Talking to a friend on my Facebook post this morning about the post of this exercise book, I have to say there is a huge amount of joy when we use memory to return to what we consider as “poverty” episodes. The book of Jamaica’s national hummingbird reminds many Jamaicans of their childhood experiences.
One friend reminded me that in her school, the book was cut in half because teachers had to conserve materials used for learning. That was the case in the early grades of my elementary school as well.
The friend added:
We shared textbooks, benches even in classrooms. I remember in 2nd grade when two classrooms were separated by a mobile blackboard. We would step on the feet of the kids on the other side. In 1st grade benches ran out and we sat on ‘cross seats’ made from pieces of rough planks…Surprisingly I didn’t have a care in the world back then. I was happy because I didn’t know somewhere else in the world there were kids who had actual classrooms with real benches and stuff.
Her comment really inspired me to think back. And so I remember, for instance, when I used to steal a spoon of Chiffon butter from the refrigerator. Then I used my fingers to balance what remained in the plastic chiffon container so that my aunt wouldn’t have detected my skill.
My trickery would have earned me a flogging punctuated with words: “You think say me pick the butter off of cherry tree! You mother and father aren’t helping to support you, but here you are trying to send me to the pauper house!”
After getting my butter, I wasted no time meeting with a few childhood friends downhill beneath the ackee tree that had heavy branches that fell on the earth and hid us from adult eyes. There, we twisted newspapers, piled them between three small stones, and lighted them with stolen kerosene. We didn’t use wood, given that would have left stronger evidence we had made a fire.
For cooking pot, we used empty tins of condense milk that we had decorated with stolen paint. We usually hid them in a crocus bag in wide openings within the tree’s root. To the pot, we added diced green bananas, and fried them in the tin with the butter. It wasn’t any amount of food that could have satisfied hunger. In fact, we weren’t hungry, we were just having fun.
I discern some amount of poverty in that experience, because we had to steal the butter, kerosene, salt, paint, and even the old newspapers, which would have called for another lashing if adults hadn’t gotten around to reading them yet to hear about the drama between government leaders, Edward Seaga and Michael Manley. And even if adults had read them, just because they wanted to make a big deal about the issue, I think they might have have lied sometimes, saying they hadn’t read them. In my case, I would have gotten a lashing, not only because I stole, but because I had shown no conscience about how difficult it was for the family to replenish those stocks.
Ultimately, we, “the pickney them with no broughtupsey,” couldn’t afford plates for playing, so we ate our home-made meal on fresh banana leaves.
Sweet memories like these are amazing—aren’t they?
Perhaps I am not thinking sufficiently in calling them poverty episodes, because they are the wealthy histories that ground many of us in our most difficult moments.