Also By Paul Crooks
A Tree Without Roots: The Guide To Tracing British African And Asian Caribbean Ancestry
The George Crossing
A MEMOIR AWINDRUSH ADVENTURER’S COMING OF AGE
Published by Ancestry Talks 2023
Copyright © Paul Crooks 2018
The right of Paul Crooks to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the copyright, designs and patents act, 1988
This book is so subject to the condition that it shall not by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the author consent in any form of binding or cover other things that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
First published in Great Britain in 2023 Paul Crooks.
Look behind, Look Forward
My Mum and Dad who have drawn on for so much inspiration in life.
my wife, my daughters,
my grandson, Akai,
my nephew Rueben-James
Old folk in Black River like to harp on about the hardship of making ends meet. I don’t know what would have become of me were it not for a pious Mother who did not know what to do with me, a father who taught us to depend on no one – him least of all, an older brother who walked so fast and far ahead, that I never hoped to catch him, old folks with old folks’ tales, and the honourable men of the War Office.
I look down at the murky waters of the Atlantic. I see Mother. I hear her. Black River is the longest river in Jamaica – forty-four miles and black like a Biafran baby. Don’t let me catch you calling Black River a town – it’s a city, it’s the capital of St. Elizabeth,’ she says.
But all that was when I was a boy. Back then, I could not have cared less. To this day, I wonder if Mother could ever have done any better raising a rascal like me. Old folks always say that the female of the species is deadlier than the male. Well, I learned about that long before I ever heard the saying.’
Mother grew up three miles out of town, on captured land, at a place called Parotee. She was a Dunkley before she met Dadda. She was a big, big lodge sister. She knew her Bible. She was Church of England with a Baptist disposition. She was hardback and a strong disciplinarian. That came from a father who never broke a promise to strap her for putting a foot wrong. Mother’s Mother used a nasty-looking cuckoo macka stick to break her behind for forgetting to sweep the kitchen floor. Mother learned shorthand and wanted to find secretarial work as a young woman. She complained Mother Country was forever sending wise English overseers to Jamaica. They have been coming for more than a hundred years, these wise men with powers of unfettered wisdom.
The Chinese were sent to push pen on the rung beneath the Englishman. I will never understand why the blasted Chinese man had to leave all the way from China to come and take jobs Black people could well do. But if you don't like it, then I suppose you must go elsewhere to look for work. And people did. So many upped and left for Panama, Cuba, and America.
Mother followed the exodus to Cuba. That is how Mother became worldly wise. She became secretary to some high-ranking policeman when she was only nineteen years old. Every other day, local Cuban women rounded on her. 'Too many Jamaicans and not enough work! Must stop the Jamaicans from taking our jobs,' they said. She hadn't been there six months when she fell for Dadda, then fell ill. Who knows exactly when she met Dadda; she never says. The man Mother fell for had to be over six feet tall, for she herself was the daughter of a goliath of a Cuban man. She says Dadda was born on Crooks' land in the Parish of Westmoreland. He was the first of ten children taught to read and write by his father, a one-legged farmer-come-teacher, a black man who old folks say was almost white. She never said how Dadda came by his tract of land. Only the rich own large tracts of land: the odd cow, a few goats, and a sign telling trespassers they will be shot.
When I was young, my sister Hya told me - in secret - that Dadda was a big crybaby. Dadda cried when his cows became diseased and died. He cried when his prize bull died. Everybody from miles around came to look at the dead meat. He cried when his first wife died soon after the cows died. He cried for everything; he even shed tears when he was laughing. Dadda disembarked on Cuban land, crying like a baby. He worked for the Cuban railway line before finding work as a policeman. Dadda cried when they discharged him from the Cuban police force. This was after he was found passed out on the toilet. Mother took Dadda back to Black River, to the St. John's Anglican Church, to exchange vows in Spanish. He cried all the way to the ceremony.
I don't know much about the four children they had between them before they got married. That's what happens when you're the youngest - the wash-belly of the family; nobody tells you anything. I have four sisters. I’m three years younger than my sister Hya and five years younger than Ethlyn. I was never old enough to ask how old my sister Miss G is. I just know Miss G was old enough to be betrothed to Clifford Smith by the time I was seven years old. My eldest sister, Miss I, had become Mistress Dudley Miller by then. The Colonel - the man Mother told me I must call Brother - is even older than my eldest sister and her husband, Mister Miller. Me and my friends used to call him The Colonel – but only behind his back.
Mother says, ‘George, do you want a piece of the bread pudding I jus' baked?’ She sweeps over the dining table with her hand. A few sand particles lodge. ‘George, where all this sand come from? Look, your hair! Full of it! I thought I told you… Wait! Go and get the strap. I goin' give you your first man-size beating!’
