Childhood Days

I spent some of my childhood years growing up in a small community called Lionel Town in the parish of Clarendon. It was a sugar town, meaning sugar canes grew and were harvested there for the Monymusk Sugar Factory. Lionel town had its own hospital of the same name; it had a court house, a community park known as Pawsey Park, several supermarkets, shops, a post office, police station of course, library, gas station, I even remember a “Bata” shoe store, but most importantly it had decent hard-working, law-abiding citizens. It was the most fun years I had as a child growing up there. This was in the seventies, a more innocent time in our country. Crimes such as rape, murder and kidnappings were unheard of, almost non-existent. Petty crimes like stealing were the order of the day and even that didn’t happen too often. You know that saying, “it takes a village to raise a child?” well that’s how it was then. That means everyone looked out for each other’s children. If you were caught doing some thing wrong as a child, it was okay to be scolded or be disciplined physically (In a reasonable manner) by the neighbour until our parents or guardians got home. By the same token you also had a lot of love and security knowing someone was looking out for you, you were cared for by others. Those were special times.

I grew up with my aunt Yvonne. There were four girls of us in the household, Ally, Leta, me and Joy. We were sisters and first cousins. We were a brother and sister’s children. At times it was great and sometimes not so wonderful, but it was never boring. It was a childhood chock full of activities with our many neighbourhood friends. Our street was clean and quiet and full of families with children. There were the Salmons, Ernie, Lavern, Karen, then we had Errol, Andrea, and Nadine next door to us, there was Shernette and Olivene at the top of the street. Across the street were Grace, Clyde, and Devon and on the right side of us was Sandra. There are too many to mention.

We all went to the same school, Watsonton primary and most times we ended up going to the same church or activities in and around the community. Every yard had an abundance of fruit trees, we were never hungry. We had several types of mango trees in our yard, East Indian variety, St. Julian, beefy, common and black mangoes. We also had two different types of plum, ’coolie’ and May plums, guava, coconut tree, limes, Seville oranges (which was sometimes used to make lemonade because of its tart taste).

Our neighbour to the right of us had even more mangoes and otaeatie apples (forgive the spelling), our neighbour to the left had naseberries, which for those of you who are not familiar with it, looks like a kiwi fruit. Same color, size and shape, except the naseberry had black seeds and soft brown flesh, sweet as sugar when ripened. In front of us were yet more mangoes, cashew- bananas (juicy, yellow, fleshy fruit) and pink-fleshed guavas. How could we possibly go hungry? Everyone shared what they had, for the most part. It was no trouble to go to someone’s yard and pick off the tree or pick up off the ground fallen fruits. There were more than enough to go around. In front of our home across the street, but to the right, was a home with sweet juicy red cherries. That neighbour was a very stern looking man, who drove a jeep and didn’t smile a lot. We were a bit afraid of him; little did we know there was no need to be. He wasn’t friendly, but he wasn’t mean either. We didn’t find this out until one day when we crawled on our bellies under a barbed-wire fence to get on his property to help ourselves to his cherries, I mean they were so red and ripe they were falling off the trees! He came home rather unexpectedly, we heard his jeep drove up in the front, we were in the backyard filling our pockets and up-turned dress hems. We were so frightened we couldn’t get out of there fast enough. In a hurry not to get caught, we crawled back so fast on the safe side we ended up with barbed-wire scrapes and bruised knees that stung really badly when bathing and the soapy wash rag touched there. Didn’t regret it though, those cherries were sweet! When we got to know him better, he gave us permission to get the cherries when they were in season. Go figure!

