In The Beginning
Our conversation on the seven deadly sins and the noble virtues continues this week and as with the two previous weeks, it begins with my story of sins and virtues in my life. This is part goes back to what I call the “Tender Years.”
Editing and republishing this part of the story took me back to memories I had buried. As I typed the words written some years ago, I was transported to another time and place. Pulling away from the original and re-reading what was before me on the screen, how far I have come and how my understanding of sins and virtues have changed and expanded.
Writing this part of my story, I realized how important it is to spend some time retrieving our stories – the good and the bad of it all. I invite you to read my Tender Years and I pray that as you do it might awaken something in you. If you need to, you can always share privately with me if you prefer or in our comments below.
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Sacred Words About The Tender Years
By using Sacred Words to describe the quotations that I chose, my intention is to share with you words from a variety of sources dedicated to Truth and to what is holy in our experiences as human beings:
“I had NO IDEA that mothering my own child would be so healing to my own sadness from my childhood.” Susie Bright
“The events of childhood do not pass, but repeat themselves like seasons of the year.” Eleanor Farjeon
I have absolutely no recollection of when, how and where Mama met her first husband. Totally blank. I have had no interest in knowing and so I have never asked.
He just appeared.
What I do recall is the sickening, green feeling that arose at the back of my throat, announcing that I was on the verge of vomiting as Mama introduced him to me as her husband. Few are my early memories but this one I will never forget. I must have been about three years old but my dislike and distrust for this tall, slightly plump, dark skin man was immediate.
There must have been a wedding ceremony, a reception, cake, wine and gifts. Mama was too proud a woman not to have had the pomp and pageantry. Maybe I was very much the center-piece and quite possibly I was in a white frilly dress as she loved to display her possessions and I certainly was one. I simply do not remember and the years to follow would give me good cause.
We Are Family
We were now a family – husband, wife and child – and we needed to move to bigger quarters. Mama and I were living in Pembroke Hall, in Kingston, Jamaica. It was not very far from where my father continued to live for several years until his own marriage. We lived on Rosehall Avenue, which was a slight more upscale than where my paternal grandparents lived.
Mama married Mr. Howard, as I would call him for all the years we spent together, and it was soon after the wedding that we moved to the house across from Miss Gardner’s shop. This was to be the first of many moves I was to make with my mother. For a while, life progressed as any other family’s did. Mr. Howard left for work everyday (he was some sort of sales rep) and Mama had started her own small business after she left the J.O.S. bus company. She would leave home early each morning to open the doors of her little shop on Spanish Town Road, which in those days was a bustling commercial area.
Mama was always proud to tell people how my formal education started at a very tender age. However, it was out of pure necessity rather than any insight on her part that she had a “genius” on her hand that I would be taken to Miss Thomas Basic School on her way to work. It was here that I publicly pee myself for the first time. I started attending Miss Thomas’ school at a younger age than most children. Mama said that at three, I displayed an eagerness to learn. Frankly, I believe it was more as a result of not knowing what to do with me during the days and being unable to find or afford reliable household help.
It’s Always About Money And Sex
Up until my enrollment at basic school, we always had a household helper. I was later to understand the truth behind the change of our household arrangements. Money had started to be a problem – slow coming in and Mama did not want another woman in the house with her relatively new husband. She had seen what had happened in other houses. Whatever her reasons, my formal education started in a class and school with children twice my age. This spelt trouble, at least for me. It was at this school where I saw sex in action and got a whipping for my troubles.
The school consisted of one large and dark hall divided by chalk boards. The spaces between the fancy brickwork in the concrete walls and the door-less entrances provided both light and ventilation. Being a teacher in those days required having a strong, loud voice that could carry over the din. It was as if you were attending several concerts simultaneously, when all the children in their various classes started chanting, some screaming, the multiplication tables.
Coming out of what was not unlike the hull of a slave ship, no wonder recess was a joyous time and some children got carried away.
I can remember that eventful day when my neighbhour, Orville, a boy with bushy hair to match his wild temperament decided to show what he had seen his older siblings do, with a girl behind the toilet stalls. It now seems as if the entire basic school was gathered behind those stalls, piling up on each other in the narrow space separating the school yard from the bedroom windows of the neighbouring house.
Guess who was in the front row, mouth wide open, eyes bulging and gasping for air? Tender me!
So engrossed was I that although Miss Thomas was a buxom, heavy-set woman, she might as well have been one of those warriors capable of cat-walking, as the only sense I had of her approach was the burning band of heat I felt on my skin as her leather strap fell on my behind. It was then I pee myself and ran through the gates for about a mile home, non-stop, in my wet drawers.
