The Friends of Antigua Public Library in 2015 returned with its Stories Handed Down contest, inviting students in Antigua and Barbuda to submit a story about “ole time days” in Antigua & Barbuda and/or a piece of artwork that illustrates either a story handed down, or portrays the storyteller. Prizes included a note book computer (to first place), a digital camera (to second place), and an EC$100 gift certificate to the Best of Books (to third place). Here are the winners:
1st Place: Grandma, by Chammaiah Ambrose
2nd Place: Barbuda Then, by Julianna Gore
3rd Place: The Animal Was A Sheep, by Joella Lloyd
If you’re paying attention, then you’ll recognize Chammaiah Ambrose’s name. She is a former Wadadli Pen past finalist
Just the thought that I almost missed it sends chills up my spine. Just two short weeks before the incident she told me about what it was like in her youthful days. That was a rare occasion because generally it was like classified information – but today it was not.
She sat on the couch combing her curly hair and lamenting that she had longer and finer hair when she was young. Then it started. She said those days were better although they did not have all those things such as computer and television.
I asked, “What made those days better then?”
According to her, people were more social. Sometimes when it was full moon, they would go out and have fun. It was like a games night and some persons would tell stories – mostly ghostly ones. There was the one about the skinless woman who she called a ‘suckina’. She recounted how at one time she hid her skin under a stone and went on her rounds. On returning she was unable to put it back on because someone had found it and rubbed it up with pepper. There were also the ones about the Jack O-Lantern who she claimed would lead you away and stick you up in the ‘cassie’ tree where no one could find you for a long time. You can well imagine that after hearing such stories everyone, well the younger ones, would be afraid to go home. But in my mind I was thinking I would even be afraid to leave my house since these days many criminals are on the loose.
“What about school days?”
She recalled attending the Cedar Grove Primary School. As far as she could remember, the classes were held in the church hall. Children from the surrounding villages of Barnes Hill and New Winthorpes also went there. She said that there were frequent after school fights but could not remember exactly what started the brawls. Later she went to the Girls’ School in town. That school I understand was burnt down in a riot some years ago.
In those days she said that she was quite athletic and won many prizes for racing. There was a twinkle in her eyes when she spoke about one of her prizes, a book called ‘Tips the Terrier’ that she won for being first in a race. She wondered what had become of her book.
Like many children in those days she missed a number of sessions from school to do chores. That was somewhat regretful to her because she loved school. I asked her about the chores.
She paused then recalled that there were the animals to attend to and the ground to work in with her parents and other siblings. She became somewhat sad when she spoke about the ground that used to be at Mount Pleasant. She called it ‘Tarngilla’. It was where they spent many hours laboring and then losing all when the lands were sold to make the golf course. She said that when you go there you cannot leave hungry for there were many valuable trees. Limes were sold to Dews and Bryson Supermarket. (Like I should know those places). Mango trees, ginip, avocardo, sugar apple, soursop, bananas, oranges and not to mention the regular vegetables were all destroyed by the developers with no compensation for them. She believed that other persons who farmed in the same vicinity were compensated.
That did not stop her at all. She was very proud of her own grounds, one at a place she called ‘Gully’ and the other at Marble Hill. Gully produced according [to her] the best egg plants, squash and spinach. Marble Hill was good for pumpkin and sweet potatoes.
Females in her time learned many hand craft. There were the times that she and her other sisters went to Ms Phillip to learn how to crochet, sew, embroidery, do ‘tatin’, plait straw and do basket work. She lamented that the reason she was not doing them at the time was because of her failing sight. Those skills helped her financially in that she used to make clothes for the villager for a cost as well as crochet doilies and straw craft to sell to hotels.
She spoke fondly of the days she used to visit relatives living in the neighbouring islands of Guadeloupe and Dominica. She mentioned Cousin Lou and Cousin Irma in Guadeloupe but never mentioned the names of the ones [in] Dominica. She recalled with a sigh an ordeal on one occasion they were returning from Dominica. It was on a large iron boat called The Toiselee. The huge waves bashed the boat. It rocked from side to side as it went up high then down low as it rode the massive waves. People on board vomited and prayed to reach Antigua safely. According to her, she stayed calm but prayed silently. She said that for day the sound of the sea and the rocking of the boat were felt in her head.
I think that it might have been in the hurricane season and since in those days there were no sophisticated or high tech instruments, no warnings were given. So they were probably in the midst of a raging storm.
There are many other things about my Grandma Augusta J. Lynch that made her lovable and unique. She would boast of her culinary skills all the time. She would go as far as to say, “Are you carn cook tarl”. Who could doubt her? She made jams, jellies, coconut tarts and biscuit without even measuring the ingredients and I have not seen her make one mistake! When she was asked for the instructions, her answer was always –“just watch me”.
I think the entire world knew her as the best rice pudding, maw and head skin producer. She once told me, and I have never seen her make any of them because she had retired before I could remember her selling those things, that people used to call from New York to order rice pudding to take back home. Even the former Prime Minister V C Bird Sr. occasionally enjoyed a piece. If I am not mistaken, people are still asking for rice pudding. It must have been really great!
Just before I left for school, she was quite happy. She tied the band on my uniform and I took her picture. So when my friend told me the news that she had fallen and broken her hip I was in shock. Her last words to me as I left the house were, “Mind the cars on the road.”
She was hospitalized and by the following night was unable to speak or move any part of her body. I wondered how breaking the hip could do that to her. She never regained consciousness and after six months in an unresponsive state, she died.
What if we did not have that opportunity to talk about the past? Then I would have never known about her life of long ago. I somehow feel that there must be much more to learn but unfortunately here is where it all ends.
For more of the FOAPL Collected Memories, go here.
Remember, respect copyright. Hands off Chammaiah’s story.