We played, oh my Lord how we played hard and fast, everyday after school and after homework was done. We played baseball with our own ‘ball’ devised from small juice cartons. First we stuffed it with crushed-up newspaper, then we closed it up and push the top down and in. Next, we dented the sharp corners to get it softer and that in essence was our ‘ball’. We were quite resourceful, thank you very much! Some one would pitch the ball and with open palm we would ‘bat’ the ball and ran to our bases. Sheer fun!! We also played high jump. Two people would hold a length of stick at either end and each of us would take a turn jumping over the stick. If you didn’t knock it down they kept raising it higher and higher until it was knocked down, then you had to hold the stick so the first holder would get her chance. Doll-house, dandy-shandy, skipping (jump rope) hide and go-seek, name it, we played it. We had lots of laughter; sweated buckets, got plenty of vitamin D, and drank good ole water, not sugary drinks or sodas. We were very healthy and we got plenty of exercise and sugar cane to boot! What could be better than that?

Once, we even had a funeral for a frog while we were playing doll-house. Complete with fake crying and eulogy. We dug a hole, buried him sermon and all. Five minutes later, we were stoning mango tree trying to get the ‘ripey’ on the top branch. Such is the attention span of children. Another incident I clearly remember was my older cousin ‘Leta’ who was one bossy young lady when we were growing up. She took over whenever Auntie was away at work or elsewhere for any length of time and kind of watch over us, but in a rather bossy way. On Saturdays we do chores and everyone had a different room(s) in the house where we had to clean the floors and dusted. Some of us were in charge of sweeping the yard, washing dishes and so on.

Well, one Saturday when Auntie had gone to the market “Leta” started in on me and wouldn’t let me alone to do what I had to do, keep yelling and even hitting me. I had reached my boiling point with her and felt she had crossed the line. I wasn’t going to let her get away with it, in a fit of anger I grabbed the first thing I saw, which happens to be a coconut fully encased in the shell and with all my anger and might I threw it at her head! She ducked (she was very agile) and the coconut hit a picture Auntie had hung on the upper wall. It fell and the glass in the frame was broken in several pieces, ruined. If I was never in trouble before, this was it for sure! I knew I was going to get it and ‘Leta’ made sure to remind me constantly what was in store for me. I prepared myself emotionally for my punishment, Imagining over and over what it was going to be like and crying harder and harder, but when Auntie came home from the market, hot and tired and heard my story she went after ‘Leta’ instead, to my relief. Auntie knew she must have been messing with me very badly for me to have lost my temper like that. She yelled at her and chased her butt to whip her, but ‘Leta’ outran her and went behind the wardrobe (told you she was agile) to hide, even then Auntie kept going from one side of the wardrobe to the other to get her, it was futile but I think she learned her lesson from then on. With that same bossy attitude and a stick she was my ‘teacher’ in school when we played in the summer time and taught me how to read a clock with a cardboard one she made herself and to this day I’m grateful for that. She was the one also teaching me to ride a bicycle and not the cutesy three wheel tricycle either, big bike for adults. She helped me on, guided me, encouraged me and I was doing great until I looked back and realized she wasn’t behind me anymore and lost my balance and rode into the Salmon’s dump-truck parked at their gate alongside the barb- wired fence. I ended up half inside and over the barb-wired fence!!! You had to be there, blood, bruised and scraped skin everywhere. I never went back on another bike as far as I knew and don’t plan to any time soon!! But I love her dearly because she took the time to teach me.

I had mentioned before that Lionel Town was a sugar town, huge; it provided jobs for people in and around other communities like Alley, Portland Cottage, Hayes, Mitchell Town and Raymonds among others. When it was time to harvest the sugarcane, it was burnt or was it after it was harvested? I’m a bit fuzzy as to exactly when it was done, but it was done and I can still recall the sweet smell of the burning sugar cane in the air. Very pleasant odor it was, but we had to close the windows when it got too windy because there was usually ash from the burning cane swirling around. This of course reminds me of a sugarcane story and the consequences of our behaviour. On Sundays we had to go to church. It was a given, no ifs, ands, or butts. We had to go church and depended on your religious affiliation you might meet some of your friends there if you were lucky because that would have made it bearable. We practically went to every church in Lionel Town, I swear, well maybe except one, Jehovah Witness’. Methodist, Pentecostal, Faith Gospel Chapel (also known as Gospel hall) we went there to VBS in the summer time that was fun, and finally Church of the Open Bible! Why? We did that because most of them kept their sermons too long. One Sunday we went to Pentecostal Church and went home before the service was over. It seemed we were sitting there forever in our pretty stiff dresses and shoes and we were uncomfortable. It was hot, we were getting hungry and the pastor wouldn’t stop preaching, so we just left. Auntie gave us a snack and a very stern lecture and sent us right back to church (pointing her hand towards the front door she said, “get unoo backside out and go back to church”!) with the advise to find a shorter sermon church. It wasn’t until I became an adult that I understand that poor Auntie probably only had that one day in which to rest and had some ‘me’ time for herself.

