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<–A Loose Cannon & Catholic Church                           Kingston Riots —>

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I regret I never met my Aunt Vivie but, unfortunately, she died just a couple of years before I made contact with Mum’s (Olga) family in Jamaica.  I think I would have liked her even though there was one aspect of her character I would have struggled with. It does sound as if Vivie was a bit of a loose canon – a one off.   She was tough and certainly not afraid to speak her mind, particularly to her older brother, Sydney, if she thought he was being too free with his belt when he chastised their younger siblings.   In the 1930s Jamaican society was a mirror image of Great Britain replicating its prejudices and social morals.   Women like my Aunt Vivie, who flew in the face of convention, were few and far between in an era that expected women to be seen and not heard. 

 

Vivie was married, yet quite openly having an affair with another man, Freddie Howell; she helped run an illegal gambling house with Freddie and, according to Mum, had the threat of being excommunicated from the Catholic Church hanging over her head because of her relationship with him.  If what people thought bothered her she didn’t show it.

 

What I wouldn’t have liked about my Aunt Vivie though was her racial prejudiced in spite of being coloured herself.  This is something I struggle to understand.  The colour of one’s skin was important to Vivie and, she had made it very clear to her mother, Becky, that she was angry with her for marrying a black man.  She recognised that the white Jamaicans had social prestige, status and political power.  And that they saw as inferior those whose colour ranged from almost white to pure black even though they may have been educated people with good jobs such as lawyers, doctors, business men or women, teachers, clergy, and skilled tradesmen.

 

Colour mattered and that mindset was demonstrated to me personally decades later.  When I was in Jamaica in 1996, one of my cousins offered me a job running a franchise operation in Montego Bay that she was considering investing in.  I asked her why she wanted me and didn’t do the job herself.  Her reply was “because your skin is the right colour”.   I was gobsmacked!

 

Olga’s Diary (Continued from ‘A Loose Canon and the Catholic Church’)


Carlton heard about what happened that Sunday in Church and there was a terrible row between Vivie and Carlton. She told Carlton she was leaving him.    He begged her not to go and when she said it was all over between them and she didn’t love him any more, he started to cry and pleaded with her to give him another chance.  Vivie told him that she was taking their children and going to live with Freddie.  She said he suddenly stopped crying then and there was silence, except for the sound of a clock ticking somewhere in the house.

 Carlton didn’t say anything for ages but just kept looking at her.  Then he shrugged his shoulders a little, as if to say, “ok, you win” and, without a word, left the house.  Vivie said she thought he was going to find Freddie to punch him on the nose but she wasn’t worried about Freddie because he could take care of himself.

Carlton and Vivie had a whirlwind romance.  Within weeks of meeting they went off to Montego Bay and got married without telling any of the family, except for Cissie and Dyke who were their witnesses at the wedding.  Sydney said if Vivie hadn’t been so desperate to marry a white man she’d have saved both families a lot of heart ache and realised that charm, good looks and receiving a small allowance from his parents was not enough to support a family. 

Sometime during the afternoon on the day following the big row, Carlton’s body was found by some people out walking in a valley in the Blue Mountains.  It appears his car went over a precipice just past the army post at Newcastle and his body flung from the car.  He’d been dead for hours and to this day no one ever really knew if it was suicide or an accident. 

I was grateful that I was asked to look after the children in the family so Chickie, Boysie and Cissie could go to the funeral.   Carlton’s coffin was left open for mourners to pay their last respects and I didn’t want my last sight of Carlton to be lying dead in a coffin.  I wanted to remember him how I always saw him – full of life and laughing.

If I had been married to Carlton I wouldn’t have minded Carlton being a poor white man because he had other qualities.   Tall, fair-haired, very good looking, funny, nice to talk to, always joking.  Women were very attracted to him and I think it’s easy to see why Vivie fell in love with him.  They met when he was playing tennis at the Myrtle Bank Hotel and Vivie said the first thing she noticed about him was that his legs were better than hers.  He was always invited to the best clubs, parties and social events in Kingston and he may not have had much money of his own but people liked him, because he was nice, and he was friends with all sorts of people.  What made him different from other white Jamaicans was that he wasn’t prejudice towards coloured or black people in the slightest. 

The day of Carlton’s funeral was unusually hot for that time of the year and there was a cloudless sky and not a breath of wind in the air.  A black choir sang hymns at his funeral and Dolly told me later that this  was Carlton’s “second family”. 

As a baby Carlton had a black nurse whose name was Ambrosine Williams and he spent much of his childhood with her and her thirteen children rather than his own white family.  When his coffin was being lowered into the ground Ambrosine Williams bent down and picked up a handful of earth and threw it at Vivie.  She told Vivie that she was going to set a duppy on her for causing Carlton’s death and that she would be cursed until the day she died. 

