Chapter 5

CHAPTER 5  Fairy Hill, Jamaica.

 

Frenchman’s Cove, the neighboring property, was an exclusive resort comprising forty-five waterfront acres of magnificently landscaped tropical gardens. Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh took holidays there. So did Princess Margaret and countless other heads of state and movie royalty.

          Frequently, as we sat around The Blue Lagoon enjoying our evening cocktails, the resort owners zigzagged through the palm trees in their open-topped jeep to join us. They were a friendly couple who usually dressed in khaki shorts and shirts with pith helmets. I half expected to see them drag in a dead tiger or two. Despite the congenial evenings, I was always the odd man out, both by having no escort and by my continual sense of ‘never fitting in’. My recovery and growing happiness was a solitary thing.

 Grainger Weston was the son of Garfield Weston, otherwise known as The Cookie King of Canada. The “Who’s Who” of this world meant nothing to me but they were nice people. When Robin told me that his own family was included in the American “Who’s Who”, I responded with a shrug of my shoulders. My mother had always raised her children to judge a person by their character, not by material wealth or social standing.

      Sitting around the lagoon at sunset, eating pit-roasted, crackling pork from greasy fingers and slurping up exotic cocktails, I was experiencing ‘the good life’.  Night and day, the exotic sounds of reggae music burst forth from The Tea House distracting me with its rhythm. It had been a long time since I had really danced. Pleasant as our evening rituals were, as time passed, I longed to slip away and join the ‘poor natives’ who were letting it all hang out, grooving to the beat.

 The seventies were so different! You either belonged to a ‘white’ segment or a ‘black’ segment and the two rarely mixed.

 One night, the music’s temptation became too great. After Liz and Robin retired, I snuck down to The Tea House. With Julius and family bound by secrecy, it became a nightly event. I was, of course, the only white customer. Sweat-soaked and happy, I managed to get a few hours sleep each morning before writing again. For me, dance was always a passion and passion of any kind had been missing for too long.

I suspected Robin guessed my nocturnal habits after I too began taking afternoon naps. He probably thought it was all about ‘nookie’ for he had never known the thrill of uninhibited dance, being imprisoned by the sedate ‘white man’s’ shuffle. Respectable people weren’t supposed to let their hair down the way Rita Hayworth did. Or the way Ava Gardner did, or the way I sometimes did. Music and dance were bringing me back into the human race.

 

 

          It was a Saturday morning and we seldom wrote on weekends.

          “Do you want to come for a ride with me, Junie Moon?” Robin asked.

          “Where to? Is Liz coming?”

“She’s still sleeping. I’m going to buy some eggs. The old guy is in his eighties but you might find him interesting.”

“Sure. I’ll come,” I replied.

          After a fifteen-minute drive, Robin turned the old sedan off the road and, with the engine laboring, we drove up a perilously steep, rutted, dirt driveway. Reaching the top, he spun the car around to face downhill then pulled up in a cloud of dust and spurting gravel before cutting the engine. As we got out of the car, fowls ran underfoot in the unkempt garden at the rear of a run-down, timber house with sagging shutters. A large, meaty Jamaican woman with a mahogany face worn out from life was hanging clothes on the line. I estimated she was in her sixties and I marveled at her hair which was thick and shiny black, pulled back into a loose braid like that of a young girl.

          Squinting into the sun, she yanked a wooden clothes peg from her mouth and called out, “Hullo, Mr. Moore. I’ll be with you in a minute.” She had that musical rise and fall of the Jamaican accent which I loved.

          “No hurry,” Robin replied. “Where is Mr. Jackson today? Is he sleeping?”

          “No. He’s sitting on the front porch, enjoying the view.”

          Robin frowned. “How can he enjoy the view? He’s blind.”

          “As a bat,” she agreed, continuing to hang the clothes. “The Parkinson’s getting worse but still he likes to look out towards the ocean. He said the smell of the ocean brings the pictures back to his mind from the days when he could see it.”

          Her poignant comments touched me. “That is beautiful but also sad,” I said. She ignored me as though I was an impertinent stranger, lacking the right to speak.

          “This is my houseguest, June Collins,” Robin made the introduction. Mrs. Jackson nodded brusquely, possibly considering mundane courtesies a waste of time.

          “Here after some eggs are you?”

          “Yeah.”

          “They’re not layin’ as many these days but I’ll see if I can rustle up a dozen.” She finished hanging the last garment and wiped her large hands on her apron.

          “Do you mind if I take June around the front of the house to meet Mr. Jackson? I told her all about him being from England and fighting in World War I and she would like to meet him. She has recently come from the war in Vietnam.”

          “He don’t like visitors these days. Says they all talk nonsense and he can’t be bothered.”

          “We’ll leave if we seem to be bothering him.”

          She spat, expertly aiming her gob of saliva onto a busy ant mound. “Go take your chances then.”

          As we walked around the side of the house I asked Robin, “Are there many mixed-race marriages out here?”

          “Very few. The Jackson’s settled in England at the end of WWI but his family disowned him so he moved out here.” He cut off what he was saying and abruptly grabbed my elbow, steering me around a pad of cow dung which I hadn’t noticed. “Racism was worse than what it is now,” he said.

          “I hope it’s been worth it.”

