Everyone should know on whose shoulders they stood as they grow through life.
Mu mother-in-law (MIL) and an aunt-in-law arrived yesterday from The Bahamas to spend a few weeks with us. It’s not because of the weather, though Nassau is a tad cooler now than Kingston. My wife and I were due to travel and leave behind some teenagers, who don’t need too much. supervision, but profit from rubbing shoulders with their elders. Also, my MIL loves Jamaica and has a fine old time, and it’s about 4 months since she was last here.
As we sat and ate and chat yesterday evening, some thoughts floated through my head. My mother was the first of 11 children; my father was first of 5; I’m an only child. My uncles and aunts were really important to me; aunts and uncles also important to my daughters (each of whom grew up as an only child much of their lives). Godparents are also important, but I raise my hat to those close blood relatives and cousins. I’m as close to one cousin as I think I would be to a sister, as we grew up together for many years in London.
I was explaining to our American guest our tradition of having children call close and trusted adult friends ‘auntie’ and ‘uncle’, and how my daughter now did that for one of the parents of classmates at her school in the USA. The man was thrilled when I explained this to him and couldn’t wait to be called ‘uncle’. He’s been a set of eyes and ears for me while my daughter has been far away.
When my parents and I went to London in 1961, I was soon surrounded by aunts, uncles and cousins. My mother had a brother already living there, in Brockley, south London, and my father had a sister living close by; she had a daughter born in 1960.
We visited them often, as I’ve mentioned before. My uncle was soon joined by three of his brothers who lived with him in his large house; he also took in another Jamaican whom he’d known from before. So, south London soon became our ‘go to’ place most weekends, and it was family time, with Jamaican food and chatter and laughter and the play of children as two of my uncles soon married and their wives had children. I was the oldest around and naturally took on ‘big brother’ characteristics. My aunt came to share a basement flat with us a few years later, when we moved from Shepherd’s Bush to west Kensington (3 Sinclair Gardens; see Google stree view).
In passing, that corner house was always a memorable spot as it was close to a fish and chip shop and was one of the places I could walk to alone to get things. I would have been around 10 years old, and it would have been about a 15 minute walk to school. (I think back to taking time at the Passmore Library as part of my walk home; we did not have books and reading and learning were being impressed on me and the library was my friend.)
But, my uncles and aunt were my guides, along with my parents. One uncle, a carpenter, would later set me up for my first summer job, working for Wates the building company, and ironically the job I first worked on was a bank adjacent to the Bank of England, where I later worked 🙂 I would spend several summers as a labourer for Wates: brutally hard physical work with solid people, who never found a joke or a ribbing they could resist. I often came home exhausted but ready to go back, especially to get my wage packet on a Friday. Money!!! I discovered the joys of sausage sandwiches and hot mugs of tea 🙂
Funnily, I learned a lot about humility working on building sites, where my intellect and academic gifts were of no worth if I couldn’t heave bags of cement. But, it was there that I met a kindred spirit one summer, a university student working his summer job, and we could have ‘our type’ of talk as he studied English Literature, as I was.
My other uncles all worked for some time on the buses for London Transport; black bus conductors and later drivers were becoming fixtures in London .
One of them also worked for a while for Peek, Frean, the biscuit company. The eldest uncle, who owned the house, later went to work for the Post Office, like my father.
I loved it when one uncle would bring ‘work’ home in the form of boxes of biscuits; shortcake were my favourites.
They were all good story tellers and part of growing up was just hearing their seemingly crazy and funny stories, many of which were just their take on life as they lived it. They all loved their white rum and were ready with my father to lead each other astray. 🙂 Sadly, all are now dead.
My aunt is still alive and now living again in rural Jamaica, in St. Mary, her home district. I spent time with her daughters on my recent trip to London; they’re my only blood relatives in the UK.
When I relate that most of my family never left Jamaica, it’s significant that those who did ended up close to us. Far away from home, yet not far from family is a good thing to have in my memory vault.