A PAINTED BLUE and gold sign posted outside the modest Airy Hill, St Joseph home of Lorna Knight reads Happy Independence.
To passers-by it is a clear sign that here lives a true Bajan who not only loves the land of her birth, but wants the world to know it.
As Barbados nears its 50th anniversary of Independence, Knight has been dusting off prized artefacts she collected from many sources over the years and putting them on display, in the hope that everyone viewing them appreciates what they represent.
They are certainly reminders of “a fantastic childhood” in the rural neighbourhood where residents bonded and the sense of family was real.
The eighth of 14 children, Knight recalls a childhood when the happy sounds of children at play conveyed a sense of contentment in a community that made much of the little they had.
On a sultry day in a quiet Airy Hill, Knight was sitting in a traditional Barbadian “three-corner” chair, painted bright gold, beside a blue and gold-painted table on which sat a large clay “monkey”.
With a sweeping glance across the surrounding area she said: “Growing up in Airy Hill, we always had a lot of fun. The neighbourhood was full of children in the sixties.
“Over to the left-hand side we had Miss Kellman with 13, my mother had 14, Miss Chase had about 13 but she ended up with about 18; Miss Alleyne had about 13.”
Knight’s home is higher along the rising hill at the bottom of which she was born on September 20, 1956.
A stone’s throw away from the house is a standpipe similar to the one near her childhood home where residents gathered to fetch water and do other household chores such as washing. After assisting with the family’s livestock, neighbourhood children took their bath there before heading off to St Anne’s Primary school.
School began promptly at 8:45 in the morning but the family’s sheep, rabbits and backyard stock had to be taken care of before you could get to that stage.
Knight enjoyed her “schooling” at St Anne’s, but her entry to the secondary level was brought to a disappointing halt when her mother’s illness pushed the then 13-year-old into the role of caretaker for her siblings.
She had gone on to the secondary level only two years before at the then West St Joseph, popularly referred to as House Hill School (now Grantley Adams Memorial).
Listening to her talk of her early school life, one gets a sense of the industriousness of Barbados’ mothers of yesterday, how they managed to cope while raising large families.
Knight’s father worked at a small plantation, which is still visible from the Airy Hill home, and the family lived on the ground provisions stored under the cellar of their house.
Those were definitely not the days of fast food. In fact, Knight said: “Mother would bring lunch around midday – bakes, dumplings with butter and lemonade to drink. Sometimes you had just water. Sometimes in the morning before going to school you just had butter biscuits and pear leaf water to drink.”
Yet, she does not view that as a period of her life when she felt deprived. The wealth was found in the camaraderie that existed among the families and the interaction between the children of the neighbourhood.
“Life was so happy,” she recalled. “Growing up in Airy Hill I played cricket, road tennis, marble cricket, road tennis. When you were playing on mornings from nine o’clock, you hardly got hungry because there was so much to eat –mangoes, hog plums, guavas, gooseberries, golden apples, the almonds, so much there to eat.”
The source was the rich plantation lands of Airy Hill and the lush gullies running through.
Today, as she approaches 60, Knight finds herself again taking care of an ailing brother, after also having had to nurse her late sister.
Remembering the teenage years when she left school prematurely to take on the same role, Knight said: “It was not easy, you had responsibility, but you had to adapt.”
Her attitude as an adult is the same.
This is why the mother of three daughters and a son says she “worked hard” to instil certain values and to cultivate a spirit of enterprise in her children.
“We have had a privilege since Independence,” she said. She wanted her second daughter to be born on November 30, 1976, but fate determined otherwise. Instead she gave birth on November 28 and was forced to remain indoors, unable to participate in the Independence neighbourhood festivities.
Knight’s mother insisted she should not venture outside lest she caught “a lining cold”. But closed doors did not drown out the booming noise of homemade fireworks such as the bamboo bombs made with bamboo from the gully and the young mother enjoyed it all.
This country dweller grew up in a period of improvisation when children made their own scooters, riding carts and rollers and Airy Hill was the ideal spot to ride them. The less adventurous resorted to the familiar games of yesterday, like hopscotch, as the sun sank towards the horizon.
This Bajan regards anything that tells the traditional story of Barbados as a worthwhile keepsake. She treasures the mementoes she has collected, carefully protecting them but also generously sharing them with schoolchildren and anyone else who shows interest.
“I love Independence and I love this country,” Knight said. (GC)