It couldn’t have been easy with four active little girls running around six days a week. Must have been very busy for her but as kids we didn’t think about that. It was then that we found the Open Bible Church and started attending. We loved it so much we didn’t need much push to go, some of our friends also attended, it wasn’t that bad. Anyway the story in relation to the sugarcane fields goes like this…We got up one Sunday morning and decided we weren’t going to church. It wasn’t a conscious or planned decision on our part; we just dawdled the morning away and ended up not going. We instead went to the cane fields and had our bellies filled with our choice of cane sticks, long, fat and juicy canes, yummy! We went home and dawdled some more before we decided to go take our baths. All that time Auntie was cooking and humming, not saying a word in English. We didn’t think anything was wrong at all. As soon as we went one by one into the bathroom and stripped down, in she came with a belt and got to work on our butts. There were no where to run or hide, she had gotten us real good! Looking back, I can now laugh as I recall us running around like crazy chickens in a hen house trying to avoid getting whipped. You can bet your bottom dollar we hardly ever miss church again unless it was for a very good reason. Auntie had the last laugh that Sunday and yes, we still love sugarcanes.

Here’s another adventurous story that happened and it’s centered on my youngest cousin, she was probably about five or six year’s young. We, the bigger girls were told not to hop the coal man’s donkey cart over and over again. He comes through our street ever so often selling charcoal. You think we listen; nope it was too much fun and challenging to do, so we kept on doing it. Ally saw us doing it and wanted to get a ride too. We advised her against it because she was so small and wasn’t yet skilful enough to get down on her own, but instead she told us if we didn’t let her on she was going to tell on us, the little tattler. So we put her on and of course without missing a beat she fell, scraped and bruised her knees. She was fair-skinned and so it wasn’t easy to hide her bruises. Oh my God she screamed and cried and we couldn’t shut her up no matter what we tried. We knew we were going to get it but we kept on trying to quiet her down, no luck until someone suggested we get her her favourite snack which at the time was ‘cheese trix’. ‘Cheese trix’ at the time cost five cents, so someone ran to the shop and got her a pack and as soon as she got it and started eating, she calmed down, stopped crying and boy, were we relieved, until that pack was finished and then she started howling and screaming again! We knew we were in real trouble, but to make a long story short the little trickster got three or four packs out of us and she still told on us!! How do you like them apples? In all fairness, she really couldn’t hide it; she was fair-skinned and had zero tolerance to pain at the time. Well, after a lecture on being ‘hard aise’ and putting little Ally in danger, we got our collective behinds whipped, which in retrospect, I think we deserved. That fall she’d gotten could have had a tragic twist. Way down in the rear of the property which was fenced off with barb-wire, was a small narrow ‘canal’. It was located on the outside of the fence; it wasn’t a part of the property on which we lived. It really wasn’t a canal in the real sense of the word. It was a narrow water-way made from concrete and while most of it was narrow it widens in some parts. It had small fishes with protruded bellies; we called ‘bangas’. We would lie flat on our bellies and extend our hands in the water trying to catch the ‘bangas’. They would sometimes swim right through our fingers tickling them to our delight, but they were difficult to catch. Sometimes we would make it a habit and jump across back and forth on the edges to see how skilful we were.

