Part 6 – Food, Clothes, Pastimes and the Grater Incident

It’s been a while since I last wrote so this first paragraph is just a reminder for everyone reading.

Before I continue, I only now realize that others reading may be part of the events that I write about. This is how I saw things so don’t put too much into it if you saw it in a different way. The object of this little story is to write about my life and not justify, accuse or prove anything. We cannot be ashamed of our past because it is part of what shaped us. Our inner strengths and weaknesses are always tested in life. If we had the story of our ancestors from them, themselves about life, now that would be a treat. So this is for my children.

The Grater Incident

I wrote so much about my father already but I have one more incident to talk about because I don’t know how I can connect later in the story.

I remember my father making my sister Betsy kneel down on a grater. Yes! a grater that you grated food on. The grater we had was huge and not in the way they are made nowadays. In those days they were huge and made differently. I found a picture.

This is a picture of an old time grater. The grater we had was not as long – maybe about 3/4 the size.

I remember that my mother was not at home and Vady, Sean and I were halfway crying and asking him to stop. We were helpless. Betsy knelt down on it and we kept begging papa to stop. She was there on it for a few minutes and we saw the bruise after. I recently spoke to my sister because I could not remember why he did it. She said because she did not know her times table. We all had good grades but she said she did not. That was how scary growing up was at times.

On to more lighter things.

Food

What foods did you grow up with?

Throughout the years we bought all foodstuff but supplemented with growing our own rice for 1 or 2 years and when I was in high school, I remember my mother growing a vegetable garden in Dow Village where her parents were growing theirs. I don’t know the logistics of the land ownership.

I remember the rice field. I loved to go there and wade in the water and look for snails(we called them conchs). All us kids looked for snails and looked out for crabs. There were some scary times when villagers said that an alligator was spotted on some other villager’s rice field. So, I was weary about that. It was also very lonely and looked dreary when there were no other villagers tending to their rice fields. It was a large empty space with many rice fields extending outwards and surrounded by large trees and brush. It looked like you were in the middle of nowhere.

My mother did not want me to go and help although I begged her so I only went a few times. She said that I would get sick. My aunts told me that my mother said that I was a ‘delicate’ child. Anyways my brothers got to go. I had to stay home and I remember I had to cook dhal at 12yrs. Mama would not let me cook the rice because you had to strain it without a strainer. With the dahl made, it was easy to make rice when she got home because everyone would be hungry. The rice field was not too far. You had to walk maybe about 2 miles from the back of the house.

When the rice was picked it had to be beaten on the ground to dislodge the grains. Then it had to be dried in the sun. To lay it out flat these hemp bags (gotten from purchasing something was ripped apart and was like a small sheet). We had this huge wooden box to store the rice once it was dried. The rice was then taken to mill to have the outer shell removed, in portions as needed. It was hard work so my parents only did this maybe for a few seasons. The rest of the time we bought rice.

Early on we did not have a refrigerator and when we did have one, there was not much leftovers (if any) to be stored. It was just to store butter or vegetables and have ice. Our meals were always freshly cooked. For breakfast and dinner, it was roti and some kind of vegetable-curried or stir fried. For lunch it was rice, split peas dhal and some kind of vegetable.

On Sundays we had red beans or lentils instead of split peas dhal sometimes. We would also have curried chicken. Eventually as we got older my mom had time to make dhalpouri roti’s on Sundays. So on Sundays was our big meal:- for breakfast dhalpouri roti and curried channa(garbanzo beans) and aloo(potatoes), for lunch curried or stew chicken, Chinese style fried rice and red kidney beans. We would not have salad as it is done here. We would have a leaf of lettuce with a few pieces of sliced cucumbers and tomatoes.

I must admit that the job of helping cook dhalpouri roti throughout my teenage years made me really proficient in making a really good dhalpouri 😊.

So on Sundays was a lazy day after a heavy meal. We did not do much chores – just fight to get hold of the comic section of the newspaper while father was reading the other parts.

In elementary school we came home for lunch but in high school we took our lunch. So, we would take to school whatever we had for breakfast. The vegetable was stuffed into a “sadaa” roti(which is kind of roti like a pita bread). So, we could not take anything that had a gravy. Some of the favorites were fried potatoes or fried “moko” or plantain. For my readers who are not familiar “moko” is a kind of banana similar to plantain. When it was ripe you sliced and fried it. There are many kinds of bananas just as there are many kinds of apples. Some kinds of bananas were boiled when ripe and fried and some kinds was used green – sliced thinly and cooked and eaten with rice or roti. I remember we had one of those banana trees. Many villagers would have all kinds of banana trees.

