Lots of Laughter: Praise for the Good Old Days
by Combie, Valerie
The Early Years in Cedar Grove
I could not wait for the morning to break. I was wide awake, but the alarm had not gone off. I must have had enough sleep. A searching glance at the luminous hands on the clock indicated that it was 2:30 a.m. I made a quick calculation and realized I had slept for six hours. Was that enough? Didn’t I need seven or maybe eight hours of sleep? But I was wide awake, fully refreshed. Why waste precious time? I turned off the alarm, which had been set for 3:30 a.m., got out of bed, quietly walked to the bathroom, my sanctuary, closed the door, and then turned on the light so that the instant glare would not arouse my sleeping husband. For the next hour, I studied my Sabbath School lesson, read my Bible, and then studied the day’s sections from the three devotional books I read daily. My devotional time each day reconnects me with God and helps me organize my activities for the day.
If it’s Sunday, I will begin the laundry that had been sorted the night before. After completing the laundry, I telephone my friend, whom I will meet at 5:30 a.m. to walk “The Beast”—the long, steep, winding hill that leads from Scenic Drive to the Carambola Road in St. Croix. It’s a challenging hike, but we enjoy the sheer pleasure that leads to exhaustion. After the two-hour walk I return home where I clean up, have breakfast, and then visit the hair dresser to get my weekly wash. After that, I return home and prepare lunch, which I often eat alone. Then I will iron and organize my clothes for the week, grade student papers to be returned the following day, or relax in front of the TV watching a comedy or a classic movie. I may pick fruits from the garden, or I may bake and make a Caribbean fruit punch. Later, I will watch 60 Minutes to end my day. By 8:30 p.m., I will be in bed, having packed my bags for the following morning.
That is only one day, but the pattern is repeated daily, with Sabbath being the only exception. On the Sabbath, I sleep later, not having turned on the alarm the previous night, luxuriating in God’s rest and my body’s well-earned rest.
Every day I’m always occupied working in the garden, cleaning the house, reading, writing, or cooking. Many times I will listen to the radio or watch the television while I’m doing those things. I seldom do one thing only. The multitasker that I am requires me to have more than one iron in the fire. I always have something to do, and if I don’t, I read or write. I have not experienced boredom. I don’t know what it means to be bored because I am always occupied. It seems as if I never have enough time in the day to complete the many tasks and projects I would like to undertake, but God knows why He has given us only twenty-four hours. Maybe I would work myself to death. A dear friend, who is also a relative, insists that I am a workaholic, something I deny vehemently. I rationalize that a workaholic does not know when to stop and I do. I have even been able to ignore chores, read a book, watch a movie, or just relax when I am not in the mood to do any chores. Are those the practices of a workaholic? I think not. On the contrary, I practice my Aunt Gertie’s principle, “I met work when I was born, and I will die and leave it.”
I believe I have been programmed during the era I was born. I cannot speak for all baby boomers, but I can speak for the pre-baby boomers and the baby boomers that were born in my family. We were inducted into the labor force from birth. My initial memories are those of work and work-related activities. I know I did not attend any daycare or pre-kindergarten programs because they did not exist in Cedar Grove where I was born and raised. I do know that my youngest brother, Franklyn, five years my junior, did attend the crèche at the clinic, a pre-school daycare program on the grounds of the St. James Anglican Church and School. In the right hand section of the property, immediately between the St. James Anglican Church and the St. James Anglican School, opposite the church’s graveyard, Aunt Ada Phillips—Loretta, Popee, and Gilkes’ aunt—supervised the children. I don’t know what the inside looked like. I don’t believe the children had little mats or blankets for nap time, nor do I remember seeing painted walls or mobiles hanging from the roof, or any of the superabundance of toys that overwhelm today’s day care centers. I don’t even know what the children did there. I remember that Franklyn went there, and that he and Aunt Ada developed a special relationship so that after he had grown and she had retired, he would walk down her street—streets in Cedar Grove were not named—stop at her gate, and call out a greeting; then they would exchange pleasantries right there at the fence. I don’t know if he even remembers what she taught them in the crèche. I think they were fed there, but I don’t know what the food was.
