Bootie’s Giant Footprint: A Tragedy in Junction

One may never be able to measure the effects of one’s life and existence on others, anymore than one can rationalize tragedies such as the untimely death of Lynton “Bootie” Mullings of Junction, St. Elizabeth. Within hours of the tragedy that took place as a result of hurricane Ivan’s passing by Jamaica in September 2004, very many lives changed for better or for worse. Those of us, who are left to ponder the effects and potential effects of nature’s doings, find it difficult to put a positive spin on the negative wonders of nature. While Jamaica will survive, and Junction, St. Elizabeth, will continue to grow, Bootie’s giant footprints will remain, for a long time, on the landscape of our consciousness.

This writer, trying to reunite with Jamaica, was introduced to Lynton “Bootie” Mullings, less than two years ago. This introduction took place in the most unpretentious and low-keyed way possible. Blessed with good friends and acquaintances, I came to discover Junction, St. Elizabeth, three years ago. My friend and boyhood companion had built a house near Junction, and had returned to Jamaica to settle down, quietly. His invitation extended to me, to stop by his place whenever I am in Jamaica, has had many a person walking in and out of Robbie Golding’s house, with a regularity that could be endured only by a genuine friend. Robert “Robbie” Golding lives in Dundo (Dunder) Hill, near Junction. Observing that I had been “blown away” by the natural beauties of his surroundings, Robbie decided to expose me to what could be one of God’s special exhibitions of the natural beauties of Jamaica. Early one Sunday morning, while dew and mist were still on the blades of guinea grass, my friend and I decided to walk up to the top of Dundo Hill. I have yet to be shown a more wondrous view in Jamaica. Robbie had handed me a pair of binoculars that was dangling from my neck, but I did not question his motives.

Standing on a promontory at the top of our ascent, my naked eye took in such an awfully wondrous sight, that Robbie had to remind me that I had the binoculars. I was immediately transported to a higher realm of wonder, aided by additional lenses, that silence completely overshadowed me. After a while, the same useless questions I have asked, scores of times, came tumbling out of my mouth: who owns this place? Are they selling it? How did you find this spot? Where is that place over yonder? How do people get into and out of here? Robbie has stopped answering any of those questions. He knows that I do not expect answers any more. These questions were a result of not being speechless when I should have been. Take, for example, the question “Who owns this place?” and the one that usually follows right behind it, “are they selling it?” I am trying to waste my friend’s time when I posit such queries. He knows that I am in Jamaica, thanks to a rectangular piece of plastic that has held many of us hostage.

Robbie Golding comes to my rescue, by way of a purposeful disregard of my babblings. He begins to explain what he can of the panoramic view. He starts from way out in the distance, to our extreme left. There the sea outlines the topography of Clarendon, Manchester, and St. Elizabeth. He mentions such places as Round Hill, Hudson Bay, Milk River Bath, Alligator Pond, Calabash Bay, Lover’s Leap, and Treasure Beach. While he tries to be accurate, he knows that he could tell me just about anything, and I would have no reason to disagree, at least, not from any knowledge base. Mr. Golding continues by moving back onto the land, explaining that we are standing right above Shaddock Hill. He points way in the distance, and explains that Malvern is over there. He continues in a circular motion, pointing out Alpart Aluminum Refinery, and the hills of Manchester due east. This is a 360-degree revelation of a little piece of Jamaica that is probably duplicated a thousand times throughout the Island. It suddenly brings home to me the reality that I am in Jamaica for only a few days. I will have to return to some wretched place in the United States, where every unsuspecting Jamaican wants to go.

