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<—Carlton                                                  Aunt Lucy & Ananacy Stories —>

 

 

Family Tree

In May 1938 workers all over Jamaica went on strike and the unemployed joined them marching and demonstrations.  The banana trade had declined drastically and unemployment was high, there was only occasional work, bad nutrition, poor housing, very little health service and a high cost of living.

The strikes started with the men working on the Kingston docks striking for better wages and the unemployed joined the strike demanding work.  It was a brutal time with strikers and demonstrators being imprisoned or beaten to death.

My grandmother, Becky, wrote in her diary :

Poor Vivie.   The knowledge that Ambrosine Williams had worked Obeah against her for Carlton’s death is having a bad effect on Vivie.  She is ill and has become withdrawn and quiet., she doesn’t sleep at night and has been vomiting so violently no food stays in her stomach.  Sydney says it’s all in her mind, after all, the doctor’s examined Vivie twice and can find nothing wrong with her, but, whether it’s real or imaginary there’s no mistaking that she is wasting away.   She and her daughters are spending their last few days in Jamaica with us here at Mission House before they sail to America to live with Freddie H.  Roy Mackenzie’s family now own the Den of Inequity.

Vivie hates Jamaica and talks as if she is never coming back. America sounds an exciting country with lots of opportunities to make money, but I’m not sure I would want to live there and I’m surprised Vivie does really.  I’ve read that in the some parts of America they are very prejudice towards coloured and black people.

Thousands of blacks cannot find work so they have no money to buy food or clothes for their families.  Smith’s Village is one of the worst areas in the city covered with shacks where conditions of squalor are beyond imagination and made worse by appalling overcrowding.

It makes me furious when I read the Gleaner newspaper and they say the reports are exaggerated.  I have seen for myself, little children and old men, stark born naked, on the streets begging for money and food.  Soup kitchens are springing up over the city to feed these poor people.   Is this an exaggeration?  Of course, the paper is controlled by the upper white ruling classes – these Jamaicans are a disgrace. 

While the Catholic Church is doing what it can, the Protestant Church seems to be trying to conceal the gravity of the painful conditions under which thousands of people are living.  Children are running around naked because they have no clothes to go to school and those that do have clothes, have no food at home, nothing in their little stomachs.  When they come home from school it is to a hungry and crying mother, brothers and sisters and a father almost demented because he cannot feed his children.   Thank goodness for Bustamante.  His constant flow of letters to the Gleaner is making people aware of the problems but I fear for this island’s future. 

 

 Extract of letter written by Alexander Bustamante

to The Editor, Daily Gleaner, Kingston 

…………….shame, and because some have refused to do their duty and they want to minimise that which does not need to be magnified – unemployment.

 The mongoose and the rats in certain parts of the island are being disturbed at nights, because the cane-fields, their resting places, have now become the sleeping place of many workers.  Many of them rush out at nights so nude they dare not come out in the days, just to buy little necessities to return to their shelter – the canefields.

I have been to St Ann,  and the poverty there is something I hate to describe.  Neither minister nor politician should try to prevent it being exposed.  Visit Newton, Kinowl, Mullings Bush Districts in St Elizabeth; Marlie Hill and Plowden and see the poverty – the misery.   But why go to such places when we have them next door to us; go to Trench Pen, Smith’s Village, Ackee Walk and  Rose Town and the apostolic Lanes, etc.

Too late it is for anyone through any peculiar reasons to try and cover up the truth of the lamentable conditions.  Things were bad a few years gone by; they were no better last year, this year they are getting worse, there must be better days ahead.   

I am etc.                       

Alexander Bustamante

  <—Carlton                                                Aunt Lucy & Ananacy Stories —>

 

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<—The Browneys                                     Siblings, Lodgers and a Gift from God—>
 
Mum’s writing started back in Jamaica.  Her oldest sister, Vivie (Viviana) gave her a green diary that had a little gold lock on it and came with its own special key.         

  

Olga

Olga's Diary  

Growing up I remember so well how my Mum, Olga, loved to write. She’d write her stories in school exercise books – simple romantic stories – boy meets girl, they fall in love, marry and live happily every after.  Just the backgrounds changed. Mum liked to read the same type of stories that she wrote.  In the 1950s there were weekly women’s magazines, like Red Letter and Secrets and others that were filled with these romantic tales. Mum loved reading them and invariably had three or four magazines on the go. 

