Monday, 14 March 2011

A Borrowed Dream

When I was about 15 years old I overheard one of my cousins saying she wanted to become a journalist. I borrowed her idea and never gave it back.

She is still studying to become a doctor. I write for a living.

Mind you, I had imagined myself as a writer from I was knee high, and would write dubious poems in a burgundy courderoy book someone had given me to use as a diary and which I kept among my treasures in an old dulcimena grip under the house. I had my doubts about the poems and would keep the book buried under the tons of this and that that I used to play dolly house with.

I only truly believed I could become a writer when my mother, God rest her soul, found the book one day, read the poems and acted so proud, I had no other choice but to take the whole thing seriously.

I can still recall her beaming face the day I put three dirty Jamaican one dollar bills in an envelope with a form I had torn from an old magazine and marched all the way to the post office in Catadupa to post the letter ordering a book on how to become a writer.

The book never came.

It dawned on me at some point that since I had mailed the letter to the United States, maybe they meant three US dollars! And at some point it also occurred to me that the crumpled magazine that I found under the house bottom must have been years old when I saw it and so the offer might not have been valid at the time.

I waited a long time for that book to come and harboured very unkind thoughts about the people in the USA who lied and stole dollar bills from children! If they ever knew how many sweeties or suck suck I could have bought with that three dollars!

So when my cousin said the magic word, she gave my skeleton of an idea; life. Journalists wrote for newspapers and came on the radio and the TV. I had no clue what writers did in Jamaica or if there were any at that time.

I was a precocious child that had a command of the English Language well beyond my years. I was always curious, no; make that inquisitive; and hungry for knowledge.

I grew up very poor in the countryside in Jamaica and walked to school without shoes until I was 14 years old in my final year of primary/elementary school. It was during those long walks in the hot sun, sometimes with the prospect of lunch, sometimes with empty pockets, that my imagination thrived.

The long journey gave my mind time to wander; taking me far beyond the train line on which I had to walk for about a quarter of the journey before walking through a makeshift path beside a church, back onto a road that, on reflection was a really a very ambitious label, as deep ruts on its surface made it difficult to walk on and the few vehicles there were at the time, had as hard a time negotiating over its uneven surface.

The narrow eave of the church was a haven for me and my friends when rain threatened or the afternoon sun was too punishing on our way back home.

I remember the train line now and how quiet it used to be as I walked and jumped in an unsteady gait trying my best to get to school on time before the morning bell rang or face a terrible beating from my teacher. The train tracks had bushes and tall trees on either side broken by the occasional, unpainted wooden house whose occupants floated through my mind as I neared each one.

With my small legs, sometimes I had to leap to reach to the spaced out wooden steeples that spanned the distance between the two iron rails that we would bend our small ears to listen to determine if a train was near so we could dart to the side of the tracks to avoid being killed by the hurtling train which would lumber past at regular intervals.

Whenever a train would pass me, my imagination would clamber on board and go as far as my childish attention span would allow to the place many train stops up the line where ladies with shiny round stainless steel pudding pans (giant baking tins) on their heads, made me dizzy with the sweet smell of fried fish and bammy which my mother would buy for me whenever we took the train to Kingston.

I would sometimes 'get off' at Porus, known for its bright yellow juicy Ortanique oranges which the vendors would hoist to the train windows in plastic bags to be plucked from hands and money exchanged for the sweet fruits that were packaged by the dozen.

I grew up knowing poverty, and suffering and what it meant to not have enough.

My first article that was published in the Gleaner, one of Jamaica’s two daily newspapers, was about an old lady named Miss Hilda, who my mother had found dead in bushes beside her house. Miss Hilda lived alone and had gradually become a recluse, going mad before she died.

At 18, I felt awful that she had died like that.

Before she went mad and made us afraid of her, I would play with her ‘grand niece Pauline and sheltered rain on her rickety verandah. I even ate food she cooked, although many of the children in the district were afraid of her as she was terribly stooped and spoke in a nasal voice which earned her the nickname; ‘Faa, Faa Hilda.’

When Ms. Hilda died in that undignified way, I wanted people to read about her. I wanted her to matter.

As luck or fate would have it, I was an intern at the Gleaner Western Bureau at the time as part of completing a Business Diploma program at the Montego Bay Community College. I mentioned to my then Editor, Sharon Earle that my mother had found Miss Hilda dead at the side of her house and she suggested that I write an article that she would send to the Kingston office to be published in the Gleaner. I did..

I took the article home to show my mother and brothers, and I can remember that my smallest brother in particular was very proud. The eternal jester, he grinned and gave out, “Go deh Miss Hilda! U dead, but you inna Gleaner doah!”

I did feel some measure of personal satisfaction for my achievement as the writer of the article, but more than anything, felt good for Ms. Hilda.

Anyone, if they bothered to read the small article stuck in a corner in the obituaries section of the Wednesday Gleaner, could see Ms. Hilda’s name big and bold. She had died alone, but the entire Jamaica could read about her now, if they wanted to.
PS... Years later I would again work at the Gleaner. This time at its North Street office in Kingston which was just steps away from the Kingston Technical High School  on Hanover Street that I attended before moving back to St. James and enrolling at Mobay Community College or Com C as it was popularly called back then. Our lives sometimes have a way of intersecting and overlapping at intervals especially when there is a GREATER force at work ordering our steps. Let God be Praised. - *ADDED March 1, 2018*


  1. Two very interesting articles. Like me you are from humble beginnings and as proud of the place you are from as I am of Guy's Hill. May Father continue to order and guide your steps.

  2. Thanks Sharon, kindred spirits recognize each other. Thanks for the blessings. I wish you the same.

  3. I would love to read the article.... :)

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Woooo. I love this! Thanks for recommending, Deborah! I can relate to sooooo many things here. I was born in and grew up half the time in Chesterfield.

  6. LOL Deborah, I went online and searched the online archives to see if I could find it to include a microfiche copy or a link.

    However, their online free archives only starts at 2006 and I wrote the article in 1988-1989 (I think) I plan to go the The Gleaner's library and pay for a search for the article and include it in the book.

    I have lots of things to collect to include in the books as the photos used here are provisional photos until I can go to my relatives and collect some family photos and go through my albums.

    I also plan to go back home and take some photos of the train tracks etc for the book. SO stay tuned! the book will have nuff nuff more. Including photos of my mother and father, (If anyone can find any of him) :)

    Thanks for reading and thanks for the interest!

  7. Truly a great read Jolie/ This brought back some very pleasant memories of our visits to the country when we were kids. Gwaan Miss Hilda!!!

  8. LOL @ "Gwaan Miss Hilda!" U seet! Miss Hilda get big up inna Gleana! Awoah! dwl