Caribbean Story Part 12: First in Two Families
Caribbean Story Parts 1-12 features the nurture and influence of Miranda Davis’ grandmothers. It follows Miranda's life from conception through her high school years: her father’s death, social complexities of her introvert mother, the support of her uncle and aunts and, very notably, the powerful love of her grandmothers.
In the final episode, Miranda is celebrated in a church-community-family event, discovers why her father chose to name her, and pays tribute to her grandmothers.
High School Certificate
Caribbean folk in the 1950s and 60s wrote the General Certificate of Education (GCE) exam at the completion of their high school curriculum. The certificate was awarded by the University of London, England and was equivalent to the American High School Diploma.
Miranda was the first in the Davis as well as the Spooner families to write the London exam, and even before the results came, both families recognized her accomplishment. If she succeeded, she could be immediately employed as a pupil teacher, while obtaining her teacher training at the City College. Being the first high school graduate and the first college student in her families was good reason to celebrate Miranda.
Party in the Works
Pastor Ben Simmons, who presided over her father’s death knew the struggles of the families. The idea for a gathering in Miranda’s honor originated with him in June when the church prayed for her success in the examinations. Herbert Paul who co-chaired the youth group with her was happy to participate; and Josie, her mother's sister decided that it should be a church-community-family affair. Her mother Lulu and her Granny Janie thought it was way over their heads; but Grandma Mattie showed Janie the letter which informed them that Miranda’s aunts Myra and Mona wanted to come home and make it a party.
“So Miss Janie,” Mattie decided, “Before good food waste *ley belly bus.” That was the Caribbean way of saying that they should not waste the effort of so many people. It could and would also have a literal meaning.
Caribbean Black Cake
Daisy Morton, the gossip grocer was on the church team and she was a generous as she was talkative. Fried chicken was her specialty, and people usually left home just to get some. Granny Warner who cared for Miranda during her crèche [nursery] days offered to host the event. She had large rooms and a large backyard, and was willing to add her delectable black cake and ginger beer to the menu.
Miranda’s uncle Henry, who had left the Davis household citing too many women, was on call to butcher Granny Janie’s choicest goat for the goat water. The church women were responsible for cooking the sides including rice and pigeon peas, johnny cakes and fried plantain. The party was on!
*let belly burst
Grandma Mattie sat leisurely in her rocker, brooding over the beauty and prosperity of her female flock. They sat poised in the living room as though waiting for a photographer. Mona and Myra had scheduled their visit to coincide with Miranda’s party, but little Merel Olivia was as much the object of their attention. She had replaced Miranda as the little princess in the family, and Mattie hoped that the younger one would follow in the steps of the older. The adults were all happy.
Merel jumped up from beside her mother Mona when they heard a knock on the door. “It’s Miranda. Miranda.”
“Can you spell Miranda?” Miranda hugged her on entering the door.
“M” she began. “Does everybody’s name begin with M?”
Spooner's Family Roll Call
Miranda (Manny's daughter)
Merel (Mona's daughter)
“In this family, it does,” her mother confirmed.
“I’ve been meaning to ask that myself.” Miranda confessed.
“That reminds me,” Mattie spoke softly while she straightened up. “When Manny visited you on the day you were born, he called you Miranda, but he didn’t have a chance to say why.”
“You mean nobody ever told her?” Myra was surprised. “Let me.”
“About two years before your father died, he began to see a beautiful girl on the beach, in his dreams. He always chased after her to find out who she was, but whenever he got near, she vanished. The last time he dreamed about her, she told him her name just before she disappeared. It was "Miranda" which means "admirable" and "wonderful." He never dreamed about her again.”
“The next time he saw her,” Mattie added, “was the day he saw you.”
Grandmothers First and Last
The first Monday in August (Emancipation Day) is a Caribbean holiday. Folks remember the declaration which set their forefathers free from slavery. The mood was appropriate for celebrating the academic and social progress of a young lady whose mother and grandmother still worked on the sugar estate founded by the colonial masters.
There were about thirty people present when Pastor Simmons said the opening prayer, but when the dish covers came off and the aroma began to travel, about thirty more drifted in. Myra and Mona met many people they would not have seen otherwise. Everybody mingled. The food was plentiful and delicious. Joy abounded.
Finally, it was time for her speech. She thanked God, and then referred to her two grandmothers as the first on her list of human beings who deserved her gratitude.
“My grandmothers gave birth to my father and mother who gave birth to me. In addition, they nurtured my mother into becoming a parent at the same time they nurtured me to become the young woman you see here today.”
She continued with thanks to her mother, the pastor, Granny Warner, her teachers from her primary private school all the way through high school. She thanked all the residents of Seaside Village. It seemed that she forgot no-one.
"And finally," she concluded, "I love my grandmothers. Thank you Granny Janie. Thank you Grandma Mattie. I can never say that enough."
© 2018 Dora Weithers