It would be three years more before I was able to leave Miss Thomas for ‘big’ school – Pembroke Hall Primary. Many were my lessons at basic school though, lessons that prepared me for the next stage of my educational and social development or shaped my views about the world. For example, it was at basic school that I learned to fear injection needles and the nurses who used them as we lined up to receive our annual immunization shots. In fact, it was on one of these occasions that I pee myself for the second time in public – the day of the measles shots!
Basic school also taught me how to protect my property, particularly lunch, from those who ate faster than I did. We all received a bowl of hot rice, which was so moist you could hear it plop off the cook’s huge serving spoon. We called it ‘bolo slush’ and it was dished with meat or chicken, usually the latter which was less expensive as it was reared at the back of the school hall in a two-level fowl coop, the stench from which rivalled the one from the toilet stalls.
Independence Was Learned Early
The lesson of independence started at basic school and the most vivid is probably the day I was finally allowed to walk home from school with the neighbourhood children – with no adults. More importantly, my prince charming, Orville was (the same one who I pee myself over) carrying my bag. Tender love. Truth is, after and in spite of that incident, he was my ‘boyfriend’ during my basic school years and, being my next door neighbour, our ‘relationship’ extended beyond the confines of school to the cardboard playhouse Mr. Howard built for me under the sour-sop tree in our backyard.
Orville, his younger sister Maxine and I were to become a family in that cardboard house. Obviously, he was the father, I the mother and Maxine our sweet offspring. Looking back, I can see now that we were acting out our deepest wishes being children of ‘broken’ marriages. Orville and Maxine were living with their grandparents and I was living in a home that was increasingly becoming known for the noise and violent displays that spilled over into the public domain. We were doing more than that however. We were acting out what we saw in our homes. One day Orville decided to consummate our ‘marriage’. It was the day we divorced. He soon re-married to another girl, actually the tom-boy who lived on the other side of his house, or so I thought.
In spite of our divorce, life on the avenue continued with Orville’s new ‘wife’ and I becoming very close friends. We would all gather after school beneath a huge tree to plan and execute our missions to wreak havoc on the avenue. We all attended different schools, depending on where parents worked or did not work for that matter, but most of us went to Pembroke Hall Primary by that time. Orville’s wife became the leader of our little ‘gang’, not the type that you see today, but her dictates were dutifully followed by the rest of us.
My main role in this band of noisemakers was to secure provisions, either from Mama’s well-stocked ‘fridge’ or from Miss Gardner’s shop. By then, our tastes had graduated beyond the Hostess cakes to meatloaves – a warm, oven baked dough filled with spicy minced beef. These were far more expensive than the cakes, and I was allowed to charge only one per day. This posed a problem, as it was difficult to split this pea-shaped delight between four to six pairs of grubby and grabbing hands.
We got up to many antics, ranging from the unauthorized reaping of fruits from our neighbour’s trees, throwing pebbles on the roofs of those who took offense at our help with harvesting to teasing and chasing the neighbours’ dogs. As we got older, we hiked to a nearby hill and explored the caves. Life was simple in my tender years, at least when I was with my friends.
At home, it was a different story.
(To be continued)
Closing this week’s story of my tender years, I want to share these words from Prayer For Our Children, written by Marianne Williamson. It is one that I hold dear and hope that every mother would say for her daughters in particular. It was one that at up to when I was 40 years old, I hoped my mother would one day say for me. I do not know if she ever did. What I do know is that I said it many a times for my daughter and now say it for my tender granddaughter – Mahalia.
There are no words for the depth of my love for this child.
I pray for her care and her protection.
I surrender her into Your hands.
Please, dear God, send Your angels to bless and surround her always.
May she always be protected from the darkness of our times.
May she always see You as the centre of her life.
May her heart grow strong,
To love You and serve You.
I surrender, dear God, my parenthood to You.
Make me the parent You want me to be.
Show me how to love most patiently, to be there for her most fully,
To understand profoundly who she is and what she needs.
May this family be a blessing unto her now and forever.
May she learn here values and principles of love and righteousness.
May she learn from me kindness.
May she learn from me strength.
May she learn from me the lessons fo power;
That she has it and must surrender it to You, to be used for Your
purposes throughout her life
For thus shall You be gladdened,
And thus shall she be free,
To live most fully and love most deeply.
That is my wish.
That is my prayer for her and for me forever.
This is a prayer for all the tender ones, everywhere.