AROUND JA WITH PAUL H. – A Rush of Memories
I am always fascinated by things from the past, especially the ones that existed long before me. They have so much to tell. The ones that I can personally relate to are no less interesting. They remind me of where I am coming from, and keep me grounded.
And on Friday last, I strolled on to the grounds of the Independence Village at Hope Road, St Andrew. There was much food to sink my teeth into, but I opted for coconut water, lemonade and naseberries. I also got some fever grass mosquito repellant, lest those pesky insects sink their needles into my tender flesh.
There was also much to see, but nothing really exciting. Boredom was beginning to consume me, until I found myself in front of the Jamaica National Heritage Trust booth. There were tables full of objects from the past, from my childhood, and many decades before that.
The enamelled articles brought back much sensory memories. I heard the sound of flaking enamel as if it were just yesterday when that big mug fell, many times. I also felt the heat of the hot chocolate, with the oil on top, in the enamelled mug. Scorched gums, hot ‘chocolate tea’.
But these articles were strange. They looked smooth and glossy when they were new, but they became unsightly over time because of chips and scratches and dents. And so, it was not pride anymore to own a ‘chip-up’ enamelled item. I also remembered that Miss Rhoda, an elderly, cantankerous neighbour, had a big ‘chip-up’ chimmy when I saw some chamber pots on display. But I rather let the chamber pot stories remain in the annals of time.
Moving on to the clothes irons, including the self-heating ones that were popular among tailors. Unlike the regular irons that were put over the burning coal, the coal was placed into the self-heaters, so they remained hot. No need to keep reheating.
Stories of these irons abound – of when my white shirts and khaki got soiled by them, grief, when I was hurrying and they could not get hot fast enough; when they were too hot, and I had to wait, or burned the cloth leaving a permanent triangular mark, more grief; or when the coal got burned out before I am finished ironing.
The lamps, lanterns and kerosene stoves shed much light into those dark nights of yesteryear. The narratives they illuminated, the joys and the sorrows, the feasts and the famines. And there is one particular story of the kerosene stove, of which I give no details, that is forever etched in my brain.
After taking pictures and chatting with other patrons, and was about to leave, I saw a book, lit up by rays of sunlight. My eyes popped. It was a Nola book, as we children called it then, from The Island Readers series. This one was Primer Three, Nola at Play. It was a basics/primary-school reader, whose main characters were Nola and Don.
Richard O’Conner, Jamaica National Heritage Trust’s archaeological field assistant, showing a patron how to grind cocoa beans
I have seen many a student get beaten when they struggled to read their Nola books. I could read, but I shook my head for my former classmates whose skin burned from the angry spanking by impatient, mean-spirited and unsympathetic ‘teachers’.
In retrospect, I wish I had kept some of these personal objects for my archives, but we were not socialised to keep records and preserve the things we used in our daily lives.
As soon as they had become old and useless, they were tossed into the garbage heaps of life. Nothing saved for posterity, nothing to tell our descendants about who we were, nothing to precipitate a rush of memories, pleasant and unpleasant.
The Daily Gleaner
Wednesday, August 10, 2016