018, showing just how many people pay for it. Some people can’t bear the thought of going one full hour without watching the television, and the need for it only increases when the latest episode of a popular television show has just been released. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy watching TV as much as the next person, but I don’t rely on it. But at least we have good a satellite internet connection if we do ever want to catch up on the latest boxset or episode because we want to be able to stream it to the highest quality. It is a boon to have the satellite internet connection available in our area. It is not that we would not like to have a regular cable network but understandably so, you would need to have various cable network packages available like Dish TV packages and alike, just like in the United States of America. Nonetheless, we’re very blessed to live the life that we do.
We didn’t have that luxury of TV or satellite internet then, so we visited and played in our “pretend world” that we created in our backyards or the not too busy streets. Of course, this meant that the backyard had to be safe for us to go and explore. We usually had to contact this trugreen north carolina company to make sure the lawn looked nice and to make sure the insects were controlled. That sort of thing really helped us to spend more time in our backyard. It seems we valued things more because there was not a lot but we DID have enough. In fact more than enough.
Materialism is now the way of being. We venerate conspicuous displays of wealth. As a people, we need to revisit the fundamental yet ever-so wise truth that there is enough. More importantly, our children need to be inculcated with a sense of “enoughness” and not such a sharp focus on accumulating. That is a gift that you could add to the list for this Christmas?
Clara is a longstanding member of Claudette’s Daughters of Sheba Facebook group, a friend, an Insurance Executive and a very wise woman. She lives in St. Andrew, Jamaica with her spouse and now 12 year-old first-born baby, Jared. Her most recent article was “My Baby Died: How Do I Go On?” as part of our Emptiness series and “How To Use Your Gifts To Thrive Wherever You Are.”
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