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Archive for April, 2009

<–Pops, Aunt Martha & Marcus Garvey        Carlton —>                                 

 

Olga’s Diary (Continued)

browney-tree-cDear Diary

 

Big Scandal:    My very favourite nun, Sister Marie-Thérèse, told me one day when I was at Alpha Academy, that Jamaica has the largest number of churches per square mile in the entire world.  Many are beautiful, old, stone buildings going back to the 1800s.  Religion has always been important to Jamaicans and especially to my family.  Mammie says we are high Catholics, which I think makes us sound special, but to be honest, I don’t know what the difference is between a high Catholic and a low one.  It’s one of those questions I don’t like to ask in case people think I’m stupid.  

We always put on our best Sunday clothes when we go to mass.   Mammie says how we dress is important because clothes say a lot about you.  Ragged clothes are a sign of poverty but even the poorest person wouldn’t dream of going to church without putting their best clothes on, clean shoes and a proper hat, and not a scarf, because that doesn’t cover your head properly.  Mammie is very particular about us all looking clean and smart and when we were at school she would keep us away rather than send any of us off without clean, ironed school uniforms.  In Jamaica being well dressed is a sign of your social status and it’s important to your sense of self respect and self worth, Mammie says.

Going to church is a social occasion and after mass, standing around outside the Church, you can catch up on all the gossip.  Unfortunately, quite a lot of it has been about the Browneys lately so we haven’t hung around for too long.

 

 

Whit Sunday:   My sisters Dolly, Ruby, Pearl and I had decided to go to an early mass so that afterwards we could catch a boat to Port Royal and spend the day on the beach and swim and have a picnic.  We had just returned to our pew after receiving Holy Communion when I was aware of a click-clacking sound coming from behind me and turned round to see what it was.  It was coming from Vivie and her silver dance shoes.  I couldn’t believe my eyes.   There she was, still wearing the tight, low cut red dress she had bought to go to Freddie Howell’s birthday party the previous night.  On her head was a small scarf which didn’t quite cover her newly bleached blonde hair. 

“Is it a wig” Dolly whispered to me? 

Vivie must have been aware of the stir she was causing in the Church, but, her faith is as important to her as it is to the rest of us and she knew that even if the congregation and God judged her to be a sinner, God, at least, would forgive her.  

All eyes were on her and at the same time varying commotions erupted around the Church.  There were plenty of gasps from onlookers as she click clacked down the aisle towards the altar rail.  Some people were whispering, quite a few were muttering loudly and some distinct words could be heard…… “common, trash, looks like a whore”…… and some whose mouths were opened in astonishment. 

Vivie and her shoes click clacked their way down the aisle heading straight for the altar rail.  She knelt down and waited to receive Communion from Father Butler.   He had seen Vivie approaching and was aware of the stir she was causing in the Church. 

Father Butler told Mammie later that before he reached Vivie he had decided what he was going to do.   And he did it.  In front of hundreds of people he walked straight past her without giving her Holy Communion.

 It was a slight of monumental proportions, and by now you could have heard a pin drop because there was total silence in the cathedral.and for what seemed like forever Vivie remained on her own kneeling at the altar rail.

Then she stood up and turned to face the congregation.    She looked around at the faces in front of her, lifted her hand and slowly removed the scarf.   That one defiant gesture, or it may have been the sight of the blonde hair, caused the entire congregation to act together and they gasped. 

Vivie then calmly walked out of the Church.  

 

Father Frank Butler was a newly ordained priest when he came to Kingston from Ireland shortly after the Great Exhibition in 1891 which, apparently, was Jamaica’s way of telling the rest of the world what a lot of opportunities there were here. 

Although Father Butler’s very old now, he’s still a big man and fat.  He says he’s not fat but “well nourished” and he’s got white hair and a very weather beaten complexion from too much sun. 

He’s taken part in most of the important religious occasions to do with the Browneys – when we were baptised, our first Holy Communion, our confirmation and our confessions.  He probably knows more about all of us than either Mammie or Sydney. 

 I was never very happy when he heard my confession on a Friday evening because he and Sydney are good friends and every Sunday night Father Butler comes to Mission House to see Sydney and the pair of them would sit for hours talking and smoking smelly cigars in the upstairs drawing room every Sunday night. 