          “Who wouldn’t be better off out here than in England? Look!” We had rounded a corner and the vista spread before us caused me to stop and inhale sharply. I had seen this magnificent shoreline and sparkling ocean almost daily but never from this height with an unobstructed 360-degree angle. On the horizon behind me, the lush, wildly beautiful Blue Mountains rode the range beneath a blue sky streaked with filmy ribbons of cloud. In the foreground, a tumult of bougainvillea spread exuberant in a profusion of purples, reds and cyclamen, almost too vivid for my eyes. To one side soared a sea of swaying palms interspersed by Poinciana trees laden heavy with tangerine blossoms. Umbrella trees, taro and wild bananas ran rampant above a carpet of feathery ferns.

 At the furthest point forward, coves of snowy white half-moons framed the azure water of the ocean which dazzled with a billion spangles of sunlight. My eyes misted over. How could anyone become jaded with such a view? The old people’s house may have seen better days but their property atop Port Antonio’s highest peak would be a developer’s dream. I cringed at the thought of mere mortals tampering with nature’s magnificence, all for money.

          “I wish I had brought my camera,” I whispered, filled with spiritual delight. Robin gazed at me, enjoying my reaction. His scrutiny felt like an intrusion.

          “Who’s there?” rasped a quavering voice from off to my right.

          “It’s Robin, Mr. Jackson. I’ve got a young lady with me and she wants to meet you.”

          “Why would she want to meet me?” He grumbled in a voice grown gravelly from too many years of smoking cigarettes. However, belying his lack of welcome, he reached for his walking cane and rose stiffly from the bench where he sat then turned in our direction. He was tall and angular, the frame of his shoulder bones sticking out gauntly like a coat-hanger as they held up his shirt. He wore clean but crumpled cotton shorts, a short-sleeved, buttoned-down shirt and leather sandals. A nose grown prominent with time dominated his creased face and cloudy eyes seemed to peer at a point just above my head.

          “My name’s June and I hoped we might exchange a few war stories if you like,” I said, stepping up to him and lightly touching his free hand. He fumbled then turned his hand to clasp mine before shaking it. The veins of his spindly arms stood out darkly like purple threads behind his crinkled, sun-parched skin. His knuckles were huge mounds of calcified bone and his skin felt like cracked leather as he pumped my hand in a surprisingly firm grasp.

          “Come and sit beside me if you have nothing better to do, young lady,” he said, the harshness fading from his voice.

          “I’ll go around and talk to Mrs. Jackson,” Robin interjected. “I’ll see you soon.”

          The old man and I sat on the bench in comfortable silence. Eventually he started the conversation and it soon became apparent there was an intangible connection between us. Any age barrier dissolved, if indeed it had ever existed, as he enthralled me with his stories about fighting the Germans and the Turks during WWI. I was a bit of a war history buff and he soon made it clear he held a great deal of admiration for the Turks, even though they had been his enemy.

          “They were such fine soldiers,” he said. “And the Germans, their so-called allies, treated them like dirt. One time I remember, the combined German and Turk forces were overrunning our position. To breach the coils of barbed wire along our perimeter, the Germans ordered the Turks to throw themselves upon the wire, enabling the Krauts to stampede over them.”

          Fate must have brought us together. I shared his admiration of the Turks and had read many military history books about their performance during the Korean War.

          “When I was living in Korea,” I told him, “I dated the Turkish charge-d’affaires. He often took me to visit the Turks at their camp on the DMZ at Panmunjom. Their camp was poor, their vehicles and equipment old, in sharp contrast to the nearby American camp. However, whereas the Americans had numerous guards to stop the local thieves, the Turks had none. They told me that when they caught thieves, they cut their hands off. It may seem harsh, especially as the Koreans were dirt poor, but it worked. Theirs was the only camp not being robbed.” I brushed away an annoying fly and continued. “So I don’t know about WW1, Mr. Jackson, but I do know that in the Korean War the Turks alone never lost a prisoner in the POW camps. Prisoners of other nationalities ridiculed them, calling them animals for eating dirt and grass. The Turks understood the earth’s mineral content and they alone survived intact.”

          Mr. Jackson’s voice quavered. “They were tough but they always fought fair.” He coughed hard for a moment and his hands shook. I reached across and took one bony hand in my own, gently holding his thin, cold fingers as I would a small child. My touch startled him but he did not immediately pull back. The shaking eased.

          Soon Robin was calling me to leave. I followed the old man out of the sunshine as he led the way, tapping his cane through the darkened house. The living room was filled with heavy, old-fashioned furniture and along one wall were shelves holding hundreds of books.

          “You must have enjoyed reading,” I commented.

          “I miss that most of all.” Nostalgia crept into his gravelly voice.

          “Maybe I can rectify that. I have free time every afternoon. How about I have one of the Jamaican boys drive me over here and I read to you? Have you read ‘Uhuru’ or ‘The Honey Badger’ by Robert Ruark?”

Soon after, I left, knowing I had made a friend. He felt ‘real’ to me, as so many others still did not.

 

 

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. BABYBOOMER johanna van zanten
    Mar 31, 2013 @ 15:05:15

    Hi,
    You might want to check the names of the Weston family, as Garfield is an ancestor after which the foundation is named, but the current CEO is Weston, unless your story is taking place some half a centryry ago.

    Reply

  2. goodbyejuniemoonJune Collins
    Mar 31, 2013 @ 17:49:40

    The year 1970-71. NOT Garfield but his SON, Grainger. He was a friend of Robin’s. They were about the same age. And, I believe their fathers were friends also. Thank you for showing interest Johanna.

    Reply

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