Ivy Cottage Revisited – A Kaleidoscope Of My Jamaican Childhood

In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on

(Robert Frost, 1874-1963)

They say you cannot go home again.  I decided to test this supposed truism, although I had second thoughts and conjured up a host of reasons why I should not. But I had invited a good friend and my grandson was anxious to see  where I had grown up. I did not want to disappoint them, so on one clear, beautiful sunny day, we drove from Kingston to Ivy Cottage, to see if I could recapture the sights, sounds and smells of  my childhood home. Physically, the changes were many, but my emotional connection was instantaneous.

No longer Ivy Cottage, the name on the familiar curved entrance now reads Rose Cottage, The black-and-white cut-stone has been cemented over and painted pink.  The once beautiful front garden is overgrown with weeds, and my grandfather’s tomb where I used to play my solitary games and the fruit trees have gone, except the Otaheite apple tree which stands in isolated splendour. The barbecues and tank have been modernized. A straggly palm has replaced the tangerine tree which once shared my secrets. The verandah with the slatted wooden chairs where my grandmother taught me to read, is now a wrought-iron carport. The cellars where I used to collect eggs have disappeared.

The village square has not changed. The counter in my grandfather’s shop looks the same. I could still see myself, head held ramrod straight, running as fast as my six-year-old legs could carry me past the shop of Elfreda Senior, the community’s notorious obeah woman. Only now the house and shop are vacant shells with waist-high bushes. I engaged two men who were standing outside the betting shop adjacent to my grandfather’s shop in conversation. When I told them I was Miss Amy’s grandchild, they were very cordial, but significantly, the main story they remembered about the family was that two of her sons had hanged themselves.

Jones, the epicentre of my grandmother’s farming activities – her beloved strawberries – looks like scrubland, on where cows were grazing half-heartedly, while Uncle Alton’s house, which had caused such family pain, is an empty shell.

The  West Indies Training  College, now the Northern Caribbean University and the bakery, where I used to buy butter fingers, penny breads and ice-cream cones on Sunday evenings is a guest house for visitors.

Good Luck Gully, where, according to the adults, the Black Heart Man would try to capture unsuspecting children has been widened and lightened with the removal of rocks and overhanging trees.

The dirt track to Aunt Caroline’s house on which I used to run on Saturday mornings to have my hair combed, can  accommodate vehicular traffic and on the spot where her house was is a modern two-storey building. The house of Mr. Morgan, Aunt Caroline’s alleged lover is surprisingly well kept. Perhaps his relatives live there.

It is said that over time, if we are lucky, memories of the negative experiences in our lives fade, while the positive ones remain sharp and bring us joy.   I have been fortunate. And while I failed in cauterizing my tears on this  nostalgic journey, I claim joy, not sorrow, because I felt further vindication in my resolve to tell my story. My kaleidoscope.

Like one’s life, a kaleidoscope is multi-coloured, reflecting many facets of reality.  Life is a  constantly changing pattern and sequence, with rainbows and shadows, highs and lows. At first glance, some of us may consider our life boring and uneventful, not worthy of recounting.  This is not so. We all have a story to tell, a unique story that bears recounting. We all have experiences that can become lessons to our family, friends and even strangers. We simply need to find our motivation to tell our story.

The idea behind a kaleidoscope is that it is a structure that’s filled with broken bits and pieces, and somehow if you can look through them, you still see something beautiful. And I feel sure we are all that way a little bit.

Sarah Bareilles (2010)

My motivation was to tell you, my children and grandchildren and hopefully others,  the parts of  our family history that I have been able to piece together, from my own life and that of my mother, your grand and great grandmother. She was an invaluable ‘orator.’ I hope this will give you a sense of your roots,  of knowing that you belong to a proud tradition of Jamaicans who have overcome many challenges and have prevailed and who, with the thousands of other ‘ordinary’ human beings, have made their contributions to the tapestry of this wonderful country of ours – Jamaica.  We  likkle but we tallawah.  We are a small island state but we are strong and can do anything.  We have made our mark on the world and continue to do so.

This story is not written in the usual style of a biography. It is not in strict chronological order. Rather, as the title suggests, it is a collection of many, and  at times, disjointed events.  Life is not always orderly, anticipated and patterned.  Mine has not been. Neither will yours,

I close with the inspiring words on life by Mother Teresa. (1910-1997)

Life is an opportunity, benefit from it.

Life is beauty, admire it.

Life is a dream, live it.

Life is a challenge, meet it.

Life is a duty, complete it.

Life is a game, play it.

Life is sorrow, overcome it.

Life is a song, sing it.

Life is a struggle, accept it.

Life is a tragedy, confront it

Life is an adventure, dare it.

Life is lunch, make it.

Life is too precious, do not destroy it.

Life is life, fight for it.

About the author

Gloria Royale-Davis