– My Father’s Hometown – St. Elizabeth – Jamaica –
On our last day in Saint Elizabeth, and the day after the reunion banquet I drove my family up the long steep road into the Santa Cruz mountains where my father and his twelve siblings once lived. We had a very large mini-bus and the road was very narrow, but since there is more than one path up, we drove on what we heard would be the easiest path.
We made it to the very top without any issue, but we needed to drive down the mountain on a different route and that is where things became a little sketchy very quickly.
More on that later.
It was Sunday morning and some of the extended family had gone to church . We decided with our group to pass on the church service, get organized, have some breakfast and head up to the area where my dad’s home once stood. We would meet everyone else later for the picnic that afternoon.
Several years ago, my dad’s sister renovated the home that they grew up in. The foundation is the same where the old house once stood. They added onto the house to make it a larger, nicer more modern home. The last time I visited was in 2007 and I think they had just completed building the house a few years before that.
As we arrived, most of us got out of the bus and started browsing around the property. Within, a few minutes, I caught my dad with some leaves that he was putting away in the bus. At the time, I didn’t know what it was. I am accustomed to seeing my dad and my mom usually collecting some local vegetation almost anywhere we go, so I didn’t think much of it.
I know now that what he was gathering were sour sop leaves. The local Caribbean radio stations here in Florida have extolled the health benefits of soursop leaves a lot in the past few years. Funny, how I’ve never heard it mentioned on television. However, the information is out there and if you want to know more, you can check these links.
The views from the top were amazing, so a few of us started snapping pictures of course. It was at times a little over cast but the sun would break out every so often. We were greeted by some distant relatives who live in this community and other neighbors, who invited us to come down for some coconut water.
I took a few more pictures and headed down the path to catch up with the rest of the group.
By the time I got down there, they had already found fresh mangos to eat. I wasn’t in the mood for mangos then, so I continued roaming around taking pictures.
Family History? …well, it’s a long story.
My dad and his brother were surveying the property and recalling the names of relatives that once lived here and the descendants that are still there now.
Since genealogy is not my forte, I didn’t ask my dad and uncle many questions at this time.
If I did I would definitely have to take notes because there is so much family history in these little districts on the mountain. I would not be able to remember anything they told me.
Even today as I write this, I cannot remember, what relatives lived in this area. It’s difficult to understand, because I do not know any of the people they have mentioned and there are no photographs, of most of them, so what I learn by ear unfortunately does not stick for long.
My 2nd cousin or my father’s cousin “Downer” has been the family historian for years and along with his sister Claire they have both put forth a lot of energy, heart and soul, into preserving and unearthing the history of our families in this mountain area.
They have organized all of our family reunions, organized our family tree, started family Facebook Groups, and collected everything related to our family’s history in that region from city records, photographs, and newspaper clippings.
It really is pretty amazing how much information they have gathered just by speaking with family members and other extended family who still live in these districts. Sometimes, I wonder who will pick up this baton when my cousins and my elders are no longer here to share this history with us verbally. I just hope that someone is writing all of it down. Hmm?
After the coconut run, we all got back in our mini-bus and drove over to the picnic area on the other side of the mountain. There was a lot going on. Reggae music was playing, people chatting, and food was being served. I got a plate of curry goat, that I ate pretty quickly. We even had a raffle off for our local relatives.
It rained a few times, but the rain clouds would pass pretty quickly and after it passed everyone would come back out from under the tents. The majority of commotion was coming from the tent where the raffle numbers were being called out. Prizes like clothing and electronics, etc. were given out only to our relatives living in Jamaica.
I really didn’t get as many photos of family as I should have. The afternoon just went by so fast, and after being introduced and re-introduced to so many relatives. It just didn’t seem like there was enough time. The on and off rain also held me back.
There was a big unfinished house overlooking the picnic area, and I saw some of my cousins congregating up there, so I went up the hill to see what was going on. Before I knew it, my dad and my nephew and cousins were on the front porch getting into some deep conversations.
That’s where I met another cousin, who still lives in the area, but to be honest I don’t even remember how we are related now, but all I know is that he is my cousin ha-ha! I told you I wasn’t good with genealogy. Apparently the unfinished house we were trespassing on belonged to either his uncle or father. If any of you family members are reading this feel free to correct me if I am wrong.
When we came back down the hill to the picnic area, we managed to get a bunch of the family together to take a picture. This is not even a quarter of the people that were there, but these are most of the members from the states that came down and a few of our local Jamaican relatives. It really was a great weekend, and beginning Monday, everyone split off to different parts of the island or back home.
God Must Be Our Co-Pilot
This was a very memorable day, but there is one thing that happened that day, that I haven’t mentioned yet. Remember how I said that the roads were very narrow going up the mountain? Well, I had to drive back down the other side which was even more precarious than the other side, and with more dramatic cliffs bordering the edge of the road and no guard rails. A few of my other cousins jumped in the bus with us to catch a ride back down to the hotel. My cousin Duane, got in and saw me in the driver’s seat, and says…”Oh wait! Brian’s driving?” He was visibly shaken and hesitant to move into the bus, but I assured him he would be safe with me driving. Yeah right!
Everything was going smoothly as we were meandering down the mountainside slowly and surely around hairpin turns with cliff side views on our left. The problem began when we came around a turn and there was another mini-bus almost as big as ours facing us! At first, I thought, there’s no way we can do this, than I thought, yes we can. Then as I got closer to the other bus and that bus was as close to the inner wall of the road as it could go, I thought again, maybe we can’t, but we have to!
The other driver folded in his side-view mirror and I folded in mine. Then everyone seemed to start freaking out on me. I looked over at my sister and she had her hand over the left side of her face. I said, “Tracey, you have to help me and tell me if I am ok, on the other side! ” There was not much road left for my tires and the only thing below was dirt gravel and a short inclination before a steep drop. Tracey responded with “I can’t!” I said, “What do you mean you can’t?” “I can’t look!” she says. Then I hear Darren in the back screaming “Stop!” “Let me out!”
I thought he was abandoning ship, but he wanted to get out to see and make sure my tires stayed on what was left of the crumbling dirt/asphalt road. It may not have been much of a problem if I had a small car, but this was a giant 15 passenger bus with my entire immediate family, extended family, and my nephews. Their lives were now in my hands and God’s of course.
Darren jumped out as I was face-to-face with the driver on my right. Remember, the steering wheel is on the right-hand side and I am driving a manual stick- shift. I didn’t want to scrape the other car but I didn’t want to teeter off the side of this road either. At this point, I was committed, and as I blocked out the loud gasps and shrieks from everyone on the bus, I hear Darren from the outside of the bus say, “Go, just keep going!”
I couldn’t stop rolling at this point, because if I did, it is possible that the asphalt could have broken away under the weight of the bus. I kept straight, watching my side as not to hit the other bus and Darren stood on the other side of the bus literally pushing against it, as if he could have stopped us from rolling over with his strength alone.
Once we were clear, I asked Darren, “How close were we?” and he said, “Half of the tires were off of the road and half of the tire tread on the front and rear left-side were still touching.”
After all the prayers were said and done, and Tracey finally lifted her head, we watched my other cousins drive cautiously down behind us, and then we proceeded down the mountainside without any further psychological trauma for my passengers.
When we got back to the hotel and I dropped off my cousin Duane at his hotel, he stepped off the bus, looked at me and paused for a moment. Now, I am not sure the exact words he used, but it went something like this….”I thought I was going to die back there…but you did a good job.”
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