That night the wind began to pick up and get stronger and continued until well into the evening.  Then, according to a report in the paper “the lightening started building up in strength until it lit up the whole sky, dancing in fantastic forms in the night sky, whilst the thunder that followed the lightening seemed to shake the earth as if to say the end of the world is near and then finally in the early hours of the next morning the rain came down.”

 

<–A Loose Cannon & Catholic Church                                      Kingston Riots —>

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<—St Andrews, Jamaica                   Letters Between Lucy and Becky 1901-02—>

 

The Advertisement in The Gleaner

Mum had been consistent over the years in refusing to tell me anything about my father or allowing me to attempt to make contact with her family back in Kingston, Jamaica. Whenever I asked about either the reply was always the same. In response to the family question she would say “I don’t want to see them, they’ll only ask questions and, anyway, they’re probably all dead by now”. And in response to questions about my father she’d say “It’s too painful to talk about”.

At that stage I had no idea who my father was nor the circumstances surrounding my birth. In the nineteen forties, when I was born, there was a huge stigma attached to being an unmarried mother, coloured or not, and I assumed it was that stigma which was imbedded in my Mums psyche.  I was later to find that there was another reason.

Her near death experience made me determined to find out more about my family, so I placed the following advertisement in The Gleaner, Jamaica’s national daily newspaper.

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A Result!

I suppose, because Mum had been so adamant over the years that all her famiy were dead, I didn’t hold out much hope of a reply. But 24 hours after the ad appeared in the paper I had a phone call a woman called Audrey who was married to Anthony Shim. Anthony was Ruby’s son and Ruby was an older sister of Mum’s and he and his wife lived in London. It was highly emotional phone call for me particuarly when Audrey told me the family in Jamaica believed Mum to be dead. And within hours of that phone call I received a telegram from my Aunt Ruby:

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On My Way

The first inhabitants of Jamaica, the Arawaks,  gave the island its name Xaymaca – meaning “land of wood and water” and as I looked at it from the air, the name seemed very appropriate. Unfortunately, I wasn’t going to see their Jamaica or even the idyllc island Mum had left behind so long ago.  Kingston had changed a lot since Jamaica gained its Independence.  Now, because of the violence, certain parts were  ‘no go’ areas and visitors were warned to be vigilant to ensure their safety.  

Our plane had started its descent into Kingston and I looked out of the small cabin window at the island I had spent much of my childhood daydreaming about.  From the air, it looked stunning.  Jamaica is a mountainous island with the rugged mountain ranges of the spectacular Blue Mountains to the east of the island. One of the flight attendants announced that we were in a holding pattern over Norman Manley Airport and would have to circle over the island for 10-15 minutes until we could make our final descent into Kingston.

And so the captain gave us a bird’s eye view of Jamaica – I could see the smaller John Crow Mountains next to the Blue Mountain range. I thought I could have been flying over the Amazon Jungle as I looked down at a dense tropical forest no doubt completely uninhabited. A blue haze, from which the Mountains get their name from, wafted lazily over the top of them like a long pale blue gray chiffon scarf. Now we were flying over Cockpit Country in the center of the island where direct descendants of the Maroons still lived. The word Maroons comes from the Spanish word “marron” meaning brown.

The Maroons were slaves owned by the Spaniards when Spain ruled Jamaica. After the British conquered the Spaniards and took Jamaica for themselves, many of the slaves escaped into the mountains and forests in the remote Cockpit Country and set up communities there. The British soldiers tried on several occasions to recapture the slaves for themselves but the Maroons were fierce and resourceful fighters who could outsmart the British soldiers. They were led by a woman, the indomitable and formidable Nanny – now one of Jamaica’s national treasures! Eventually a truce was called and the Maroons gained a considerable measure of self-government they still enjoy today. And every year on 6th January the Maroons celebrate the fact that they were the first black people in the West Indies to gain their freedom, nearly 100 years before Emancipation.

As we continued to fly over the island I could see through my cabin window rivers that criss-crossed over the island and ran from the mountains all the way down to the coastline. I could even see huge waterfalls on the side of the mountains, We carried on flying westward and there were miles and miles of white sandy beaches surrounded by the clean, clear sapphire-blue water of the Caribbean.

We passed over fertile fields crammed with healthy looking crops and I couldn’t help wondering whether we were flying over fields where ganja was growing. Mum had told me how it was smoked quite openly when she was a child in Jamaica, most notably by my Great Aunt Lucy.  I took one more look at the Blue Mountains we started our descent into Kingston.

 

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“Welcome Home to Jamaica” Party for Marie
from l. to r. Patsy, Aunt Ruby, Marie and Stuart

 <—St Andrews, Jamaica                   Letters Between Lucy and Becky 1901-02—>

 

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