Caribbean Story Part 7: Let's Make Sure
In Part 6, Miranda is three years old. Her paternal aunts, Myra and Mona Spooner have been offered employment in Curaçao and they invited her mother Lulu to come along. The two grandmothers Janie Davis and Mattie Spooner have a disagreement. In this episode, Lulu is disappointed. The Davises get good news and Mattie receives her first letter from Myra.
The Water Carrier
Caribbean folks in rural areas like Seaside Village were expert at heading water (transporting a bucketful of water on their heads). Without indoor plumbing, there was no other way. Everybody needed it for drinking, bathing, cooking and cleaning. Since the birth of Miranda, Lulu was the most active water carrier in the Davis’ household; for in addition to the general usages, she had to wash baby diapers. Her mother Janie referred to the water situation when they spoke.
“If you go off to Curaçao, and leave me or Miss Mattie to bring up you child, you will never learn what it is to be a mother. We will be the ones gettin up in the morning to cook porridge, stayin up at night when she sick; headin extra water to wash her clothes and keep her clean. Not that I don’t love my grandchild; and not that I don't want her to live with Miss Mattie, but she is your trouble. The more you do for her, the better you will feel when she turn out good. ‘Tis like they say: ‘Once you carry you own water, you will learn to value every drop.’ Stay home and mind you child.”
Myra and Mona Spooner continued their preparations to leave for Curaçao. When they came down to the village to say goodbye to Miranda, now turned four, Lulu said just enough to convey her good wishes. She left them at the house and grabbed her bucket to continue heading water.
Granny Warner managed the neighborhood crèche (nursery). She was one of the few residents in Seaside Village who had a house which was fully wooden and had space enough to make one room available for children. She had been taking care of Miranda since she was two months old, weekdays 6:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Lulu's sister Josie had become an apprentice seamstress, and came home everyday in time to watch Miranda while Lulu cooked and washed when she got home from work. Janie often said that Josie could help Lulu just for Miranda’s benefit, while she [Janie] was often involved in some church or community activity. Henry tended the goats, moving them around to graze, and bringing them home in the late evening. He usually stayed out later than he should if he found mother-approved male company.
On the first Monday afternoon in June 1951, Lulu was late coming home, and Josie picked up Miranda. Granny Warner told her that a man dressed in suit and tie had come to see them earlier in the day, and left a message. It was a stapled note and addressed to “Resident.” Josie opened it as soon as she entered the house and became emotional as she read. With tears in her eyes, she spoke to the only person present—Miranda.
“Miranda, at last!” She picked up the little girl and danced around in the little space which was available just inside the door. “At last Miranda, we could move.”
“We could move,” echoed Miranda
“Somebody moving?” Mother Janie interrupted, with Lulu standing close behind her. Jose handed her the note.
“At last, thank God!” Janie whispered, and handed the note to Lulu.
Four years after the promise, the Davises were in the next batch to move out of substandard housing into a prefabricated building provided by the government. The lots were to be assigned at the community meeting scheduled for the next Monday night.
Janie had seen the houses. There was a living area with enough space for a dining table, and there were two separate bedrooms, each large enough to hold two small beds. No more detached kitchen and bathroom, but still no running water.
“You all, don’t say nothing yet. Let’s make sure,” cautioned Mamma Janie. “Wait till they show us the land, and then we can tell people. Don’t forget to thank God, though.”
Letter from Curaçao
Miss Janie was anxious to share the news with the Spooners. The social distance between the two families was getting shorter. The Davises were leaving the thatched roof house for a house covered with zinc like the Spooner’s. The Spooners would only have one bedroom more than the Davises, and best of all, Miss Mattie would no longer be able to ridicule her about the three stone fire for cooking.
Tuesday afternoon after work, she went home, bathed and changed her clothes. She could smell the sweet soap on her as smoothed the light wrinkles in the skirt with her palm. She put on her church shoes, appropriate for a strut from a woman who was movin’ on up. She announced that she was going to visit Miss Mattie.
Miss Mattie was having a belly laugh when Janie knocked. With a wave of the letter in her hand, she beckoned the visitor to come in. The two had been civil, but not in the habit of sharing jokes since their disagreement over custody of Miranda if Lulu went to Curaçao. Janie waited to make sure that Mattie wanted her to sit down. Eventually, Mattie stopped laughing long enough to speak.
“Miss Janie, I got my first letter from Myra today, and I can't stop laughing."
“They all right?”
“Better than all right. Let me tell you what happen.” Miss Mattie began to laugh again.
It turned out that as a token of goodwill, Myra intended for her host family to have a taste of sugar apples grown on her island. However, having never traveled before, she was unaware of the law forbidding inter-island transport of fruit and vegetables without permission from the agricultural department. The customs official explained her misdemeanor and confiscated her apples. Myra was escorted to the cab without them.
Caribbean Sugar Apples
Myra was welcomed by the lady of the house, Mevrouw (Mrs.) Smit. They explored the house, talked shop, laughed and ate, and Myra retired to her room. When Meneer (Mr.) Smit came home in the evening, his wife called Myra to meet him. Imagine Myra's surprise when he turned out to be the customs officer who took her sugar apples, which he brought home and presented to his wife.
It was Janie’s turn to laugh, but managed, “You sure ‘tis the same apples? Did Myra tell him anything?”
“Not yet,” joked Mattie. And the two began giggling again.
Questions & Answers
© 2018 Dora Weithers