 

 

Dear Diary

 

the-browneys-tree

 

My First Entry:   Jamaicans love big families and the Browneys are no exception.  There are thirteen of us including Mammie and Pops.  Now only my mother, Mammie, my brother Sydney, me and my sisters Ruby, Dolly and Pearl live in Mission House. 

 

That’s what our house is called and it’s in the same grounds as the Wesleyan Church.   It’s quite grand, imposing and very big.  At the front of the house there’s a huge old cotton tree which always looks to me as if it is standing guard over us.  But the tree does more than that, it keeps the house cool and dry protecting us from the heat and humidity in the summer.   The house is red bricked and square, with green shutters at all the windows, which are kept open all the time, except when a hurricane is due.  Everyone says the best thing about our house is the upstairs verandas at the front and back because from the front you can see the Caribbean Sea and from the back you can see the Blue Mountains.

 

Downstairs there is another drawing room, three more bedrooms, a dining room, the kitchen, a pantry and a storeroom.  Outside a veranda made from cedar wood surrounds the entire ground floor of the house and out the back is a yard with a big cooking range under a lean to, a bath house, a water closet and, of course, our lovely garden.  

 

Upstairs there are three very large bedrooms, one smaller one and a drawing room.  I share one of the bedrooms with my sister, Ruby.  Ruby is the most studious and brightest of the younger sisters and loves reading and writing.   In secret she writes short stories which she reads to me when we are in bed.  I feel very honoured because Ruby doesn’t read her stories to anyone else in the family, just me.  Quite often they’re romances where the heroine is a simple country girl who falls in love with the son of a rich landowner and he loves her but his father forbids him to have anything to do with her because she’s not good enough for him, so they don’t see each other any more.  But the son can’t bear it and they run off together, get married and live happily every after.  That’s why I like Ruby’s stories, they always have a happy ending. 

 

My two other sisters, Dolly and Pearl, share another bedroom.  Dolly and Pearl couldn’t be more different.  Pearl is quiet and thoughtful and very sweet, so is Dolly, but she is a younger version of my older sister, Vivie, lively and outspoken. 

Sometimes I think Dolly is jealous of me.  She says I’m Mammie’s favourite.  Maybe.

 

Then there’s my older brother, Sydney.  Sydney is married but he and his wife, Janetha, have been separated for years and he lives with us now.  

 

I have another brother, Boysie, whom I adore because he is always laughing and is so much fun to be with.  He’s happily married to Minah and even though he has his own family he still finds time to visit us.  We all go to Boysie with our problems, never Sydney.  I like Minah, she’s nice, but I must admit some of the family don’t like her because she’s Jewish.  She’s very pretty with long black straight hair and is quite dark skinned.  They have four children and have a very nice house nearby in Duke Street and we’re always in and out of each other’s homes.  

 

One of my older sisters, Birdie, is in London at the moment studying dancing at Madame Verschuka’s School of Dance.  This is her second trip to London and Vivie’s been as well and I’m hoping to go soon too.  Mammie has a sister, Martha, who lives in Paddington and when ever any of the family goes to England, we stay with Aunt Martha.  Birdie says she’s an old trout and doesn’t like her.  

 

I have another older sister, Cissie, who is married to Dyke and they too have four children.  They have a coffee plantation in Montego Bay and have been married for about five years.  Dyke is lovely.  Mammie calls him a gentle giant because he towers over everyone including Sydney.  We don’t see much of them at all really, except at family gatherings at Christmas time, or when there’s an occasion, like a wedding or a funeral, or a family crisis. 

 

My Pops doesn’t live with us now, so Sydney is head of the house and supports the family financially. At school I was always top of my class in arithmetic, and when I left Sydney told Mammie he wanted me to work for him in the shop and keep the books in order.  I didn’t want the job;  what I wanted to do was go to England but Mammie asked me to take the job, so I did. 

 

Sydney says Mission House is far too big to maintain and now there are not so many people living here, we should move to a smaller house.  Mammie says he’s right but it’s difficult for her to make the move.  Too many memories, she says, good ones and some bad, so for now we’re staying put.

