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More about Godfrey Chin – Guyana’s social historian January 18, 2012

Filed under: Guyanese-Author,personalities — Leguanite @ 4:38 pm
Tags: ,

 

Nostalgic recollections of Godfrey Chin

as recalled by Trev Sue-A-Quan

 

Back in the early 1960s when Guyana’s national hockey team was on top of their game

among the Caribbean nations a novel youth training camp was started for all of those who

wanted to improve their skills at the game. At the time I was the hockey goalkeeper for

Queen’s College, a position I acquired more by default than deliberate choice since

nobody else was eager to take on the role of last defender – the one person to be assigned

the blame when a goal was scored by the opposing team. The hockey camp was held at

the Chinese Sports Club (later renamed Cosmos) and held on Sunday mornings and there

were drills on attacking, defending, passing, tactics and more. As the national goalkeeper

Godfrey was of course my mentor and his nimbleness and enthusiasm were infectious.

One instance that stands out was when he shifted to his right to block a shot from that

direction but the shooter directed his shot to Godfrey’s left. In a flash, while leaning to

the right, he thrust his left foot backwards and neatly deflected the ball with his heel. That

impressed me immensely because the “normal” way of trying to stop the ball was to stand

squarely to the shooter and present the pads as an impenetrable wall. But Godfrey was no

normal athlete. He demonstrated that any action that did the job was to be utilized. As a

youth half a dozen years younger than my mentor I did not leave a great impression on

Godfrey and the only national honours that I can claim was when a national youth squad

was put together to challenge a visiting team from Britain. In fact it was a team scrounged

from the sailors on a warship that was in town for security duty and many of the players

had little idea how hockey was played, or that only one side of the hockey stick should be

used to touch the ball. The Guyana Youth Team did win the game but nothing compared

to the accolades that Godfrey and his team members achieved for elevating Guyana’s

hockey skills to leadership status in the Caribbean region. However, I do have to credit

Godfrey for the training he provided because the skills I acquired led me to become the

1

st XI hockey goalkeeper for the University of Birmingham in 1965.

Many years later Godfrey and I each headed to North America, he to Orlando, Florida

and I to Vancouver, Canada. After the publication of my book

Cane Reapers in 1999

Godfrey came to the fore as one of my enthusiastic promoters and he greatly appreciated

the knowledge gained from my description of the arrival and experiences of our Chinese

ancestors in Guyana. He began to submit articles about his recollections of Guyana in the

past, in witty and down-to-earth style. He emailed me asking how I went about

publishing a book because he was giving thought to putting together a book based on his

emerging articles. I suggested that he should not try to prepare a narrative in a logical

time-based sequence but rather jot down each account or activity as a separate item. Later

he could then stitch them together into a complete story. He also questioned me about

printing and marketing and sought my input about layout, costs, print run numbers,

promotion and the like. GODc, as he then termed himself, did not disclose his full

concept for his book to me but he garnered enough to launch his

Nostalgias. It was like a

breath of fresh air from the Atlantic coming across the Sea Wall. The amazing and

detailed recollections that were resident in his brain were startling to say the least and the

title of the book was a perfect representation of what he had to say.

– 2 –

GODc decided that the best way to promote his book was to do a book tour and he

included Vancouver as one of his talking spots. I invited him to be my guest and he was

adamant in insisting that I not open out the folding sofa-bed and that he preferred to sleep

on the cushions of the sofa which would be less hassle. He brought a large collection of

photographs for which he needed to get a mounting board. He knew exactly what he

wanted and after a few phone calls I located a sign maker that supplied the required largesized

sheets. He also considered buying a projector for his presentation but I advised that

it might blow his limited budget and, through some Guyanese connections, I was able to

rent one at a very reasonable price. He then explained that he wanted to utilize a song by

Dave Martins that would “remember your boyhood days.” I wasn’t familiar with this

particular Dave Martins creation and so we sat around the kitchen table listening to the

CD and transcribing the words into a karaoke-style slide display. After these preparations

were done GODc found the time to indulge in his recreational activity – playing Scrabble

online with others worldwide. Yes, Godfrey was a man of many words . . . and worlds.