For a long time I was frightened that Father Butler would tell Sydney about the sins I’d confessed to and I’d get a whipping, but Mammie told me that a priest has to take an oath of silence and can never repeat anything to anyone else that he hears in the confessional box even if he was asked to by a judge in a court of law.

In the beginning Father Butler called on us for donations, either money or clothes which we had grown out of and he’d give to the St Vincent de Paul Society which helps the poor people of Kingston. 

Priests are important to Jamaican families because if a family has no money they will always go to their priest for help and they will always receive a few pence for food and clothes.  But things have to be really awful if you have to go to the priest and ask for money.  

Anyway, this Sunday, Mammie didn’t attend mass that particular morning and, Sydney was away up country on business, so missed the incident in Church, but Father Butler told Mammie later what had happened and said he was concerned about Vivie’s “moral welfare”.  Having an affair with a married man and committing adultery are mortal sins and were forbidden by the Catholic Church and if Vivie continued on her wayward journey to damnation, he would have to have her excommunicated from the Church.   Most Catholics I know would say that being put in front of a firing squad was better than being excommunicated from the Church.

Mammie tried to explain that Vivie was going to ask Carlton for a divorce because she wanted to marry Freddie.

“You know as well as I do Becky, the Catholic Church does not recognise divorce and will never allow Vivie to marry Freddie”.                                  But worse was to come……………………

 

<–Pops, Aunt Martha & Marcus Garvey                                     Carlton —> 

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<-Vivie, Sydney & The Den of Inequity     A Loose Cannon & The Catholic Church–>

 

browney-tree-c 

 

Some might say that dysfunctional would be an appropriate word to describe my mother’s family, but I prefer the word colourful!  Mum had described her family to me as high Catholics, a phrase I have never understood the meaning of, but she would say it with such pride and a complete lack of irony, which amused me, particularly when I heard about some of the things the family got up to and which went completely against the teachings of the Catholic Church. 

 

For example they practiced Obeah – a form of witchcraft which was illegal and, if found guilty of practising it the penalty was flogging and/or imprisonment.

 

Some of them were involved in an illegal gaming club where prominent Jamaican men could be entertained by women in private rooms upstairs in the Den of Inequity – isn’t that called a brothel?

 

My Aunt Vivie was having an affair. 

 

My Aunt Chickie had an illegitimate son called Maurice.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say that illegitimacy was the norm in Jamaica at that time, but it certainly wasn’t as frowned upon in Jamaican society as it was in England where the stigma attached to unmarried mothers was huge. 

 

My Aunt Gwennie had a very unpleasant boyfriend, Keith Rousseau, who used to beat her up and ended up in Court on a charge of causing her bodily harm.  The Daily Gleaner reported that he was fined £15, which I thought was a huge amount in those days – early 1930s.   His mitigating circumstances were that he had had too much to drink and couldn’t help himself! 

 

There were to be many more revelations in store for me on this journey discovering my Mum’s past – some not good at all, but some great, like hearing from Mum about my grandfather Henry, or Pops as she called him.  My grandfather was a bit of a rogue, by all accounts, and I have no idea whether we bore any similarities.  However, we did have two things in common.  We both had the same hero – Marcus Garvey and we both disliked my Great Aunt Martha, my grandmother’s (Becky) sister.  

 

 Olga’s Diary (Continued)

 

                 Pops:     My Pops lives in one roomed shack behind the meat market now that he doesn’t live with us any more.  Mammie threw him out because of his womanising ways and drinking.   He has a meat stall in the Victoria Market down on the harbour side and every Saturday morning, regular as clockwork, I have to go down there and collect the meat for the weekend.

                 We always have a little talk before he hands over our meat.  You see, that’s Pop’s way of contributing to the family.  He always asks after Mammie.  I feel sorry for him, he’s all alone and I think he still loves Mammie.

  My brothers and sister don’t often see him.   I think it’s because he’s black.  To be honest, I don’t like being seen with him really either, but he is my Pops and I do it because Mammie asks me to.

