Sunday, May 2, 2010

My grandmother (Mama) raised me as a boy

             My Grandfather                        

                   My Grandmother

I have been told that is how Caribbean adults did it back then. Like Argonauts searching for their own golden fleece, they would leave their children behind and travel to the U.S. to find their fortune.

For me and my sister, we were use to staying with our grandmother during the months before my parents left for the U.S. At least that is what I was told. My sister was born less than two year after my birth. We stayed with my grandmother when my mother went back to work. Work was probably a respite from child care for most.  During those days mothers did not stay out from work very long after giving birth – maybe two weeks at most. A dual income was necessary back then.

My parents would drive my sister and me to Maraval from Belmont on Sunday evenings and return for us on Friday afternoons. Travel time from Belmont to Maraval was approximately 15 -20 minutes by car. Probably no more than 30 minutes.  For whatever reason, we could not stay with our parents during the week.

So my grandmother took care of me during the week. From Sunday night to Friday afternoon she would bathe, feed, dress, read, and sing to me. She would put me to sleep, play, and pray with me. She would dry my tears, hold me, clean my bruises, and kiss my boo boos. My grandmother loved me. She was there for me. And most of all, I can remember her doing these things for me.

This is important because some have asked why is it you remember your grandmother doing those things and not your parents. Weren’t they with you during the same time as your grandmother? It is true that for two years both my grandmother and parents shared duties raising me. However, I believe that because my grandmother continued raising me after my parents left, memories of my parents faded and my experiences with my grandmother became dominant memories. There is some research to support this.

I remember mama as a sturdy woman. She was the mother of 8 children, grandmother of dozens, and great-grandmother of many more. She was wife to a husband that was never around. We called him Papa - my grandfather. He was like a ghost coming in and out of our lives. A larger than life figure we knew more for giving us a dollar on his occasional visits than for gentle hugs or loving words. But that is another post.

Mama loved the Lord, prayed, and went to church regularly. At night, she often would hold rosary beads and say her prayers. She often recruited us to join her. Willingly, we would participate.

She was a gardener. She had a piece of land on Mazilli in Cameron high up on the Northern Range Mountains of Trinidad. She planted chives and other green vegetables. She worked that land. And her hands bore witness to the harshness of that land.

Mama also was a caring woman who loved family. She could never say no to any of her children who asked for help in raising their children. She treated her grandchildren like she gave birth to them – with much love and tenderness. I never got a sense that she regretted being in the role of surrogate parents. If she did, she masked it well with a glowing smile and kind demeanor.

This is the woman who started raising me from when I was 2 years old and continued full-time from age 4 to 12. This is who I knew as my mother.

And in a blink of an eye, at the age of 12, I was taken away from the mother I knew and brought to the U.S. to be with parents I only knew through pictures, an occasional visit, and phone calls. Love and separation in the life a barrel child!  

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