There were two events held in Vancouver for GODc. One was at the home of Desiree

(Young) Cheevers where friends and past colleagues of GODc gathered informally.

There were of course many gasps and hugs as GODc recalled past encounters with

attendees, especially the females. His display of photos impressed the gathering as much

as his amazing recall of events of the past. The second gathering was organised by the

local Guyanese Association and held in a church hall. It was there that GODc unpacked

his suitcase filled with streamers, bunting and balloons as well as an electric air pump for

inflating the balloons. It amazed me that the man was so thoroughly prepared, bringing

such stuff across the continent. He overrode my reluctance and insisted that we display a

video of his salsa dance as well as a video of an Elvis routine that I had performed on a

cruise to Alaska . . . all in the way of nostalgia and entertainment. I led the song to recall

boyhood days, much to the appreciation of the audience who indeed recalled the events

that Dave Martins had recorded. But GODc was the man of the moment and he did not

disappoint. He deemed his visit to Vancouver a success even though the sale of his books

covered a portion of his travel costs. But this is what he had anticipated and he was

thankful that his message went over well – that the days of old in Guyana were worth

recalling not only for nostalgic reasons but also for history. That night we posted photos

of his Vancouver visit to folks on his email list. GODc left several copies of his book

with me as “local agent” and they were quickly purchased by enthusiastic believers.

For entertainment and relaxation, Godfrey asked if there was a place to dance salsa. My

wife and I went with him to the appropriate night spot that offered lessons followed by a

session of salsa dancing. He was in his element and was showing some moves that would

impress the instructor. He explained that he was in fact a salsa teacher in Orlando and had

taken part in various hip-flexing events that got him recognized among the salsa activists.

He later sent us a DVD describing the fine points in dancing salsa.

On a visit to Florida in February 2008 my family deliberately set course for Orlando

where Godfrey was our guide for the day. He drove us around in his minivan, which in

itself was an interesting experience because he almost ploughed into a crossing pedestrian,

interrupted only by my sudden exclamation, and it was apparent that his eyesight was

– 3 –

failing, if not practically gone. (This was also evident to recipients of his emails who

would be faced with a display of large-sized bold fonts.) He was a practical host who

showed us the good and bad sides of Orlando while completing his errands, although he

declined to accompany us to Disney Village that night – it was merely Mickey Mouse to

him.

Over the years I have been honoured to be among his “consultants” when GODc needed

clarification of some incidents – perhaps the riots of 1962 or the streets where we lived or

the opening of a cinema or store. But my input was merely in the way of clarification or

confirmation of what was in Godfrey’s encyclopaedic memory. Towards the end of 2011

he needed to know how to arrange materials such that he could easily sort them by date or

place or individual name. I suggested that he needed to learn new tricks by utilizing a

spreadsheet program. He replied that he would try it out but I didn’t hear back from him,

not even to ask, “Ya think it easy?” And now it has come as an immense shock to learn

that GODc has left us when he had so much more to tell. We can only be grateful for

what he had to say in his collection of nostalgic memories that defines the life of

Guyanese in a bygone era.

 

********

Guyanese social history icon and culture enthusiast Godfrey Chin has passed away. He was 74.

Chin was found this morning lifeless on the floor of his Kitty residence.

Godfrey Chin

The divorced father of three sons–two of whom live in the US, while the third is serving in Afghanistan–

was said to be suffering from the flu last week. A relative said he last spoke to him on Saturday.

Chin lived some 27 years in the US and remigrated here two years ago.

He was the author of the very popular Nostalgia series in various media, as well as a book–

 

*******

Godfrey’s

Nostalgias-Golden Memories of Guyana 1940-1980

 

 

exhibitions at various venues across North America, including Vancouver in Canada and in the US in

 

 

Washington DC, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Orlando and in Guyana. He was in the

 

midst of planning an exhibition.

 

Below is his account of life on the street where he lived.