Sometimes we would get money to buy a soda at school. Only once or twice I bought lunch at “Archie Shop”. It was a shop close to the Vessigny Secondary School. It was crowded at lunchtime with half the school. Sean, remembers enjoying bread and cheese from that shop. The cheese was quite good but I was lactose intolerant although I did not know that at the time.

At home we had also what we called a “dasheen patch”. It’s where we grew this kind of taro leaf that when cooked with coconut milk made a delicious kind of spinach. It is also used to make “callaloo” – a favorite on the island. We also had two sour cherry trees and a chenet tree(also known as Genip, Quenepe, Mamon, Spanish lime and Guinep), a pommecythere tree and a chataigne tree. The pommeceythere tree was in the gutter at the back of the house so it was hard to get the fruit. The chataigne (kind of jackfruit) tree was also in the back and grew very tall. My father had to get this long stick and extend it from the kitchen or the top of the back stairs of the house to pick off the chatigne. The green mature ones were cleaned (with coconut oil on your hands or it blackened your hand) and curried. I never liked cleaning this or eating it but now as an adult I love it. It takes so good with paratha rotis.:-). We collected the huge seeds of the ripe fruit that fell and boiled them with salt. They were very delicious and the nearest thing I can say it tastes like is similar to roasted water chestnuts.

Some things on the island were seasonal. There is a particular time(I think in the rainy season) when “crabs would run”. That’s what they called it. The crabs that lived in the mangroves would be plentiful and be scuttling about. The young men in the village would go crab hunting and according to them it was a tough thing and you could get lost. I think they liked doing it because it was a challenge. Some parents would not let their sons go because they could get hurt or lost. My brothers Toyer and Chunka would go with a group. ( I think my eldest brother Sona would have gone when he was a teenager; he left home at 20 yrs of age). They would bring back the live crabs in the these hemp bags and it was stored in a barrel. Sometimes in some seasons they got a good haul and we could have crabs for lunch for a few days because you could prepare some of them and let the others live. They were given water and fed with grass(yeah grass lol). These crabs were covered with hair so after killing them all the the legs had to be scraped before it was cooked. I remember helping with this. Nobody liked doing it but curried crabs tasted really good.

Sometimes my father would go at the back of this abandoned house(Duck’s house) opposite us and dig for yams. Wild yams grew in a lot of places. many people would go into the “bush” and dig for yams. It was a huge black root that was slimy when peeled. It was peeled, cut into pieces, boiled and fried with seasoning and eaten with some kind of gravy – salted fish and tomatoes or fresh curried fish if you have or just by itself. Part of the diet of most villagers also constituted of smoked herring, canned sardines and salted fish.

We also had chickens for a while for eggs. We did not have a coop. They would roam our yard and nearby and return to sleep on this guava tree we had. We would feed them dried corn. We would say “come tee tee tee” and start throwing down the corn. They would all come running and we could count if any was missing. We knew all the hatch-lings.  So this was the opportunity to occasionally catch the chicken for food. Sometimes my brothers would run it down. Lol. We also had a pet dog named “brownie”( I changed the name of the dog for some reasons). Brownie would run down the fowl and have it cornered. Throughout my childhood we always had a dog with the same name. He roamed freely around the yard and sometimes maybe the neighbor’s yard.

Sometimes my mother would ask some nearby neighbor who is accustomed to cutting the head of a chicken to do the job. I remember the first time I saw one being killed and was confused and tormented. On this particular day my brother Chunka was going to snip the head off. As he did that(with a regular knife) I could see the blood spill and the life leave the chicken as they would do it under running water. I don’t know how old I was but my mother was probably not paying attention or she would have chased me away. After it was completely dead, I saw them put scalding water to the chicken and take out the feathers. Then when I saw the insides of the chicken, I was flabbergasted that my mother was doing this. Then it was cooked and we had to eat it. I got over it but I never really liked the taste of chicken and hardly ate it when I was little. When I got married I ate it more frequently (highly seasoned) because my husband liked it. I had a problem cleaning or seasoning a chicken so he usually did that. When he passed, I became vegetarian.

I have to relate an incident with the chickens. These fowl were not white but had many colored feathers and I heard my mother would say a Dominicker breed.  I don’t know how many went missing but remember this particular incident. There were 2 hatch-lings that became like pets. On one the feathers were completely white( I don’t know – freak of nature) and the other was gray but they hatched together. So, my sisters, little brother and me found ourselves fascinated with the chickens spent time petting these chickens and my sister give then names. They were called ‘whitey’ and ‘birdy’. We saw the chickens grow up just like all the others roaming around but these 2 were quite tame and and they would eat from your hand. So it was heart breaking when one of them (the white one) was stolen. We never knew what happened to it but we had a suspicion that maybe one of our neighbors got it because it was so tame. Nobody really had fences then and the lay of the land made it difficult to put a fence and it was expensive to do that.

