Tuesday 16th December, 2008


David E Bratt, MD

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MEMORIES of uncle George

  • Friday evenings were special to us because that was when he had to drive to far-off Diego Martin.
  • He was there for me when my parents, unjustly I thought, put me into the Abbey School at Mount St Benedict.
  • He got me into Tranquillity and I was most upset.

Perhaps the gallery in Scott Bushe Street in Cobeau Town, a lovely place, high above the street and looking over a small triangular-shaped park where, during the rainy season, fireflies came out to play and regularly lit up the big tree in one corner of the park is the first. 

The memory I have is of December nights when I was allowed to stay up with the grownups and he and my aunt and other members of my family would sit down in the Morris chairs in the dimly lit gallery, talk quietly, smoke and enjoy the Christmas breezes flowing down from the twinkling lights of Laventille, the flutter of the mango leaves next door and the occasional “put-put” of an old car travelling west on Wrightson Road. 

If we were lucky then, the sounds of a carolling group would be heard coming from Duke Street and soon they would be crowded around our front gate, the gate where I would later spend hours swinging until it creaked in vain, and the night would be filled with the sweet sounds of traditional carols—parang was yet to be discovered in Port-of-Spain—and often I would fall off to sleep, in the gallery, in my mother’s lap, with their voices in my ear.

Friday evenings were special to us because that was when he had to drive to far-off Diego Martin—the Valley was considered country in those days—to the Scott farm, to pay the labourers. 

He got permission from my mother to take me, so every Friday he would pass around, at 4.15 on the dot—he was a meticulous man—to pick me up and we would drive off to the valley.

That would take almost an hour, so small was the car and so winding the road, until we arrived, almost in darkness, to where the horses were kept. 

My favourite was one called Just in Time because his owner had arrived just in time to see him born and that story always got us laughing together.

Afterwards the drive back home might take us through St James and in my blurry memory there used to be a cinema, Rialto, around where the mall at the eastern end of St James now is, and opposite, a roti shop and if he was in a specially good mood we would stop there to buy roti for my aunt and my mother. 

But I am not sure if this did happen on our trips or whether it is just the dream of a small boy, one memory blending into another the way guava shells blend into cream cheese to make a new and better taste.

The rock cake incident happened about this same time and the story must be true because it has been told and retold at family reunions.

Apparently there was an excursion to Carenage for a swim but although the rum was not left behind, and rum was what you drank in those days, someone forgot to take along food for a small boy. 

At about four in the afternoon, in desperation, a parlour was found and in the dust-encrusted window-panelled display at the front, some hard, old, tasteless rock cake was found and bought, a penny a cake.

How does it taste? I was asked.  “Nice!” was the emphatic reply and the lime dissolved into laughter. 

He got me into Tranquillity and I was most upset.

I was attending Miss Alemani’s of lower Sackville Street fame. She, Eric Williams and Merry Makers are perhaps the best known citizens of that street. 

School was to start some days after the public ones and that fateful morning I was downstairs under the house in my pajamas pitching marbles with the boy from next door when he suddenly appeared, cheerful as always, to tell my mother that he had got me into Tranquillity, a grand thing at that time, and off we had to go, me in tears, to Victoria Avenue where I learned to suck tamarind-daisin, “pelt calpet” and run with the others to form a ring and shout “fight, fight” at the struggling boys on the ground.

There are so many other memories.

He built the altar for my First Communion and decorated it with ferns and then did the same thing for my sisters and for his children and grands when they finally came.

He was there for me when my parents, unjustly I thought, put me into the Abbey School at Mount St Benedict and came up to visit me after my first week there, bringing buns, Mars chocolate and salt prunes because he knew those were my favourite snacks.

Twice a term I would travel to Port-of-Spain to the place where he worked for his entire life, the Scott business on Independence Square, to be taken home for the weekend and then driven back up to Mount, quiet and sad, on the Sundays, and he would always say to me, “Bear with this, no one can take a good education away from you.”

But the very best memory was my first J’Ouvert with him. 

The year was 1958 and the tune was Pay as You Earn and I have a crisp memory of turning around in the middle of a band in Queen Street at about seven in the morning, delirious with delight at being in the midst of a happy group of shuffling adults as the sun came up over the hills, and seeing him watching me and smiling.

He was my Uncle George and he is gone now.

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