 

We have two servants, our maid Cassie who’s nearly the same age as me and I like a lot, and our cook, Aggie Burns, who gives me the creeps.  One day Sydney decided that Mammie needed help so off he went to find someone and came back with Aggie.   But she’s a crazy woman. She believes in Obeah and comes to work some mornings and tells me about great big peacocks that come to her front door and talk to her.  Mammie says to ignore her and not upset her because she’s the best cook we’ve ever had.  

 

 

<—The Browneys                                    Siblings, Lodgers and a Gift from God—>

 

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<— London 1900                                        My First Contact —>

 

My Great Aunt Lucy was a sweet, gentle and intelligent lady who loved to sketch and paint.

bird-sketches1

Becky and Lucy had aways been close and Becky missed Lucy a lot.   They were similar in looks and demeanour – slender with fair hair and blue eyes.  However, neither of them was close to their sister Martha, who actually didn’t resemble anyone in the Ross family.  She was short and stout with a badly pockmarked face as a result of chicken pox when she was a child.  Harriet woud bandage her hands so she couldn’t pick the scabs from her face, but it didn’t work.  Lucy reckoned that it was because of the pock mark scars on her face that contributed to Martha’s transition from normal chid to cantankerous young woman.  But even without the scars, Martha bore little resembance to her siblings. 

But what my Great Aunt Martha lacked for in looks and grace she made up for in talent.  Martha worked as a seamstress for the Drury Lane Theatre in London and was, by all accounts, one of the best.

Lucy wrote to Becky reguarly keeping Becky constantly in touch with her life in Jamaica.  For Becky, who would read Lucy’s letters over and over again, usually on her way home from work, freezing cold and trudging through London smog, snow or rain, Jamaica must have seemed magical, like  paradise.

 

Letter from Lucy Sincair, Constant Spring Hotel, St Andrews, Jamaica
to 
Becky Ross, Droop Street, Paddington, London, England

March 1901

Dearest Becky 

 Bertram Pollock is a charming man, born and bred in Jamaica.   I like him a lot and John speaks favourably of him as a man who is fair and reasonable.   The plantation is a few miles outside of Kingston, at the foot of the Blue Mountains.  Because our new home is not ready to live in, John is boarding in a room above the stables on the estate and I am staying here at the Constant Spring Hotel, which is quite nearby.

 

I have been here a short amount of time Becky and have seen little of the island, but already I have discovered so much beauty here. 

 

Jamaica attacks one’s senses, the sight of brightly coloured parrots, mocking-birds, sugar birds or to use their more common name, the banana quit and right now, Becky, as I sit here in the hotel’s gardens writing to you, flying in and out of the trees and shrubs are beautiful long-tailed hummingbirds. 

 

The other day I saw a sinister looking blue black bird with a huge beak.  I’m told it’s called a john crow bird and is the most often seen bird on the island.  It’s a great scavenger, very clumsy and ugly on the ground but so beautiful and majestic in flight Becky. 

 

Jamaica is full of vibrant colour and beauty and is a naturalist’s paradise.  The spectacular scenery is enriched by the vivid flowers and scent of the roses that abound, roses and bourgainvillea in every conceivable colour, as well as bright yellow allamandas, the annatto which has rose coloured flowers and purplish pods, the ebony which has yellow flowers and always comes out after rain and the pale blue flower of the lignum-vitae which grows over most of the island.  To wake early and see the stars fade away and in their place watch a glorious sunrise and at sunset every night the frogs, crickets and fireflies all make their presence felt and voices heard. 

 

From the fruit trees which are everywhere Becky, you can just pick and eat mangos, guava, papaw, oranges and other more exotic fruits that I have never heard of like ackee, which is very popular here.  And if you can find something sharp and heavy enough to crack open a coconut, you can drink the milk from it. 

 

I long to be settled in our house so I can explore the island more and paint instead of the pencil sketches I continually do whenever I’m out and about.   

 

Socially, Jamaica has a lot to offer, but, I do miss the theatres, art galleries and museums in London.  But in spite of that, I am convinced we made the right choice about coming here.  In fact I have almost forgotten what my former life in London was like because we have both settled down so well. 

 

Tell Martha that Jamaican women are very fashion conscious and do seem to spend a lot of money on clothes which are certainly more expensive here than in London and I’m told they often arrange for material and patterns to be shipped over fromLondon.

 

We must persuade Pa to let you visit.

Your loving sister (signed “Lucy”)

 

<— London 1900                                            My First Contact —> 

 

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