My Island Leguan Blog

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Godfrey Chin the man, the author January 17, 2012

Filed under: Guyanese-Author,Nostalgia,Obituary — Leguanite @ 3:26 pm
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Godfrey Chin

He was the author of the very popular Nostalgia series in various media and 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 come.”

Mike on his Bike


The popsticle lady December 8, 2010

Filed under: Nostalgia,Sookrams — Leguanite @ 6:56 pm
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If you lived in Phoenix Leguan you will remember Mrs. Sookram. They had a sweet shop at the end of the village just before the backdam road. Every afternoon about  three or four o’clock she or her husband would walk down the street with their flasks or coolers selling custard blocks or coolaid – for about a penny or 5 cents.  That was our kind of ice cream on a stick except it wasn’t on a stick.  On a hot day, that went down well.

     The Sookram were dark-skinned people, very short  and lives a quiet life.  Mrs. Sookram had a very fine voice. They had two children a boy and a girl.  You know, I can’t even remember their names.  I know my friend from Florida will remember, he has a good memory.  The son and me were in the same class and he used to act more Black than East Indian.  He had many black friends and the only Indian boy who used to attend the village dances and so on. He was a good dancer for an Indian guy.  You know although we grew up so close that East Indian people did not go to dances etc. they were more strict with their daughters but that didn’t stop any hanky panky.  Boyfriends and girl friends met by the light of the moon under mango or star apple trees or under the cloak of darkness under the bottomhouse at night – their parents blind as a bat never suspecting anything.

Anyway the Sookrams provided an important service and made a decent living from selling their coolaid and custard blocks.  They were delicious. It was heavy with vanilla essence and sweet.  It didn’t matter because we didn’t eat as much sweet as the children are today. Oh my God.  No wonder we have a weight problem all over the place.  In Leguan most of our sweet tooth was filled with mangoes, star-apple, sapadilla and papaya.


Memories of my Childhood in Phoenix Leguan December 1, 2010

Filed under: Leguan,Nostalgia,Phoenix — Leguanite @ 6:28 pm
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Leguan schoolgirl in uniform

I went home last year man and I took the big steamer to Leguan. I am afraid of dem lil ting de call speed boat.  De go too fas fuh me and I kiant swim yuh know. Anyway, when I lan pun de Island me taxi was waiting fuh me.  I tink he is one of Silas sons, yuh know Silas the Black man dat had a little night club (grocery store and rum shop) in Louisiana near papa Austin and Mrs. Barka, he was dere waiting fuh me. He only came because me cousin, James Garden son, Claudie, sen him.  It was a flying visit because when we touch down, the ship captain or somebody dere announced dat the steamer will be going back  in two and a half hours time which did not give me much time fuh visit but betta little dan non at all.  I wuz going to see me sick uncle James.  Dere were a few changes along de way like de Island now gat electric lights and de roads a little betta. Wen I get to Phoenix and passing me old School – Success CM School – it was just a shell of its farmer self. Dey really need a new school dere. It wuz depressing to look at. Memories of happy times flood over me like a big wave from the sea it overlooked. I had good times. De school was new, the yard well kept. We played rounders and all kinds of games in dat yard.  

I rememba teach Vira who used to teach Std II downstairs and the licks she’d put on you if you misbehave but she loved us – all of us kids she loved. We didn’t mind getting de lickin sometimes. 

As I passed her yard, I remember how as kids we used to call out to her “Goodaftanoon teach Vira” and she would say something sweet like, “goodafternoon sweetie” or goodaftanoon deerie” and such nice words. We na accustom to nobady taking like dat to us so we sucked it up a lat. I rememba we kids used to compare what words sheh used for us.

Anyway, Phoenix was just the same. Kids were going to school in dere brown uniform and everyting. De only ting dat changed is de people, I didn’t know many ah de young people. I could only connect dem wid through de modda or grandmodda something like dat. I felt good being dere. I felt at home. De peace and quiet, good people, boy you kian buy dat. De only school mate of sorts dat I connected wid was Desiree Nedd. Sheh still in Phoenix in her cousin Rinty House. Rinty and her Bajan husband left to go to Barbados now dat Barbados is considered a “developed country”.  Good fuh dem.

Ah saw Uncle James, me cousin ardered up some bad fried rice from  fram a caterer next door – cousin Mary Data she had a broad named Frankie Nedd (ah tink is he girlfriend) – delicious. Good Guyanese cooking wid fresh ingredients.  We washed dat down wid some coconut wata he pick from back yard and dessert was fresh sweet mango.  Yuh don’t find dat kind of smooth sweetness here in Canada. Most a de mangoes you spend big bucks on are forced ripe.  We hurried down de food and de taxi was ready to tek us back to La Bagatelle to catch de steamer.

 I felt sad leaving but even dough I liked de place it’s nat de same witout de friens I grew up wid. You  kiant really go back, you just got to move along wid yuh memories. What made Phoenix great fuh me was nat only de landscape but more importantly is de friends and de family dat were part of my life growing up.