Caribbean Story Part 1: Light the Lamp
Caribbean Story features the nurture and influence of Miranda Davis' grand-mothers. In this first episode, they learn of her conception in a round about way.
No Room for the Baby
Caribbean folks feel cold when the temperature drops to seventy degrees. So on that October evening when Janie Davis walked in on her daughter Lulu Davis wrapping herself in a sheet, she took it for granted that her seventeen-year old daughter was seeking warmth. Truth is, the sheet was closer than the nightgown when Lulu heard her mother's footsteps approaching the bedroom they shared.
Lulu couldn’t be sure, but just in case Janie noticed, she offered an explanation for what she thought was a bulging stomach. “I’m pregnant Mamma, but it’s not my fault.”
“Good Lord! Janie hollered, walking away from the half-naked Lulu into the other room. She returned a moment later with the kerosene lamp.
Grandmother-to-Be Goes Visiting
That conversation took place on Monday night, and by late afternoon the next day, when mother and daughter came home from their labourer’s tasks on the Seaside Sugar Estate, Janie set out to do what most mothers in that predicament would have done in the 1940s.
“Good afternoon, Mrs. Spooner,” she shouted from outside the gate. “A word with you, please.”
Mrs. Spooner, pot spoon in hand, and smelling like well-seasoned steamed fish, came hurrying to let her in. “Come in, Miss Janie” and she turned around swiftly. “You could talk to me while I stir my sauce?”
“Yes, Ma’am, and I don’t mean to take much of your time.” Janie followed and continued to speak as soon as Mrs. Spooner positioned herself to stir. “That smell good, eh? Anyway, I come to let you know that you son Manny put my daughter in the family way.”
Manny and Janie passed each other as she was leaving and he was entering Tamarind Alley. They exchanged "good afternoon" greetings but neither one acknowledged the other. Still, Manny's question to his mother proved that he recognized her.
“Mom, was that Miss Janie from Seaside Village going up the alley?”
“Don’t pretend that you don’t know Miss Janie,” his five-foot plump mother scolded, with both hands on her hips and her neck stretched as far as it could to facilitate him looking into her angry face. “You put her daughter Lulu in the family way, and now you forget who she is? Did you do it, Manny? ”
And so it was that the conception of Miranda Davis became known. Her mother Lulu Davis informed her maternal grandmother Janie Davis, who approached her paternal grandmother Mattie Spooner, who questioned her father Manny Spooner. There is no evidence that Lulu and Manny ever discussed their baby before she was born. Miranda’s care before and after her birth would henceforth be supervised by her grandmothers.
Lulu Davis lived with her mother Janie in one room of the two-room house Janie’s mother had left for her and her sister. Janie divided her room into two. She created a living area and a bedroom, partitioned by a fabric curtain.
The economic status of the grandmother-to-be was illustrated in her bedroom. Her excuse for a bed sported four wooden boxes for the legs; a frame completed with four pieces of board pulled from the estate’s discarded junk heap; a mattress, if it could be called that, comprised of course flour bags (in which flour was imported) sewn together and stuffed with dried grass. One side of the bed was jammed to the “wall” of the thatched house; on the partition side, there was enough room to get in and out. Janie slept on the open side, Lulu slept in the corner.
There were two pieces of furniture in the living area. A plain wooden settee without cushion doubled as a nighttime bed for Lulu’s fourteen-year old sister Josie, and the daytime seating space. Taking all the available space that was left, the all-purpose table stood nearby. Henry, Lulu’s twelve-year old brother made his bed under the table, after he pushed away the tin of cassava starch and everything else toward the door.
There was no room for a baby, and Janie was dealing with that reality as she headed home from Mattie Spooner’s house. By the time she arrived, her daughters and son had finished their evening meal. They had also bathed in the kitchen, a shabby little shed constructed in the yard, with the left corner at the back designated for the bath pan. For bathing, they filled the pan with water from the public standpipe.
Fetching Water at a Public Standpipe
Janie could hear laughter as she approached the door. Josie, seated on the settee and Henry on the floor were engaged in one of their stories about folks in the village they had nicknamed, so that only they knew whom they talked about. Lulu lay supine on her side of the bed, gazing at the thatched roof, which she could barely see, since the kerosene lamp was unlit again.
Janie entered, and straightway lit the lamp on the table. “What if I didn’t come home? You all would stay like this in the dark? I wish everybody would always wait on me to tell them what to do.”
“Mama, we don't want to waste matches. Only you could light de lamp wid one scratch."
“Speak properly, Henry. Come out here, Lulu.” Obedience was an applied virtue in Janie’s house.
She continued when Lulu made her appearance. “When you all pray tonight, beg God to make a way for us to get through the problems we already have, and plead with Him not to add anymore right now. Lulu, we will talk tomorrow when we come home from work. Josie, never leave this house unless I know where you going. Same for you, Henry. And don’t ever let it get dark in here again. We may be poor, but we can afford light."
What aspect of this Caribbean story is most unfamiliar to you?
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© 2018 Dora Weithers