Clifford says, ‘Mother Crooks! Don't tell the boy you're goin' to beat him! Just hold him and beat him! That is not a girl chil' yo' raisin', it is a boy! Bend the rod if you love the child.’
Mother kisses her teeth to let Clifford know to mind his own business.
Clifford is a very black man. Mother kisses her teeth every time he comes around looking for my older sister, Miss G. Mother says, 'he likkle but him talawa'. Man or woman, you don't see many smaller than Clifford in town, but he carries himself like the sheriff you see in the flicks all the time; he is always picking up for some weak somebody or other. Clifford is one drinking man you do not mess with and, boy, how he loves to argue and fight every minute. You better run when he is ready to shoot off his mouth. Whether you're black or mulatto, or even if you're white, you better choose your words carefully to stay on the right side of him. Clifford reads the Jamaican Gleaner religiously; that is why everybody says nothing can happen in Mother Country and Clifford don't know. There is nothing Clifford can't tell you about Mother Country. He can tell you the whole of its history from someone called Alfred the Great to the King that rides in expensive buggies outside Buckingham Palace. Clifford says the history of Mother Country is the greatest history of all. That I know. I just do not get it when he says things like, ‘an uneventful history is no history at all,’ and ‘a people without a war are a people without a history.’
Clifford leans toward me, singing the immortal song.
And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England's pleasant pastures seen?
… I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land
Mother says, ‘Clifford is tone deaf.’
‘Hear Clifford,’ they say, ‘breath is the only sure source of hope.’
Mother flaps at mosquitoes. A moment lapses, and the mosquitoes regroup around her. Mother says, ‘Clifford, you stay there in that corner and keep your behind shut! In fact, come out of my yard before I take buckshot and shoot you in it. I don't want to hear not'ing from you.’
‘Mother Crooks, is that how you want a woman to speak to your son when him ready to marry?’ Clifford grins in my direction. ‘Son, why would a future mother-in-law talk to a future son-in-law like that, heehn?’
‘Mother, is Clifford really going to be your son, in whatever 'in-law' means?’
Mother snaps, 'Clifford! Stop tell de boy foolishness!’
‘It no' foolishness,’ Clifford says. ‘Foolishness is when old folks tell their grandchildren all kind of stories about duppy. No' true?’
‘Go 'way! Ghost story no' do children any harm,’ Mother says. ‘Duppy know who to frighten.’
‘Heein! No wonder this country can't make any progress. Too much ignorance.’
Mother says, ‘Yo' thoughts and actions control yo' fate.’
‘Ah, see! You carry on believing that. Trickle takes time to turn into a big gush. Better you make the boy think good thoughts, and he will turn into a better somebody. What you sow, you shall reap. You mark my words.’
Mother frowns, lowering herself into the rocking chair by the window overlooking High Street. ‘I don't know who tell your sister to bring a man like that into the house,’ she says, looking over at the King of Kings looking down on her. Mother says, ‘Miss G must have been drinking mad-puss-piss to bring home a man so brazen and sharp.’ Mother chirps long and hard when Clifford says he's going to make my sister his wife as soon as he has enough money.
By the time Miss G left home to marry Clifford, Dadda had left Mother, leaving her with nothing but his notebook, and not so much as a goodbye.
My sister Ethlyn always talks about how she used to watch Dadda belch around the dinner table as he wrote in his notebook. She says she could smell dinner waft after each belch. She tells me Dadda used to call the notebook his diary. He was always scribbling numbers in the book. When I ask why he used to write numbers in a diary, Ethlyn says she cannot tell me because she never thought of asking.
The man about to take the photograph prepares, he tells Miss I and Mister Miller to step onto two sky blue sheets sewn together. I'm wondering if any photograph is going to be taken at all with all the fuss he makes setting up outside the bakery. It's no wonder the man taking the photograph is taking so long. Look at Mister Miller eyeing the empty rum bottle a few inches away from the sheet. It's how I look when someone taxes me for a piece of bun I didn't want to give.
When I see my eldest sister, Miss I, standing beside her husband, I wonder about Mother. I wonder if she fell over – like I almost did - the first time I saw Mister Miller tippy-toeing to kiss Miss I on the cheek? Mother says Mister Miller is my brother-in-law. And when I don't know what Mother means, I just say, ‘Yes, Mother.’
Mister Miller says, 'The background is dark. Make sure y'u have enough light. The last time y'u take a picture with me and my wife, y'u make us look like we come from Guinea. This time make sure y'u take the picture properly.’
The man taking the photograph says, 'No worry yourself.'