 

In spite of his drinking, Pops is a proud and dignified, but lonely man who collects his memories in a big thick scrapbook;   things that have a special meaning, like the letters Mammie wrote to him before they were married.  He says when he reads them they remind him of how much they were in love and how they thought they could break down the colour prejudice barriers that there were because a black man and a white woman “had the temerity” to marry. “

 

“That was what people said” he’d tell me.   Pops likes to mimic the posh British accent.

 

“Mammie and I had the temerity to marry, Olga, isn’t it simply awful, my dear”.  He can be very funny sometimes.

 

Pops has a big stamp collection as well and, do you know, I have no idea where he gets those stamps from because the only people I know who live abroad are my sister, Birdie and Aunt Martha and I know Birdie doesn’t write to him and Aunt Martha and Pops don’t even speak to each other let alone write, they hate each other so.   Pops knows I want to go to England for six months so I can study at the same dance school as Birdie and Mammie will only agree to my going if I stay with Aunt Martha. 

 

It was my Pops who first called Aunt Martha the “White Witch of Paddington” hinting that she was like Annie Palmer, a well known, but evil woman, from Jamaica’s past. 

 

Annie Palmer was known as the “White Witch of Rose Hall” and married John Palmer who owned a Great House, called Rose Hall, which had been built at great expense on a hillside overlooking their vast plantation and the Caribbean. 

 

Annie Palmer practised Obeah, smoked ganja, drank heavily and was often seen dancing naked in the moonlight.  She also tortured her slaves, murdered three previous husbands – poisoning one, stabbing another and then, if that wasn’t enough, poured boiling oil into his ears, and she strangled the third husband.  Eventually one of her slaves murdered her in her bed.

 

I didn’t think there was that much similarity between Aunt Martha and Annie Palmer, except maybe their height, Annie Palmer was 4’ 11” and Aunt Martha’s not much more, but Pops said if I was ever unlucky enough to get to know Aunt Martha better,  I’d be able to work out for myself the similarities between them.

 

“Don’t trust her, particularly if she’s being nice, because she’s bound to be plotting something” he once told me.

 

On the front cover of Pops scrapbook are photographs of all of us at various stages in our lives, usually to do with a religious occasion. 

 

There’s one of Birdie being confirmed, Chickie cradling her son, Maurice, after he had been baptised, and a separate one of Dolly, Ruby, Pearl and me, after we’d made our First Holy Communion wearing our long white dresses with wreaths in our hair, and a beautiful wedding photograph of Boysie and Minah and all the family outside the Holy Trinity Cathedral.  But in pride of place, right in the middle of us all is a cutting from the London Evening News.

 

Pops’ hero is Marcus Garvey.  He gets his cuttings from the supply of old newspapers he keeps to wrap the meat in that he sells.

 

 

Extract from Marcus Garvey’s Speech to an audience at The Royal Albert Hall, London, 1928 

  

“….you can enslave as you did for 300 years the bodies of men, you can shackle the hands of men, you can shackle the feet of men, you can imprison the bodies of men, but you cannot shackle or imprison the minds of men.  No race has the last word on culture and on civilisation.  You do not know what the black man is capable of; you do not know what he is thinking and therefore you do not know what the oppressed and suppressed Negro, by virtue of his condition and circumstance, may give to the world as a surprise”

 

           

We all know Marcus Garvey.  He’s a bit of a troublemaker.  Mad as a hatter going round preaching and stirring up trouble.  The first time I heard his name was a few years ago and I’d gone down to the market to pick up our meat. Wherever I looked on the docks there were hundreds of red, black and green flags tied to everything and anything, all waving in the wind.  Pops told me that all the decoration and bunting was for a “glorious man” The Hon. Marcus Garvey, D.C.L. who was arriving from the United States.  When I asked him what D.C.L. stood for he said “Distinguished Coloured Leader”. 

 

Garvey is Jamaican and from a big family too.  His parents were poor and as a child he knew about hunger and colour prejudice and some people say that’s why Garvey hates white people.  But he says what he hates is the system in Jamaica which keeps the poor man down and the poor are mostly black people. 

 

Pops says black people lack self-esteem and Garvey wants them to have sense of pride in their race, colour and country.  Garvey encourages them to “study hard and go into business and unite and help each other and become independent of white Jamaican society who have created two Jamaicas, one white or near white and wealthy and the other black and poor”.

