I can’t remember her name, it was so long ago sitting on the floor of that kindergarten class room, black cotton afro well when I combed it thoroughly. My teacher had silver and white hair, skinny iron framed glasses covering her small blue skittled colored eyes she bellowed “Howard read a page from Cat in The Hat Green Eggs and Ham by Dr.Suess”. I was nervous reading, everyone knew I spoke “funny” or in other words with an accent. Filling my chest with air as if it were courage I took a deep breath.
It was 1982-1983 in Jamaica, my father was gone ah foreign, he made his transition to America the land of opportunity living in Milwaukee, WI. Peter Josephs, a stocky, handsome, charming, educated, out spoken, funny, highly intelligent being was the sun blazing in the center of our solar system. My dad worked as a engineering technician. My mother still living in Jamaica at the time with myself and little sister Paula who was just a baby with a face with cheeks so chubby you would think she was a well fed cabbage patch baby. Hyacinth– what a beautiful name– named after a royal purple flower, my mother embodied it as if she ran in the blood line of kemetic deities,– she worked in the hospital. I remember living in Kingston then Crooked River. Kingston was hot busy hustle and bustle. I have scenery in my mind of peeking through windows looking out seeing other children playing, but I was in trouble. Pulling tails off small lizards that would grow back, nature outside the sweet air and sunshine powered my constant energy, boldness and curiosities. My mother said she was tired of hearing them call my name every minute so, my time inside T.V. became my pacifier.
We are heading to Crooked River to stay with my granny. Sistah Buhrie! Everyone in the community calls my granny by that name. High spirited spiritual, take no ish, strong and vocal woman a presence in the church. What a great woman humorous lovely, I can smell fried plantain, ackee and saltfish, roast breadfruit, star fruit full of ripe red color clinging to branches in the tree in the yard, milk thistle growing along the side of the house early morning asking to go cut some to make tea, my uncle Jeffrey frying some big banana fritters asking me to grater some nutmeg to put in, I couldn’t wait to pour honey on one and syrup on another. The smell of the rain and earthy aromas of red clay and dirt is a wondrous thing, staring through the window rain drops tat tat tat against the glass a picture of paradise woke me from my sleep like melodies of music. The house was off the side of a long rocky country road which I would occasionally run along barefoot as if bare feet had me connected to the earth. Granny would come out on the veranda that was partially shaded under a thick tree canopy and green botanicals sprouting around the side of the house where there was a small gate to enter the yard off the road a step down when you’re entering in. The sun was showing in the sky like a gold obelisk reflecting light on itself. Granny steps off the veranda and goes to the chicken coop and brings out a chicken. I have seen her clean a chicken, feathers and all, but I hadn’t seen this. I remember the chicken neck twisting like a wash rag when you’re ringing out the water. She smiled looking to see my response, I gazed watching the body of the chicken twitch she placed it on a chopping stoop and drew a blade slicing the head off, I said chicken blood. She began to clean it the head of the chicken floated in a bucket of water eyes still blinking I thought poor chicken ,but you’re going to feed us.
Passports we have to go take pictures Howard. My mother talked of America and so did a lot of Jamaicans, how we had a great educational system, but no economic opportunity. America land of the free home of the brave all the time I spent in front of the television I thought Wizard of Oz, City of Gold, Frosty the Snow Man, Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer, Super Hero’s, The Wild West, My parents getting work anywhere they wanted high pay to buy anything. The children are like the Brady Bunch, no crime no violence, I could be anything. Jamaica the country is slow the city is ruff. Where there’s poverty there’s crime we just wanted a better life because we thought ours wasn’t that good or were we made to feel that way from all we saw and heard from others. I my mother and sister headed to Kingston on a bus which flew down hilly roads bending curves that tight roped cliffs and when you looked at the view you felt like you were on top of a roller coaster. Kingston city was in turmoil it was election time JLP and PNP parties were fighting like the democrats and republicans the blood and the crips the vls and gds, the leaders were like gang leaders and their followers lives depended on them getting into office. Fights and killings would break out anywhere and people were told not to travel during certain times. Here we are in the city to get pictures for passports to America. Imagine the view out the eyes of a 5 or 6 year old as in height. It was hot we are dressed for picture taking to go to America excited almost skipping my way holding my mother’s hand while she carries my sister. Shots fire automatic rapid bup bup bup bup bup! Screams If I were streaming live visual from my then height it would look like a camera phone slapped from the holders hand. My mother’s voice heightened Oh my God frantic looking for somewhere to go as we ran directionless. I felt my body lifted as my mother threw me under a table and ducked under as well, we waited military style police came and we continued to our appointment for pictures and the embassy. 1, 2, 3 say cheese I was ready to just go home and forget about going to America.
