The walk from immigration to baggage claim was a nervous one. I kept thinking were they going to come back to check on me to be sure I would only be here for six months. I got my baggage and was outside the terminal in the underground pick up area. There were lines of cars parked along the sidewalk. I spotted the blue Toyota I was looking for pulling up along the sidewalk. A tall lady waved at me. I recognized her, it was Aunt Fern.
My new place of residence would be the home of good family friends, Uncle Wade and Auntie Fern. They had 2 daughters, Cassandra, 7 and Trudy-Ann, who was 10. They also had a son, Andre who was 12. The family had migrated here from Jamaica in the 1970’s. They were well off when they lived in Jamaica. They had a nice big home in Stony Hill and were one of the few families I knew with 3 cars. When Michael Manley came into office in the 70’s, they sold everything they had and left. One family member had left for Miami and paved the way for the rest of the family within a six-month period. Aunt Fern was the first to leave and she did just about everything to survive. Next was Uncle Wade with the children. I would be going down the same path. I remember the many heated political arguments between my dad and Uncle Wade. My dad disagreed with them leaving. Now I would have to pave the way for the rest of my family like they did. The plan was, my mother would come after I was able to have enough to rent a room. My father and 2 younger sisters, Kerri-Ann, 11 and Suzanne, 13, would come later.
The home was a 3-bedroom town house in what I thought was a good neighborhood but later found out was on the brink of becoming a ghetto. The house was moderately decorated and clean. I had visited the home in my previous two visits to Miami but stayed with other family friends. I never really took notice of all the Jamaican souvenirs in the house on previous visits. This may have been because I was never in Miami to stay. Auntie Fern told me I would be rooming with Andre. There was a bunk bed in his room. I would be sleeping on the bottom. I was vaguely familiar with the layout of the house and was able to find the room. The room was painted blue, with posters of basketball players on all 4 walls. There were a few toys on the ground. No one was home, as it was summer holidays and Uncle Wade took the children to the mall.
I put my bag down and opened it. There was some money hidden in there that I was supposed to give Aunt Fern for the month. I had to hide the money because of the $100US limit that was imposed on Jamaican citizens traveling to the USA. I would have to learn to budget the money that I had left.
As I walked back to the dining area, I saw that Aunt Fern had a meal ready for me at the table. It was near dinnertime and I was hungry. Unlike Air Jamaica, which serves a meal, Challenge just gave me a snack.
She sat down with me at the table while I ate and we talked. We first started to talk about my family in Jamaica and how she missed home. Next, we discussed the rules of the house and just some of the general things I needed to be familiar with around the house. Everyone had their chores and responsibilities. She pointed to the washing machine where I was to wash my clothes and also where the towel closet was located. This would be a far cry from what I was used to and probably what they were used to. I remember them having a separate house on their property for a live-in helper. I knew how to do my laundry because my mother made sure we knew how to help ourselves if our helper was not there. Even though I felt comfortable in their home, I knew that living with family friends would take some adjusting. I was almost finished eating when I realized that I forgot to give her the money. She refused to take it. I said that my Dad would not have it any other way. She finally took the money but said she would put it aside for me and if I need some, let her know. She also mentioned if there were any types of food that I liked, let her know so she could pick it up at the grocery store.
After dinner, I went to the shower. It was strange taking a shower in a new bathroom. I was careful not to do things that may be seen as “unclean” or as Jamaicans say “nasty”. I got dressed and headed for the phone.
I would be calling a friend of my father who lived in New York. He knew someone who could ‘acquire’ a social security card for me. I felt very weird about making the call but it was the first thing my father said I
should do when I get in. I spoke to Charlie, whose voice would become a part of my life for a few months. His Jamaican accent was heavy and his voice was deep. He explained that his friend was laying low. He said this was typical and this person would re-appear soon. He promised he would call as soon as he appeared but for now, he needed my date of birth, my full name, and an address.
It was a big blow on my first night in Miami. The key piece to the puzzle of getting a job within a week of landing was gone. I kept Charlie on the phone asking questions like “How long does he normally lay low?” and “Do you know anyone else that can get this for me?”. It was desperation type questions. I wanted to make sure I covered all bases, so when I would call my parents that night I could explain to them what was happening. My move here was the key to the whole family move and I wanted to make sure I was not the cause of any delays.
I hung up the phone and told Aunt Fern the story. In our earlier discussion, I told her about the plan to get a social security card. She had warned me to be careful because you could end up with a bogus card and lose money.
The front door opened. Uncle Wade and the children were here. Uncle Wade greeted me with a strong handshake. “Boy you have really grown. Fern he looks like his mother eeeh?” he smiled at me.
Andre came up to me to give me a high five. I knew he would remember me. Even though I was 4 years older than him, we still use to play together when we were smaller in Jamaica. Like myself, he was the only boy. Cassandra and Trudy-Ann had a bewildered look on their faces. I knew they did not remember me because they were very young when they left. Andre had an accent. He sounded American. So did Cassandra and Trudy-Ann.
They talked about the trip to the mall with their mother as she set the food on the table for them to eat dinner. I excused myself and told them I would use the phone. In my earlier discussion with Aunt Fern, I told her I would be calling my parents once a week.
I dialed home and my Mother picked up the phone. It was great to hear her voice. She asked about the flight and how everything was going. My father picked up the other line so he could hear everything. I explained about the flight and also about Charlie. I could hear the disappointment in my father’s voice as he said I should just keep calling Charlie. I spoke to my sister briefly and then my parents wanted to talk to Aunt Fern.
After Aunt Fern had finished talking she gave me back the phone. I said my goodbyes to my parents and ended the call. As I hung up, I remember having this feeling of emptiness, not knowing when I would see my parents or sister again. The emptiness left for a little while I as I watched a few games shows on TV with my new adoptive family. It was really hilarious to see Uncle Wade talk back to the TV as contestants in a game show called Family Feud, missed the questions and he got it right. I was amazed at how much money these people was winning to answer questions. I remember thinking, “America is certainly the land of opportunity and the place to get rich quick”.
Later that night, Andre and I talked a little bit before we went to bed. He asked about Jamaica and what was it like now. We also talked about music. The conversation was a little different for me because my mind was elsewhere.
It took a while for me to fall asleep. Partially because I was not at my home and I was not going back. I also kept thinking about that social security card. I had never seen one before but just knew I had to get one. Even though Aunt Fern understood about me not really having documents to work, I know the idea of having a male lying around doing nothing does not sit well with any Jamaican family. This thought was constantly in my mind…….
Photo by Erol Ahmed on Unsplash