 

 Sydney hates Garvey and says he’s a troublemaker, a swindler, a crook only wanting to get rich quickly and Vivie says he practises Obeah. 

 

Well, honestly, doesn’t everybody?

 

Garvey holds political gatherings in Edelweiss Park where he puts on entertainment, shows, dance contests, musical presentations, plays and boxing for the benefit of the black people in Kingston.  Ruby, Dolly and I were forbidden to go to his rallies, but in true Jamaican tradition, we go in secret. 

  

<–Vivie, Sydney & The Den of Inequity             A Loose Cannon & The Catholic Church—>

 

 

 

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<–Siblings, Lodgers & a Gift from God                    Pops, Aunt Martha & Marcus Garvey ->

 

 

Up until I was about 12 my Mum, Olga, (although at the time I knew her as Carmen) and I shared a bed.  It was when I snuggled up to her at night that sometimes she would talk about some of her family, particularly her mother whom she adored.  My grandmother had thrown Henry out of the house because of his womanising, gambling and drinking. That must have been when Mum was very young because once she told me that for a long time, when she was little, she thought Sydney was her father.

 

Mum talked about Sydney, but never fondly.  She hated him because of the beatings he gave her. Sydney died in 1980 and, to be honest, I’m glad I never met him – I know I wouldn’t have liked him.  For me, there’s something insidious about a man who can beat his sisters and feel it is justified – the girls weren’t bad, just boisterous. 

 

But, the more I learnt about my family, the more I wished I’d tried to find them years earlier than I did.  

 the-browneys-tree

 

Olga’s Diary (Continued)

 

Dear Diary

 

Viviana:   She’s my oldest sister but everyone calls her Vivie and she’s fearless.  She’s my heroine because she is always prepared to speak up, usually against Sydney, for the “tots” which is the pet name the family use when they’re talking about Ruby, Dolly, Pearl and me. 

 

At one time we had a lodger called Alfred Moncrieff, a coloured man from Clarendon.  I didn’t like Mr Moncrieff one little bit and one day he told me to collect his dirty laundry from his room and give it to Cassie to wash and I turned my back on him, tossed my head in the air and at the same time flicked the back of my skirt in a haughty manner (I saw Jean Harlow do this once in a film) and told him I wasn’t a servant. 

 

That night, when Ruby and I were in bed asleep, Sydney came into our bedroom and dragged me out of bed and gave me a whipping.  Mr Moncrieff had told him I had lifted my skirt right up and shown him my knickers.  It was a lie. 

 

When Vivie heard what had happened she tore into Sydney something terrible.  She was fearless and told him that there was something unnatural about a brother giving his sister a whipping on the bottom and that he should be ashamed of himself.

 

“You’re too free with your hands on the tots” she told Sydney.

  

 “How could you believe that nasty little man with his dirty little mind and not even ask Olga her side of the story before you dragged her out of bed in the middle of the night”.  

 

She called him cruel, a bully and said “you’re just as bad as Moncrieff “.

 

I can tell you Sydney’s not used to being spoken to like that. As a matter of fact the whole family was very angry about what Sydney did to me but he’s taken over the role of head of the family now and that’s that.   I don’t know whether Mammie ever said anything to Sydney about the whipping he gave me, but the next day she told Moncrieff to get out.

 

Vivie is going out with Freddie Howell even though she’s still married to Carlton Puyatt.  Freddie is a very rich white man, who by the way, is also married and has two children.  Vivie wants a divorce from Carlton because she is in love with Freddie who owns a gambling club on Harbour Street.  Freddie’s partner is Roy Mackenzie who is also white and comes from a very rich, prominent, white family who own three plantations, one of which is near Aunt Lucy’s. Roy’s really nice looking and a bit of a rogue but the ladies love him.  I like him quite a lot myself but he doesn’t even know I exist.  Boysie says one day Roy will be even richer than his father because he never misses an opportunity to make money and no matter how much money he earns, it’s never enough. 

 

Gambling is very popular in Kingston, particularly the Chinese numbers game, peaka pow although it’s illegal, but, as with everything else that‘s illegal in Jamaica, everyone does..  Every now and again the Gleaner newspaper and the Church elders get all hot and bothered about the gambling that goes on and Freddie’s club always comes in for a lot of attention. 

