WORD VIEW: The wind-makers
Several years ago in a rural village, a little boy stood with his feet planted carefully on his grandfather’s boots. The small hands holding the cricket bat were covered by much larger hands guiding his. The boy was my younger brother, Henry, and our grandfather was teaching him how to bat.
Grandfather was a left-hander, but he adjusted his stance to suit my brother who was right-handed. My brother was learning how to position his feet and how to hit the ball.
Some years later when Henry became cricket captain at The Lodge School, grandfather was there on Saturday afternoons to watch the matches. Our grandfather was a man of great presence: tall, hale, very dark-skinned and with a laugh that could wake up the dead. I still remember how one of his eyes closed when he laughed, as if shocked at the amount of noise his laughter could generate.
On one particular Saturday, Henry was facing a bowler who was clearly out to intimidate him. But he stood up to the bowling. After all, fear was not something his grandfather had taught him. When Henry hit his first four runs, my grandfather was on his feet, “Dat is my grandson! Who wunnuh t’ink wunnuh playing wid!” He accompanied this exclamation with his characteristically boisterous laugh.
Henry said he felt a little embarrassed at first, but that feeling disappeared when several of the other spectators joined in grandfather’s laughter, sharing the obvious pride and delight this older man felt in the achievement of his grandson.
My brother did not go on to play for the West Indies. Instead, he won an overseas athletic scholarship. His event was the triple jump. He is also a karate black belt.
My brother is the first to attribute his athletic successes to the early teaching of his grandfather. It was not just cricketing skills that Henry gained, but the confidence that he could achieve because his grandfather made him believe that he could. (No doubt,a this confidence was bolstered further by the fact that grandfather taught him to drive a truck when he was only 12 years old.)
The point is that such a youngster is likely to grow up believing that achievement and success are never beyond his reach.
Our grandmother was no less a significant influence in our lives. She was devoted to helping in the care of her grandchildren.
In those days when money was not plentiful, people had to be creative. My siblings and I remember granny washing the area around a “nail juck” and applying saltfish skin to the puncture. It healed. She would squeeze the juice of “bird vine” leaves on cuts and rub candle grease on inflamed or swollen areas.
We got castor oil to purge us, worm oil to kill any intestinal mites, Canadian healing oil to get rid of a chest cold and an application of “oil leaves” and warm coconut oil to chest and back if the cold became persistent. Cod liver oil, shark oil, Scott’s Emulsion and Ferrol helped to build up our constitution.
Our grandmother was a resourceful woman in spite of her quiet demeanour. She was church leader, vendor, excursion organizer and choir member. At the same time, she could build a pig pen, a rabbit pen or a chicken coop.
As I look back, I realize that my grandmother was teaching her granddaughters, by example, that we could put our hands to any honest task no matter how challenging or how humble. She taught us that we had to be responsible; already limited resources were not to be taken for granted or wasted.
Our grandmother taught us that we did not have to be loud and aggressive in order to be effective leaders. Our grandmother taught us something that many seem to be forgetting these days, and that is, that our offspring are to be cared for.
For me, my grandmother’s greatest legacy was her faith for which I am eternally grateful. As young adults, we reached the stage where we were only too glad to be rid of the mandatory church-going and the restrictions as we saw them then. Time and experience have taught us otherwise, though of course some sifting has been necessary.
What we now have a deeper appreciation for, is that something greater than our grandmother and other people of faith kept them going; some wind that gave them extra grace and would not let them fall.
• Esther Phillips is head of the Division of Liberal Arts of the Barbados Community College. She is also a poet and editor of BIM: Arts For The 21st Century.