The plane ride had me terrified at first like Mr.T from the A-team, but my mother always knew how to soothe me. Riding on wind propelling through the sky heading to America the land of dreams my dimples sunk in my cheeks thinking. I kept wondering if everything I saw on Television would be just like I saw it or all I had heard people say dreaming about going. Approved I felt special they are letting us into Disney land no Willy Wonka and the Chocolate factory. I am going to play in the snow, make now balls, make a snow man, make snow angels I can’t wait hopefully catch Santa at Christmas. I open my eyes from a short nap in the taxi cab look out the window it’s actually snowing it looks like those balls you shake and it snows but this was real. We arrive at my Grandmas house on the northwest side of Milwaukee. The cab driver starts helping take things out the trunk my mother steps out I come out behind her as I step out it looks like we are inside one of those balls and God shook it wow this is beautiful. As I look at the wondrous snowfall and powdered layered scene AHHHH ump my mother slips on a sheet of ice are you alright you ok right on her butt she fell hard like the concert knocked her tailbone welcome to America I guess. I didn’t want to go in the house not just yet I want to touch it! I grabbed snow trying to throw a snowball it was light not together not solid freshly fallen, what is this hmmm I stuck my tongue out to catch snowflakes like I’d seen on television. It was cold the more I clumped it together to make a ball and solid my hands got colder it was cold outside wet cold and I’m going inside.
It was time for school besides my cousins and friends from my granny on my father’s side house and neighborhood I had made friends with Dan and Tim they lived within blocks and I would stop by each ones house and gather everyone to walk together to school. Our house was about four or five blocks from my granny house at which we had arrived to America to greet everyone initially. I and all my friends would get across the main street everyday with the help of Nancy the crossing guard I kept some pocket change for afterschool for penny candy. The transition from Jamaica to America was fast school, jobs, home. Mrs.Shimmelfinny ahhh Mrs.Shimmelfinny I remember her now porcelain skin blue veins running in her hand like gummy worms. I was past the first day my mother dropping me off and walking away while the teacher saying it will be ok, then introducing me to the class and everyone later asking me questions, about Jamaica and why is my voice funny I didn’t like the attention. One day after school it was just me and Tim left on the walk home he asked if I wanted to come over. We walked to my house and I asked for permission and walked about two or three blocks to Tim’s house. Tim was short with black hair skinny, he could cuss, spit far, drool spit, spray shower spit, laugh like a donkey, he’d pinch you, punch you in the arm and loved to put his hand under his arm pit and make fart noises. Tim always talked about girls boobs etc. he kept me laughing I guess he thought I was cool. He was like a little grown man. We get to his house and Tim introduces me to his older brother and sister and his mother and father. Tim tells me while everyone is in the living room, tell them where you’re from; I said I am from Jamaica his sisters reply’s is he black? My mind goes into thought I’m not responding I think black yes is there something I don’t understand in America culture what does that mean. Tim says no he’s Jamaican he’s not black and everyone said oh ok your Jamaican hey mon and just like in school a flood of questions I didn’t like the attention. I had a friend who was from Laos and he said the same thing he’s not black he’s Jamaican when introducing me to his family I could go to most of my friends’ houses and sleep over etc. I could hear many times in my head you’re not black your Jamaican.
I finished reading the page for Mrs.Shimmelfinny and thought about the previous week and what happened at Tim’s house. I had to say something after school I went by Tim’s house I asked if everyone was home he said yes. Tim’s mother, brother and sister where home I really wanted to talk with his sister. She was a rock and roll teenager blonde streaks, biker gloves, chains, steel toe boots, braces and smoked cigarettes. She was smart besides her rebellious ways staying out late having a boyfriend she excelled in school. I was full of breathe I was full of courage I thought out my question I needed answers. What did you mean by if I was black, the living room became my forum I had an audience that I knew would give me answers they talked so freely among each other the parents and the children about everything nothing was off base and they all cussed I guess I felt they had no reason not to be honest with me. She looked and was focused on my lips and facial expression, I am black and I’m from Jamaica there’s white Jamaicans Chinese etc. She said no I didn’t mean anything by it, your cool it’s just I don’t have any black friends or really ever wanted, hanged out with any not many are into the things I do. I still didn’t have an answer to this feeling that I never experienced in Jamaica skin color or our differences was never introduced to me. America has some of the same problems as Jamaica but this was different. Racism, prejudice, these things are taught we are more similar than different and that is not a dream.