 

 

The Den of Inquity

The Den of Inquity

 

 

The Church elders call it a den of inequity and Freddie thought the description amusing so that’s what he named his club.  The elders wanted the police to close it down, but Freddie has friends in high places and the police tip him off when they’re going to raid the club.  Then he closes it down for a while and re-opens three or four weeks later.    Every Saturday night Vivie cooks a special meal for the gamblers, something like chicken with rice and peas or cod fish and ackee and I often go there during the day to help her with the cooking. 

 

Sometimes Freddie lets me stay on in the evening helping in the cloakroom. Freddie says I’m never to tell anyone who I see coming into the club otherwise I won’t be allowed to help any more. I never realised how popular Freddie’s club was with so many well known men and women from Kingston and you’d be amazed how much private entertaining is done in the upstairs rooms by members of the government, famous actors and a lot of Jamaica’s white and coloured high society.

 

Sydney:           Sydney was Mammie’s first child.    As soon as he was born the gossip started up again about Mammie because, would you believe it, by a fluke of nature, he was more white than coloured.  That set tongues wagging about Mammie even more.  But she didn’t care what people were saying.  She loved her baby and she loved Pops and went on to have ten more children, all coloured, except Pearl who, like Sydney was more white than coloured.

 

From an early age Sydney was always determined to be successful and at 14 he started a bicycle repair business from our back yard.  He attached a wooden cart to the back of his bicycle and cycle around Kingston asking people if they had any old bicycles they didn’t want or were too battered to repair.  Sydney did so well he had to hire someone to help him and it wasn’t long before he bought his first shop and gave people the chance to buy a new bicycle making a small payment each week.  To keep up with the demand for bicycles Sydney regularly goes to England now.  At the same time he needed a partner in the business, someone he could trust, so he asked Boysie to become his partner and, of course, he agreed. 

 

Mammie taught us all to follow her example of being proud, polite, to act with dignity and not do anything that we would be ashamed of.  Her favourite phrase is “civility costs nothing”.  Sydney says following Mammie’s example is the reason he is a successful businessman and people respect him.

 

Vivie says it’s because he’s more white than coloured.  Unfortunately for Vivie she was born more coloured than white.  I say unfortunately because Vivie desperately wants to be white and although she loves Mammie, has always been angry with her for marrying a black man. 

 

Sometimes I think she is more colour prejudice than anyone else I know and I’m not sure how our lives would have been better if Mammie had married a white man.   But Vivie says we’re all prejudice because all our friends are either white or coloured.

 

“How many black people are our neighbours or friends or we even know”?

 

 “How many black pupils went to Alpha Academy”? 

 

Of course, none of us have any black friends and black pupils go to other schools, not Alpha – as a matter of fact the only black people I know are our servants, and of course, Pops.  But we know lots of Chinese people.  There’s a Chinese shopkeeper next door and as a matter of fact nearly all the shopkeepers are Chinese.

 

“Well, they’re not black” says Vivie always determined to have the last word.

 

Sydney is very protective of Mammie.  He says he saw for himself when he was a small boy how unkindly she was treated because of her marriage to Pops.  I can never remember a time when Pops lived with us, and for a long time when I was growing up I thought Sydney was my father.  He always told us what to do and whipped us when he thought we were doing something wrong.   We tots used to ask why Mammie didn’t stop him and I think it’s because she was scared Sydney would leave and there would be no money coming in.  My older sisters say Pops would never have beaten any of us no matter how naughty we were. 

 

 <–Siblings, Lodgers & a Gift from God                    Pops, Aunt Martha & Marcus Garvey —>

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<—Olga’s Diary                                     Vivie, Sydney & the Den of Inequity—>

 

the-browneys-tree


Dear Diary

 

When we were little, Mammie used to take in lodgers and we still have one, Mr Delgado who has one of the rooms downstairs.  He is a salesman, from the Cockpit Country and a direct descendent of the Maroons, who, by the way, hate the British.  Mr Delgado loves to tell stories, and always the same one, how years ago the Maroons defeated the British when they tried to recapture the slaves that the Spanish set free after the British had taken Jamaica from Spain.  The slaves headed up the mountains and forests into the remote Cockpit Country area of Jamaica and set up communities there.

