Connecting with My Roots
I am writing this from my late grandfather's place in Oracabessa, in the parish of St. Mary.
It's early in the morning, and my wife and I just spent the night of Good Friday. I am wondering why we didn't see Bow Bow last night.
"Bow Bow" is a local madman who happens to have taken up residence in the backyard, just beyond the point where the bushes start. He doesn't always allow himself to be seen, but we know he's been around from what he leaves behind (remnants of meals, discarded bottles and human faeces.)
We recently had to grill-in the porch, because he was taking a joke too far and sleeping in the small alcove at nights, leaving the above mess behind.
The question on everyone's mind is --- what do we do about Bow Bow?
Do we call the police? To do what? Do we speak with him in a sane moment? These are apparently few and far between.
Should a local ruffian be employed to threaten him, as some do?
Is there someone else to call?
Apparently he is quite harmless, apart from the time when he kept disconnecting the water supply to the house… but that should be more accurate described as annoying than anything else.
My sense is that the Jamaican response is to "suck it up" at times like this, and not try to change anything, working instead to accept the situation as a given.
On yesterday's trip to Oracabessa, my wife and I decided to travel away from the coast for the first time into the Jack's River area.
We took a road I have never taken before, back towards the Sun Plantation, where we drove in and met the owners. They show us around the property a bit, and told us much of the history and story behind Jamaican fruits – they were not just knowledgeable, but passionate about their farm.
As I usually do, I shared that my grandfather (who passed away when I was 20) used to live in Oracabessa, and of course they knew him well, and had actually been to his funeral and seen my family there. A call to my mother revealed that she and Lorna grew up together in town.
Further down the road, we stopped to buy pan chicken from a lady barbecuing from a converted gas cylinder. We had a pleasant conversation while waiting for the last piece of chicken to cook, watched carefully by her dog, cat and 2 sons.
Once again, I shared my grandfather's connection, and she proclaimed that he made the best patties she ever had, and that she used to work across the road from his store, in the garment factory near to the bank.
She also insisted that she was not just saying it because we were there, and that it was true.
While there is better tasting pan chicken to be had in Kingston (due to more competition I suppose) there is not sweeter conversation.
Part of why I moved back home was for these reasons – to give up the rootless and drifting feeling of not belonging that I always felt in America. I discovered that getting a "safe" job and buying a home in New Jersey didn't cure it… not when I barely knew my neighbours names.
I disliked that big-country feeling of not knowing people, and people not knowing you, and no-one caring one way or another.
Here in Oracabessa I am able to piece together parts of my grandfather's memory from others. It connects me to him, and to them, in a way that I find edifying – as if this is the way that things are supposed to be, rather than rarely are.
Certainly, when a Jamaican migrates, all this if forsaken even when the parents are also taken along permanently.
I know in my mind that one reason that I wanted to return to live in Jamaica was to be with, and take care of my parents as the years advance. I didn't realize that I also wanted to take care of my grandfather's memory, and his connection to me through the house, land and personal memories that he left behind.