‘Me not paying a penny if y'u make me look like the Guinea man!’ Mister Miller says.
‘Steady! Say 'God save the King!'‘
‘My sister, Hya, wants to know if there really is such a place called Guinea?’
‘Ethlyn says, 'Of course.' Turning to Mister Miller, she asks, 'Where yo' say Guinea is again?'‘
‘In Africa,’ he says.
‘Hear Hya, Missa Miller, is it Africa yo come from?’
‘Missa Miller's face resembles a wild hog when he says, 'Me? y'u mus' be joking! Me?'‘
‘Concentrate on what yuh doing,’ Miss I says. ‘And look at the camera. Let the man take the picture so he can go 'bout his business.’
‘Yes, I,’ says Mister Miller. ‘But did y'u hear your likkle sisters jus' say that me look like Guinea. They are cheeky and out of order! They have no manners!’
‘They never said that, now concentrate,’ Miss I says.
‘Steady again! Smile!’ the photographer calls.
‘Is Uncle Clifford from Guinea?’ Hya asks.
‘Ethlyn says, 'He must be? He is black like tar.'‘
‘Hear Hya, Lord, Uncle Clifford and Miss G going to end up with a Guinea baby?’
‘Maybe. Maybe not,’ says Ethlyn. ‘Miss G is lighter than Clifford.’
‘Not much,’ says Hya. ‘I am not black like Guinea? Am I?’
‘No. You dark, but I you not Black like tar.’
‘Enough,’ Miss I says quietly. ‘This conversation is getting out of hand.’
The man taking the photograph says, 'Mister Miller, better you take your hand from Miss I's neck. You look like you trying to climb her. Better you hold her hand. Miss I, better you remove your shoes. I going take you from the knee up.'
When the man taking the photograph finishes, Miss I takes Mister Miller's hand and gets ready to cross the road. She waves to The Colonel on the other side.’
The Colonel - the man Mother tells me I must call Brother - calls to Miss I from the other side, 'Miss I! Hold on tight to the likkle boy's hand as you cross the road!'
Mister Miller looks up at Miss I and says, 'I. Talk to your brother. He is feisty and out of order.'
Miss I calls to the Colonel, 'Massa! You don't have any work to do over at Courthouse?'
The lawless are walking the streets, and I too wonder why the man mother says I must call brother isn't busy passing judgement on bad people. He always says he is too busy when I ask him to take me upstream to look at alligators. It would be better if he says it is too dangerous, but he doesn't because it is not. Miss I tells him he's not setting a good example to the Wash Belly – that's me. Sometimes my sisters call me baby George, and that mads me even more.
‘Miss I,’ says the Colonel, pointing at me. ‘Look! Look how George is almost as tall as Mister Miller, and the child is only nine years old.’
‘That's another thing that makes me mad. I am nine next month, and the man mother tells me is my brother carries on like he doesn't know.’
So when I throw away the ace, it reminds me I have but one Mother who taught me there is but one God. God the father in heaven; not the father who left mother to fend for herself.
Old folk like to talk about death all the time. Mother doesn't just say who passed and when, she likes to tell how Mister so and so died – he might have been riding his horse. She might say, 'The drunkard tip backwards and came off.' You could hear his head split when it touch the ground, 'Thud!' Miss somebody or other saw him fall and all you could see was blood pouring from a deep crack in his head. Blood everywhere. Mister so and so's eyes rolled over and all you could see was the white of his eyes. Then he stopped breathing. Or so the story goes.
I reach the St Johns Anglican church, and as usual, all I can think about is death, especially when I catch sight of the stone wall and railings. I see the lovely coloured bible pictures in glass windows overlooking graves. I pray that when I am old, that God will come for me in my sleep. I don't want to feel any pain, like the drunkard must have when he split his head. I hope they lay me to rest under the gaze of the Virgin Mary, like the great and the not so great do.
by Paul Crooks (Author) | eBook | EPUB format
Descendants, a fictional novel and followup to Ancestors, tells the coming-of-age story of George Crooks, a feisty and spirited underdog. His mother is hardworking, subdued, and barely tolerates him in a time when the social order is fettered by the legacy of slavery. Eventually, Charlotte sends George across the Atlantic Ocean to post-war England. Along the way, an assortment of colorful and eccentric characters contribute to the education of young George, paving the way for a remarkable tale. Rarely are complex political issues of the Caribbean space handled with such a light touch and humor.
This ebook offers more than just an epic novel; it serves as a gateway to rich information, connecting you with the narrative of where your Windrush story origins in the UK. Look for the link/URL within that may bring you closer to valuable insights into your Windrush history and perhaps living relatives.
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