What I do remember is that while Franklyn was at the crèche, I was in school. I don’t know where George was. Maybe he was also at Aunt Ada’s crèche. George is three years my junior. I remember being a little barefooted girl of four in a romper. I know I wasn’t wearing pampers, because they had not arrived in Antigua yet. I knew as a baby that I wore diapers my mother had made. When they were soiled, she would wash, boil, and lay them out on the stone heap in the yard to bleach in the sun. She would then rinse them in water colored by a small square of blue that she had bought at the store. When dissolved in the water, the blue helps to whiten the whites; she would then hang spotless white diapers on the line. She taught this routine to my older sisters, who may have washed my diapers, but I never washed anyone’s diapers. I was then promoted to cloth panties with elastic in the waist and legs, which my mother may have made. Who would have cared then? We had no overt or publicized incidents of child abuse. We had never heard of such things. If children wandered away from home, they were brought back unabused. Child abductions and the abuse of children were unheard of in our little corner of the world.
One day when my older siblings were running down the church hill to school, so that they could get in line before the school bell rang, I followed them. We lived at Barnes House, where I was born. From my memory, it was a huge shell with four wooden walls; the house was partitioned into living quarters minus the kitchen and bathroom. I know the kitchen was a separate building in the backyard, right in front of the most commonly used door. There was no step. In the place of steps, we would step on a huge rock, then up into the door. The latrine, our outdoor toilet, was a wooden building constructed over a deep hole, with a commode constructed over the hole. That was on the left corner of the property, closest to Mrs. Rachel Henry’s house. The kitchen was closest to Mary-Ann Sterling’s house. We left Barnes House when Uncle Willie was murdered by his nephew, Dennis Heywood, popularly known as Windy. Windy was later hanged.
Barnes House was at the top of the hill, known as “Tapahill.” The house was owned by Mr. Ervin Barnes, the wealthiest man in the village, from whom we were renting. From the front step, we looked straight down the road to the Cedar Grove and Hodges Bay Main Road. To the left was south Cedar Grove, known as Stevens with “Lapassa” on the eastern side. Behind us, over the hill, was Crosbies Estate where the Westcotts reigned supreme. On the immediate right was Teacher House, which may have been thus named because the headmaster of the school lived there. My siblings passed Teacher House, ran down the hill, keeping to the eastern side of the St. James Anglican Church, away from the graveyard, around the huge, brown iron water tank where we ran and hid while we played during recess. They were soon absorbed in the crowd of other children converging on the school grounds from all directions. No one seemed to notice me. I was the barefooted child in the romper, with or without underwear. I don’t know how I escaped the headmaster’s eyes, or the teachers’ supervision, but I know that on a day in 1953 I entered the Cedar Grove School at the tender age of four, and I have been in school ever since.
Teacher Miriam, the teacher of the infant class, which would be equivalent to the pre-kindergarten class in the American educational system, may have kept me in her class because she knew I was another of the Knowles brood, or because she was my parents’ friend. She was the godmother of my second brother, Ferdie. There were other barefooted students in the class, because our parents reserved our best pair of shoes for church and the other pair for school functions such as Empire Day and the Queen’s Birthday celebration. I don’t think those other children had entered school the same way I did. Their parents must have registered them, unlike mine. I got my slate, on which I learned penmanship. I listened to the stories Teacher Miriam read to us, and I learned about Mr. Willie, the pig. I learned the alphabet through the catchy tune with the letters, “ABCDEFG/ HIJKLMNOP/ QRSTU and V/ WXY and Z/ Now I’ve said my ABCs/ Won’t you come and sing with me?” I learned the days of the week, the months of the year, and the times table to another tune, “Twice one is two/ Twice two is four/ Twice three is six/ And twice four is eight….” By the end of elementary school we had learned up to the twelve times table and I had learned to sound words. I learned to read, and I fell in love with reading.
I stayed in school, learning and having fun, and I don’t recall ever being registered. I now wonder if I just followed my siblings, or if I did actually get dressed and show up as a fully registered student. I don’t recall my mother putting out my clothes as she would have done for the others, or if my older siblings were assigned that task. Those memories are buried in the far recesses somewhere, but I know I did go to school. That early entrance could have seriously affected my education and may have been the reason why I dropped out at the tender age of ten. But that is another story.