Robert brings me back to terra firma, as he continues to explain that the tops of some nearby buildings was the center of Junction, the fastest growing town in Jamaica. Then he said some magic words. He said, “When we go down to Junction tomorrow, I am going to take you to Mullings Supermarket, and introduce you to Bootie Mullings.” It was my turn to surprise my friend. I stuck my hand in my pocket, and pulled out my little black book. I thumbed through to the letter M, and audibly read: “Mullings, Bootie, 123-4567.” It was Robbie’s turn to ask a few foolish questions: “Where did you get that number? Do you know Bootie? Who told you about him?” I explained that a friend, living in Gainsville, Florida, had hooked me up with the information. Robbie and I are members of a singing group, and he was just waiting for an opportune time to introduce me to Mr. Mullings who had a studio at his home near Junction. Celia Fairweather, a friend residing in Gainsville, and having interest in Jamaican music and culture, knew that Bootie Mullings would be someone I would want to meet.

Celia had suggested that I take some of my tapes, on my next trip to Jamaica, and she would alert Bootie Mullings that I would be stopping by to see him. Being quite Americanized, and knowing that Jamaicans are high on protocol, I did not see how I could walk into a business establishment and ask for the “big man”, just because an acquaintance had told me to do so. I am naïve, however. On a mid-week morning, it could have been a Wednesday, I walked into Mulling’s Supermarket in the relatively small town center of Junction. Somehow I felt comfortable, although it was my first visit. At worst, I could get a few US dollars exchanged. This usually makes one welcome at such places of business. I was hoping that Celia Fairweather, affectionately called “Nanny”, had made contact with Mr. Mullings, on my behalf. I walked up to the first worker, sitting at a checkout counter. I called upon my best smile, which is not that great, and from behind this smile, I asked for Bootie. “Is he expecting you, Sir?” asked the lady, sizing me up as she did so. I shifted gears, right away, for my response.

“Mi nuh too sure, but a lickle woman name Nanny shuda call ‘im fi tell ‘im fi expeck mi.” I had pushed the right button! The lady smiled, pointed to Bootie’s little office and said: “Gwaan up, ‘im inna ‘im office. Knack pan di door.” I said: “t’anks mi lady”, audibly, while whispering to myself, “Burnie, yu in like Flint!”

I climbed the short flight of stairs, knocked relatively loudly on the office door and said: “Hey, Bootie, mi can come in?” A voice, from the other side of the door said, “Push di door nuh!” I pushed the door and stepped inside, to find an unpretentious middle age man sitting behind a desk. He was about my size, and I reasoned that he could be a little shorter than my height. He did not look up immediately, and that surprised me. He had some money on the desk, and he was writing in a ledger or logbook. I announced that a little woman called Nanny had sent me to check with him, and Bootie finally looked up. He said that Nanny had called him a few days ago, and had told him that I would be stopping by. In response, I said, “Can I sit down?” There was a chair, and I answered my own question in the affirmative. Bootie leaned back in his chair and smiled at me. He cleared his desk, a little bit, by putting away the book and cash. To restart the conversation, Bootie asked me how I liked Junction. I told him that I was very impressed with the town, and had learned that he was cranking up a studio. Bootie Mullings and I spent about an hour discussing our interest in music while he was interrupted, many times, as the call of duty demanded. Once or twice, I offered to return at a more opportune time, but my newfound friend said that there was no such time in his line of work. I wanted to discuss the chance of having Bootie listen to some music I was working on, and he seemed to have read my mind. “Nanny tell mi dat yu do a lickle music.” At his reference to my music, I said: “Gimmi two minutes, Mi Boss!” I am not sure that he had agreed to give me the time, but it didn’t matter. In less than two minutes, give or take two more, I had bounded down the stairs, flew out to my car, and returned with four cassette tapes. Bootie took the tapes and promised to listen to them. I said: “I’ll catch up wid yu next summer”, and attempted to leave. Bootie asked me what I had planned for the coming Friday night, and I told him that I did not plan that far in advance. He then extended an invitation to a Set-Up he was conducting in Ballards Valley, a few miles up the road. Bootie had pushed the right button again. Before leaving the house, for Junction, Robbie had said that with any luck, Bootie could be having a Set-Up that very weekend.