 

“At eight years of age, our family moved to 337 Murray St around 1945 – the northern side next to the

 

corner tower house at Cummings St, where Henry Gomes, the chief pressman of Argosy lived with his

 

huge family. He brought home every major magazine from Life to Man’sWorld, and my exposure to

 

reading and literature began. His house was a virtual library, a treasury from which life’s nuggets were

 

mined.

 

When that family moved around 1950, and the DaCambras from New Amsterdam took their place, my

 

exposure to the arts – drawing, etc, expanded, as Hilary, their second son, was an accomplished artist,

 

and we challenged and encouraged each other continuously in this field.

 

“Opposite, Chuck-A-Sang’s Parlour and Grocery enabled this cookshop-fly to learn entrepreneurship, as I

 

volunteered to help in their business – brewing mauby daily – ordering and packing bread, cakes and

 

pastry. At 14, my investment in reselling comic books was encouraged, as were my DJ services – playing

 

’78s on the juke box in the evening for the customers’ entertainment.

 

“Behind the shop the Chuck-A-Sangs reared pigeons and poultry, and so I was introduced to husbandry.

 

A stage was built behind the coops – weightlifting/bodybuilding was introduced with a team of the

 

neighbourhood waifs vying individually, in fierce competition in any activity that instigated betting, to

 

augment meagre pocket money and earnings. The clashes included dominoes, trup, poker, brag for

 

money, bicycle and foot races. The gamesmanship taught were early lessons in my teenage years among

 

bigger bullies and fanatic ball buridees, all enhancing and expanding my teen years..

 

“Many mornings we rode at dawn to the Camp St Sea Wall for a game of football – had a swim if the tide

 

was in – and returned home in time for school and work. Murray St was our Hell’s Kitchen. A motley crew

 

that called each other by false names, which reflected our character, race, idiosyncrasies and disabilities,

 

all taken in good stride, with fistic fights every so often. Life’s lessons teaching street smarts, that in later

 

years made us ‘icons’ in our respective fields and professions.

 

“In 1953, the elder ruffians left to seek work on the cattle ranches in Rupununi – without success – and

 

actually walked back, discarding all their personal belongings to survive the hazards of the cattle trail. Of

 

course my eagerness to leave school for this adventure was unacceptable to my parents, and I was so

 

relieved at their safe return, with barely their shirts on their backs.

 

“The neighbourhood was an orchard – profuse huge mango trees next door – that seemed to bear

 

perennially, and I had a better pelt than Charlie Stayers. The Houstons opposite, had 2 sapodilla trees

 

and it was regular competition between me, the yawarries, bats, birds and other two-footed denizens

 

who trespassed into my territory. The Taitts in the next block had also several sapodilla and mango trees,

 

and it took a good half hour to harvest your daily 6 o’clock fruit breakfast, which included also dungs,

 

papaws, tamarind, golden and star apple.Under the huge fruit trees the yards were bare – grass na grow,

 

swept dutch clean daily – and so cricket bat and ball were our Test match clashes, preparing us for

 

national games by the time we reached long pants. Wood gun and slingshots were our AK47s, while ya

 

can buy a cigarette for a cent, and learn to smoke playing ‘big man.’

 

“Every father in the neighbourhood was an artisan, hustling a living to feed their nuff picknies. A variety

 

of trades that familiarized us with shoemaking – stuffing fibre mattresses, bicycle repair, building bird

 

cages. At East St corner, DaSilva’s Confectionery taught us to make ‘sweetie,’ as we volunteered to wrap

 

the sour stick, peppermint, butterscotch and nuttin. We even learnt sleight of hand for pocket rewards to

 

sell for matinee bills.

 

“At the print shop around the corner on East St we could learn printing and book-binding, while at Sixth

 

St corner, the Smalls family fascinated us with their debut garden golf. Bottom house table tennis was

 

available and the seasonal Easter kite making and Christmas tree preparation was a learning experience

 

for us promising tradesmen, if we were so hell bent. Career choices were so straightfoward then, as your

 

parents often admonished: “Study your school books, learn a trade or you go to jail.” Mine were

 

convinced I was going to drive a donkey cart for a living.

