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Caribbean Story Part 8: Brown Skin Girl

Caribbean Story shares memories of a Caribbean writer, including bits on parenting and other lifestyle aspects influenced by the culture.

Five years have passed since Part 7 in which Miranda’s paternal aunts Myra and Mona Spooner migrated to Curaçao. Her mother Lulu Davis was denied the privilege by Granny Janie Davis.

In this episode, Lulu reflects on her lost opportunity and seems not to be dealing well with the repercussions. Miranda grows into a beautiful, intelligent girl. Mona sends unexpected news.

The Song

Caribbean folks have lost ownership of many song lyrics they composed, because at first, they did not think of songwriting as a business. In 1946, the year before Miranda was born, a Trinidadian calypsonian who called himself King Radio, probably wrote (at least, performed) the song known as Brown Skin Girl Stay Home and Mind Baby.

King Radio Sang "Brown Skin Girl" in 1946

Ten years later, when Miranda was nine years old, Harry Belafonte, Caribbean-American singer popularized and was given credit for the said song. It was included in his Calypso album which was released in 1956.

Radios were not popular in Seaside Village, but the sound of song lyrics blasted through the open windows of the few residents who had them. Some, like Lulu, heard them in Daisy Morton’s grocery store. When she heard Belafonte singing the song, she believed that he was singing to her.

"Brown skin girl stay home and mind baby;
Brown skin girl stay home and mind baby;
I'm goin away, in a sailing boat
And if I don't come back
Stay home and mind baby."

Belafonte "Calypso" Album (1956)

Photo Credit: Michael Ochs Archives

Photo Credit: Michael Ochs Archives

The song was a commentary on the practice of American soldiers stationed in Trinidad during World War II. They made babies with Caribbean girls and abandoned the mothers and children when they left. Lulu identified with the burden of these brown skin girls who were obligated to stay home.

“Stay home” is exactly what her mother Janie had told her when she had the opportunity to migrate to Curaçao. Now the baby had grown into an affable, talented little girl, but Lulu was not rejoicing.

The Repercussion

If Lulu had any open veins of affection for Miranda, the message of Stay Home and Mind Baby helped them to dry up. Miranda became the symbol of hindrances to every dream that flashed across her mind. No migration. No marriage. No money, because despite the fact that she displayed no affection, she always gave her daughter the best she could afford. And from age five to nine, Miranda got her sixpence from Lulu every Monday morning to pay for her private school.

So, it was not that Lulu hated her daughter; it was just that Miranda did not feel the love. Lulu continued to work all she could, and for Miranda was always the goal: to buy books for Miranda; to buy hair ribbons and girly handkerchiefs for Miranda; for Miranda to go on a church or school outing. It was obvious that Lulu lived and worked primarily for Miranda, but she never gave Miranda reason to run toward her when she came home. They never smiled at each other. They never hugged. They never played together. Lulu was devoted to being a good provider, and a strict disciplinarian, and that had nothing to do with embraces and kisses.

Handkerchiefs Drying. No Disposable Napkins

Photo Credit:  Manisha

Photo Credit: Manisha

Miranda was growing up beautiful and intelligent. Her complexion was closer to her father's mulatto skin color than to her mother's dark brown shade. She wore pretty floral dresses, most of which her aunts Myra and Mona sent. She walked and talked with confidence. In the classroom, she was quick with numbers and her teacher declared that she was born to spell.

However, in the afternoon, it was Granny Janie who listened and applauded when she read. It was Granny Janie who prayed with her at mornings and evenings, and told her that she was special to God. Other church women complimented her for dramatic recitals, while Lulu just sat proud but would not say a word. On weekends, it was Grandma Mattie who let Miranda sit on her lap even at age nine. It was also Grandma Mattie who introduced her to her friends as “my good-looking brown skin grandchild.” Lulu would not express any joy about Miranda's progress.

The Surprise

Since Janie Davis and her household moved up to New Seaside Village, they welcomed many visitors. They could now invite folks in rather than meet them at the door. Martha Walters from church was a regular. She was Granny Janie’s friend and sometimes on the return visit, Granny Janie took Miranda with her. Miss Martha loved the little girl, always praising her for reciting her poems and Bible verses so well.

Janie was surprised when Miss Martha asked for Miranda to come alone to her house, for a surprise. Lulu said it was up to Janie. Janie said she trusted Miss Martha, so off Miranda went to her house one Sunday afternoon.

“This is a secret, Miranda,” whispered Miss Martha although they were alone. “You can’t tell anybody, not even your grandmother. When they ask you what the surprise was, show them this shilling. I’m paying you for what you will do for me.”

British Shilling (1956)

Photo Credit: The World Coin Gallery

Photo Credit: The World Coin Gallery

It turned out that the well-spoken, glamorously-dressed, regular church attendant could not read. Her husband had left for England a year ago, and had arranged for her to join him. She wanted Miranda to write the letter which she would mail back to the church pastor from England.

“My husband was eagerly awaiting my arrival,” she dictated. “He put on a few pounds but not much. . . I ran into Carlton Sutton who used to play our organ. He said that his studies are going well. . . I also saw the Greens and the wife is not happy; she does not like the cold weather . . .”

“What if you don’t see these people?” questioned Miranda. “Does that mean that I am writing lies?”