About 9:00 P.M., that Friday night, Robbie, his wife Julie, and I got into a car, and drove down to Ballards Valley to take in this Set-Up scene. I grabbed a digital camera, and Robbie shook his head. His concern was that he could not guarantee anything, and felt that a camera may not be the best thing to walk with. He reasoned that one could never tell when one may take the wrong picture. I immediately got his drift, and told him that I would be extra careful. What I experienced that Friday night did not come close to anything I had expected. I was completely blown away by the magnitude of everything. There was literally hundreds of people, young, middle aged and old. The sound system sent decibels of sound clear through my chest. There was a live band, and there was Bootie Mullings in the midst of the affairs, orchestrating the whole thing.

I plunged into the crowd, and made my way to the control center. There were two Song Leaders with mikes, and a host of others in support. The singing was robust, if not boisterous, and all the songs were those that could be called religious. I always prided myself in the fact that I knew quite a number of religious songs and choruses, but I was taken to school by the enthusiastic crowd that sang, continuously, for hours on end. I heard that the good book had said that we should rejoice when one died. I got to thinking that the scene came close to heeding that counsel.

The singing was backed-up by a live band. Bootie Mullings was playing lead guitar. Back in his little office in Junction, the thought did not cross my mind that he was actually a musician. The drummer was awesome, as was the Bass player. Interestingly, there was a lot of improvised music and instruments. A percussionist, playing an instrument made from two Dutch pot covers, was the center of attraction, and he knew it! I checked with Booty concerning the possibility of taking some pictures. He gave me permission on condition that I would let him have some photographs. I readily promised to do so, and I took a number of shots of Bootie and his activities at the controls. Contrary to my expectations, everybody was anxious to have their pictures taken. We spent more than three hours at the function, but Bootie thought I was leaving way too early. I returned to the U.S., and kept my word concerning the pictures I promised to send for Bootie Mullings.

Last summer, about two weeks before the tragedy of Ivan, I stood on the stairs at Mullings Supermarket in Junction, St. Elizabeth, talking to Bootie. I asked about the pictures I had sent him, and he said that all the boys were happy to see that somebody had captured them in action. We talked about the fact that his studio was closed down because he was doing some work on his house. He did not get a chance to do anything with my tapes, but he did mention that he felt that my music would do well in Jamaica. I seem to have been lucky to be in Junction when Bootie Mullings was conducting a “Set Up.” I firmly believe that Bootie was beloved because of this service that he rendered to the community.

That last Saturday night I spent in Junction, before returning to the United States, I spent at another Set-Up Bootie was conducting. I had gone to the function with my God Daughter, Keisha, and did not plan to stay very long. Bootie was amused that I had walked with a video camera this time. I also had a tambourine, and a microphone! I had come prepared to help lift the spirits of the grieving family, and to sing some revival choruses. I wish that somehow I would have known that the very next Set-Up in Junction would have been that of my newfound friend, Lynton Mullings.

The news of Bootie’s death, as a result of Carbon Monoxide poisoning, spread very fast. Our mutual friend, Nanny, called me from Gainsville, Florida, the very morning that the tragedy took place. The news was so upsetting that I treated my friend who bore the tidings as though she had committed the crime. She was very patient with me, and told me that she understood exactly how I felt. I had already gotten news about the hurricane, and was being thankful that all who I knew had escaped serious consequences. The news about Bootie Mullings was devastating to me.

Robbie, my friend from Dunder Hill, has tried to describe to me the gathering in Junction Square, the night everyone gathered to pay respects to Mr. Lynton Mullings. I have respectfully declined to be informed of the details. I prefer to remember my friend as the quiet, soft-spoken citizen of Junction, St. Elizabeth, whose footprints will never be erased from his beloved community. I will repeat: One may never be able to measure the effects of one’s life and existence on others, anymore than one can rationalize tragedies such as the untimely death of Lynton “Bootie” Mullings of Junction, St. Elizabeth. His memory will live on, as his wife and family continue to bless the community.

About the author

Dr. Burnie A. Hines