Occasionally someone would fall in, but it was quite shallow so one could just hold on to the edge and pull themselves up if they were strong enough, if not, we helped by pulling them up. The only problem was you’d be soaking wet and had to wait and be sun-dried before you go home. Lizards! Ugh!! I was and still am deathly afraid of lizards. Big brown and green ones, pretty colourful ‘ground’ ones that rustle through the dry leaves and even the very small dark-brown polly lizards, about as big as one’s little finger. They are really creepy and scary to me. I remembered one day I sat on the sunny verandah steps reading a book and so engrossed I was, I didn’t see the creature until it jumped off the edge of the roof and landed on my knee!!! Oh my lord, I threw the book away and screamed, screamed and screamed some more all this time slapping my knee silly and running around like I was crazy, heart beating out of my chest. I bet the lizard was more frightened than I was. To this day I cannot even see one on the Discovery Channel without turning my head or changing the channel. That goes for all reptiles by the way. I also remembered one jumping in my cousin’s Ally’s hair too. That also was a scream fest of great proportions. Honestly, the only things I haven’t missed home in Jamaica are the lizards! I know they serve a purpose, but they still bug and scare me to death. Ugh! My father who lived and worked in Spanish Town at the time would come down to see us maybe one or two weekends per month. He drove a model car called a “Cortina” (I think it was a Ford model). Occasionally he would pack all of us up in the car and take us to Salt River, a mineral bath located on the road leading to Old Harbour from Lionel Town. It is said to have healing medicinal properties. Older people said it was good for muscular aches and pain. The water is naturally salted and hot coming out of the rocks! There we would bathe, frolic, splash and just have fun. Those were good times. To this day I can’t understand why it’s not being developed as an attraction to visitors for its medicinal properties and beautiful and natural surroundings with spreading mangroves and all. It would certainly create jobs; generate income and money into the surrounding communities and the country’s coffers. My Aunt then and now was and still is a phenomenal woman; she was not only a home maker but also a secretary and a seamstress in her own right. She made our entire school tunics and blouses as well as some of our regular clothes. She was and still is an amazing cook and baker to this day. She makes the most delicious, tasty, feel-like-you-can-it-in-one-sitting chocolate cake. Absolutely delicious! We used to come home from school like all the other children in those days for home- cooked lunch. She always had hot, delicious, home-cooked lunches ready and waiting for us. She is now a retired nurse in the United States and is the grandmother of three beautiful, grandchildren. She travels occasionally and does her own thing these days as she’s most entitled to but taking care and spending time with her family is first and foremost. Her girls Ally and Leta lives near by. Little ‘Ally’ is not so little anymore even though after three beautiful children, two girls and a boy, she still manages to maintain a size four figure! Not fair! She is now working for a New York State insurance company while pursuing a degree program in business management. ‘Leta’ works for the Department of Health. She has no children but spoils her nieces and nephew rotten. She is a serious career woman who loves to travel all over with her friends when she is not working.

My sister Joy, is now a registered nurse with a teenage son, and is still practicing. Me, I have a beautiful and talented young son, I am a certified nursing assistant, but I now work in retail and as you can guess, a budding writer. My father who used to live and work in the US is now retired and has relocated back to Jamaica. Most of our neighbourhood friends had also immigrated and now live overseas too. Canada, United States being the main countries. Some I’ve kept in touch with and some with whom we’ve lost touch. Those were just some of my childhood adventures that I experienced with my aunt, sister, cousins and friends growing up in Lionel Town in the 1970’s. A time that was still innocent, full of fun as well as a time when consequences were meted out and lessons were learned. Today, when I read about how children are being sexually and physically abused, raped being kidnapped and murdered it really angers me that the very people whom should be looking out for the vulnerable children are the ones hurting them the most. That is really sad and very disturbing indeed. They are being robbed of their childhood. Then one wonders why they are so angry and violent, and why our country is known to have the highest crime rate in the Caribbean. In these times we need the ‘village’ now more than ever.

Property of Carmen Lawrence and should not be copied, borrowed or reproduced without permission of owner!