 

“Musical talent was encouraged. The Rogers family around the corner on Fourth St set the standard, and

 

obliquely opposite a future musical icon Ray Luck and sister Beverly, were practising daily their piano

 

scales. Steel band jamming was available at Quo Vadis and Marabunta’s panyard by Bourda Green, with

 

the annual Christmas costume tramp a neighbourhood collaboration, to match any Brazilian samba

 

school.

 

Typing and shorthand was taught by AE ‘Cowie’ Luck opposite on Cummings St and our neighbourhood

 

sports heroes, Stanley Moore and his son Maurice – national sports stars in football and table tennis, lived

 

two buildings down on Cummings St. Of course the network of alleys, open palings and broken fences

 

made the entire neighbourhood our own personal domain and playground

 

“East St was a flowing canal ideal for swimming, boating and fishing, and I was the ‘champion duck and

 

drake.’ Alya remember that… A flat stone skimmed across the water for the most bounces. Other times,

 

waist deep in the canal, we shied for fish.

 

For movie escapism there was the Empire pit on Middle St. Man, even PHG was 2 blocks away for

 

emergencies such as broken limbs, nail stick, cuts and bruises.

 

“Of course nuff boy children to play with, but also nuff girls to shark, court and puppy love. A harem of

 

innocence, as from age 9 you were taught practical lessons in understanding the opposite sex. The

 

Davilars in our duplex next door had six daring, darling, dougla daughters – and it was a continuous

 

baptism, as the girls would outgrow you, in boyhood retarded adolescence. Girls always outgrew their

 

training bra before we could fill our first bif! Unless this was a Chinese handicap.

 

“Bastiani Funeral Parlour was at Albert and Fifth St, if anyone kicked the bucket. There was the Mystic

 

Friendly Burial Society at the nearby Lodge, to encourage saving, while Zam DeAbreu’s father was a

 

moneylender for short term loans. Tarrant Glasgow, national cycle champion would lime with us, and

 

corner sprints, upright-bicycle races for weekpay stakes, would end in severe brawls, when he was often

 

‘pocketed’ in planned stings. Nuff fight with bottle and stones. Ya think it easy.

 

“We also had our own obeah card reader in the neighbourhood – off limits high zinc fence with nuff

 

traffic after the 6 o’clock bee at dusk.

 

“Our teenage challenge was thus to ‘dress to impress,’ learn to dance soor like a kissadee lest cat eat

 

your dinner. Your first long pants was a sweepstakes winner; your first bicycle meant you can join the

 

ticker parade on the sea wall Sunday afternoon. Lottery was introduced in Guyana in 1981.

 

“The devil took the hindmost. The girls were your buddy friends’ sisters, so we had to be respectful,

 

know our place, or house visits, comic book loans would be verboten. In later years of adolescence we

 

would select our favourites and graduation to proms, parties, socials would be not the battle of the sexes,

 

but brothers, sisters, kissing cousins-camaraderie that made our puberty a delightful experience,

 

preparing us for adult and parenthood.

 

“In our neighbourhood each of us in this challenging environment was a small acorn, which grew into a

 

huge oak tree – our branches making waves – providing comfort and shade in the enclaves where we live

 

today.

 

“In reflecting on the streets where many of my friends lived yesteryear I rejoice in the conviction that

 

their neighbourhood was similar to mine. Ken Corsbie was a corner away on East St; Vibert Cambridge

 

First St, Alberttown; Tony Phillips on Duke St, Kingston; Malcolm Hall on Louisa Row; Wesley Kirton on

 

Pere St, Kitty; Ray Seales on Robb St; Arthur Veerasammy on Carmichael St; Claire Patterson on Hadfield

 

St, Lodge; Aileen Morgan on New Market St; Tangerine Clark on Princes St, Lodge; Chico Khan and

 

Slingshot Drepaul in William St, Kitty. Hell – look how far we

 

 

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