 

The British soldiers tried to re-capture them several times but the Maroons, led by a woman called Nanny, outsmarted them.    Eventually a truce was called and the Maroons won the right to virtually govern themselves.  And every year, Mr Delgado tells us how they celebrate the fact that they were the first black people in the West Indies to gain their freedom nearly 100 years before Emancipation.  

 

Miss Wedderburn, who was my history teacher when I was at Alpha School, was very impressed the day I told the whole class the history of the Maroons – I didn’t tell her I’d heard the story so many times I could repeat it in my sleep and, no doubt, I’ll hear it again. 

 

Viviana is my oldest sister but everyone calls her Vivie.  Vivie’s my heroine because she is always prepared to speak up, usually against Sydney, for the “tots” which is the pet name the family use when they’re talking about Ruby, Dolly, Pearl and me. 

 

At one time we had a lodger called Alfred Moncrieff, a coloured man from Clarendon.  I didn’t like Mr Moncrieff one little bit and one day he told me to collect his dirty laundry from his room and give it to Cassie to wash.  Well, I turned my back on him, tossed my head in the air and at the same time flicked the back of my skirt in a haughty manner (I saw Jean Harlow do this once in a film) and told him I wasn’t a servant. 

 

That night, when Ruby and I were in bed asleep, Sydney came into our bedroom and dragged me out of bed and gave me a whipping.  Mr Moncrieff had told him I had lifted my skirt right up and shown him my knickers.  It was a lie. 

 

When Vivie heard what had happened she tore into Sydney something terrible.  She was fearless and told him that there was something unnatural about a brother giving his sister a whipping on the bottom and that he should be ashamed of himself. 

 

“You’re too free with your hands on the tots” she told Sydney.

 

 “How could you believe that nasty little man with his dirty little mind and not even ask Olga her side of the story before you dragged her out of bed in the middle of the night”. 

 

          She called him cruel, a bully and said “you’re just as bad as Moncrieff”.

 

I can tell you Sydney’s not used to being spoken to like that. As a matter of fact the whole family was very angry about what Sydney did to me but he’s taken over the role of head of the family now and that’s that.   I don’t know whether Mammie ever said anything to Sydney about the whipping he gave me, but the next day she told Moncrieff to get out.

 

Another lodger was a salesman called Victor Condell, a coloured Jamaican who came from Canada.   He used to sell tractors and other kinds of farm machinery.    Well, Victor Condell lived with us for over a year and one day, out of the blue, he said he was returning to Canada at the end of the month.  My sister, Chickie, was heart broken and cried for days.  Eventually she stopped crying long enough to tell us that she and Victor had been courting and she’d fallen in love with him.  It came as a big shock to me, I can tell you, I never suspected anything.

 

To stop Chickie crying, our cook, Aggie Burns, took her to see Annie Harvey, an Obeah woman, to get a love potion to secretly give to Victor to make him stay with her.  Annie called it “come to me sauce” and it was in a little blue bottle which Chickie had to mix into Victor’s food, and then wait for the potion to work.  Once it works, Annie told Chickie, you can then give Victor another potion called “stay at home sauce” and that keeps him from looking at other women. 

 

Unfortunately, the second potion wasn’t needed because the first one didn’t work.  Victor left.   So, Aggie Burns, who has a big collection of voodoo dolls, then asked Chickie if she’d like to choose one and she could stick pins in it so Victor would get sick, but Chickie said no.

 

One day, long after Victor Condell had left, I heard screams coming from Chickie’s bedroom.  Mammie told me Chickie was fine, not to worry and to stay right away from her room.  But curiosity always got the better of me, so I went up to peek through the keyhole of her bedroom door.  Before I could see anything, Sydney had come up behind me, grabbed me by the hair and dragged me to my bedroom and gave me a good whipping.  “That’s for not doing what you were told” he said.  A few days later Pearl, Ruby, Dolly and me were shown Maurice and Mammie told us that Chickie had a little baby boy.

 

“A gift from God” she said.

<—Olga’s Diary                             Vivie, Sydney & the Den of Inequity—>


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