“Just forget about it when you leave, Miranda. One hand can't clap. Your hand writes the letter; my hand gives you the shilling, and there are many more where that came from."

Miranda continued to write but she was not sure that she could keep the secret from Granny Janie.

The Other Brown Skin Girl

Grandma Mattie Spooner was doing better at accepting Manny’s fate; and her capacity for enjoying life was improving gradually. Her two daughters were supplying her financial needs, and she had much for which to be grateful.

After not hearing from Mona for about two months, Miss Mattie wrote letters to both her and Myra insisting that they update her about was was going on. Mona wrote back explaining Dutch immigration policy. The Dutch made no accommodations for babies of immigrants. Domestic workers who got pregnant had to leave voluntarily before they were found out. If they stayed long enough to be deported, they could not return. It was Mona’s turn to come home and mind her baby.

© 2018 Dora Weithers


Cynthia Zirkwitz from Vancouver Island, Canada on September 03, 2020:

I enjoyed this story with its heartaches and loving moments. Life was tough and full of disappointments for Lulu but she continued to care for her child physically, her way of maintaining dignity and honouring her family traditions. So well-written!

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on August 14, 2020:

Thanks, JC. I appreciate your feedback.

JC Scull from Gainesville, Florida on June 30, 2020:

Very nice story.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on May 03, 2018:

Linda, In many case the grandmothers come to the rescue as they do here. Yes, Miranda is lucky!

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on May 02, 2018:

This is such an interesting story. It's sad that Lulu has a problem showing affection. I'm glad that Miranda has other people who love her.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on April 08, 2018:

Thanks, Devika. I agree with you in the importance of a healthy mother-daughter bond. It takes more effort for some than for others.

DDE on April 06, 2018:

Some mothers don't show affection at all and other moms show affection towards their kids. It is sad for the child to find that love from her mother. When in reality it is important for mother and child to have a special bond.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on March 30, 2018:

Yes, Kari, it is not good, but it can happen for several reasons. Those of us who know how to do it are blessed.

Kari Poulsen from Ohio on March 30, 2018:

I cannot imagine having a mother who showed so little affection.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on March 27, 2018:

Peg, thanks for following. True, this kind of behavior is sometimes seen in young mothers who are not ready for parenting.

Peg Cole from Northeast of Dallas, Texas on March 27, 2018:

That song certainly sets the scene for this chapter. It's heartbreaking that Lulu lacked the ability to demonstrate affection. I've known mothers like that. When their children as adults were asked, they said, "All I ever wanted is for my mother to love me."

I look forward to the future developments with Miss Martha. At first I thought she wanted to learn to read. As for Mona, oh my.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on March 25, 2018:

Thanks, Bill. That line is a regular saying in Caribbean conversations. Thanks for your encouragement.

William Kovacic from Pleasant Gap, PA on March 24, 2018:

I like how you tie this all together, Dora. I like the line, "One hand can't clap," too . Another good installment to keep us reading!

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on March 22, 2018:

Thanks, Jackie. I like Belafonte too. He sang many Caribbean tunes. Small world especially when it comes to music.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on March 22, 2018:

Thanks, Nikki. I appreciate your commentary. Hope you enjoy the other episodes too.

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on March 21, 2018:

My mom so loved Harry Belafonte's singing and he was such an extraordinarily handsome man, wasn't he?

So interesting to read about immigration law in other countries, too, in addition to the follow of the adventure of this family.

Nikki Khan from London on March 21, 2018:

Wonderful chapter with some irony and tragic moments which make it a great story.

Good job Dora, I need to catch up with some previous episodes though, would do soon.

Bless you.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on March 21, 2018:

Thanks, Bill. I'm glad you saw reality because this is what it is. I appreciate your following.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on March 21, 2018:

Thanks, Eric. I love Belafonte too. Anyway, you're stealing my thunder about them not doing anything about these conditions back then. They really did not know what to do.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on March 21, 2018:

Thanks, Flourish. That was life then, and still is. Those who have not lived these experiences must be grateful.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on March 21, 2018:

There is so much pain and reality in this chapter....very, very well-written.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on March 21, 2018:

I feel bad for Lulu's depression. I assume back then they did nothing about it. I can see that there is some suffering going on for all of them but I see the love more.

Thank you Dora for this wonderful story. I never thought of the theft of music from there.My mom always said that Harry Belafonte was a real man.

FlourishAnyway from USA on March 20, 2018:

This is heartbreaking from several vantage points, including men's abandonment of their responsibilities as fathers and parents seeing themselves as providers only rather than as nurturers and teachers too.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on March 20, 2018:

Thanks, Frank. I take your comments seriously. Glad that you like the history.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on March 20, 2018:

Thanks Mary. So glad that you find it interesting. Yes, Mona is about to have her day.

Frank Atanacio from Shelton on March 20, 2018:

I love the turn of events and still I find a history lesson emerging throug as I go from chapter to chapter MsDora.. heart breaking and heart healing simply a beautiful story filled with wisdom and compassion... bravo

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on March 20, 2018:

Oh, this is taking on an interesting turn with Mona now getting more attention. There are so things here I really value as a history major. The only thing I knew about the Caribbean is from Michener's book on the Caribbean.

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