There were some small tiffs with neighbors over boundaries or small things as expected with any community anywhere but it was not serious to make enemies for life. Us kids, with a little bit of caution would end up speaking to our neighbor’s kids although we knew that there was a quarrel that happened. We saw them at school. Some of the neighbors were related to us.

How did we pass the time?

We got 1 toy each at Christmas sometimes but it only lasted a month or two. So how did we spend our time? Our yard was not flat so you could not play anything really. It was a bunch of tiny hills and hollows and you had to be careful walking around or sweeping the yard. We invented our own things to do around the house which was like chasing dragon flies, picking sour cherries, teasing each other or betting on car numbers. Betting on number cars was simply picking a letter of the alphabet and counting how many cars had that letter as they went by. We would also meet with other nearby kids at the school grounds when school was out in the evening or on weekends. There, we pitched marbles, played hopscotch or “peesay”( a game like hopscotch but played with 6 boxes and a stone), skipped rope, played hide and seek, hoop(catch me if you can), “may I”, and cowboys and Indians. I described the school grounds in detail so you can picture the following:

We would skate down the hill behind the church on coconut branches (there were coconut trees, other tall trees and shrubs) from the top of the school down to the large sport field area. It was kind of steep there so sometimes we would go at the back of our neighbor’s (Mr. Mack) house and slide from there. Mr. Mack’s house was adjacent at an angle to the Church so at the back of their yard the steep slope of the whole hill encompassing the school was also there. It was a little dangerous but so much fun. The way the dried coconut branch was, made it easier to grab hold of it as it slid down the hill. It’s sort of how kids here slide on snow. Our parents did not like this and I don’t think Mr. Mack did either but no one would carry news, right? My brother would not want me to slide in case I get hurt and he would be blamed but I did do it a few times. There was also this particular tree we called a “bara” tree and we loved looking for the fruit. It was a small fruit that would blow very far from the tall tree. The fun to find one was more than eating it.

My smallest brother Sean, when he was around 13(not sure) had a very successful business selling chenet. You put out a chair or a made-up table and put the chenet in bunches on it, so that people would know that you were selling. He made enough to go to the movies or buy some clothes. My Mom would sell sour cherry and also make a cherry stew that she sold to the school children for extra money. She also sold “ice-blocks”. “Ice-blocks” was a frozen treat made of flavored syrup or sugar and condense milk and water frozen in and ice tray – hence the term “block”.

Chores

From 10 years of age on-wards we had chores, complexity depending on age. It’s hard when you are writing about a whole period of time as with everything I write but it’s the only way I can get the story going. I don’t remember my brothers chores but as I mentioned earlier when we had a cow it was Sona’s chore to take care of it. Toyer and Chunka probably helped in taking care of the goats when we had them or working in the rice fields. We did not have those for the whole period so I don’t remember what they did after that. All I remember is my sisters and I having to do household chores – like making the beds and sweeping the house, sweeping the yard, cutting vegetables or shelling peas, cleaning the kitchen and doing the dishes. We all learned to cook overtime. The one thing my mother did not let us do was doing the laundry.

Mama spent a lot of her time over the tub doing laundry. She was an ardent foster or stickler for cleanliness. We did not own a lot of clothes hence she was always over the tub scrubbing clothes to ensure we always had clean clothes. We washed a few things during our time at home but most of the time she would do the washing. She loved us so much that she saw that doing laundry was hard work so she alone did it. We all wore uniforms to school(all schools on the island have uniforms) and it had to be washed, starched and iron. She ironed our school clothes until we were able to iron it ourselves. There was a period of time when finances were running better with my brothers working and so she hired someone to wash the clothes. Sometimes mama would not feel well and hired this lady by the name of Leah to do the laundry for us. Mama would also provide her with lunch.

Here’s what the scrub board look like. Our tub was different to this one. It was a half of barrel(cut in two).

Scrub board and tub from Trinidad during the old days.

Clothes

We did not own a lot of clothes but we always had clothes. I can remember while in elementary school besides my uniform, I had one “going out” dress and a few dresses to wear at home. It was the same with my siblings. This “going out” dress was something you did not wear at home but kept it to wear if you had to go into San Fernando or visit relatives or attend anything. If there was a wedding in the village then you got a new dress sewn. My mom had to save money to buy the material to give to seamstress to sew.

Most of the time she got it through “truss”( Trinidadian term for trust) from this vendor who came around in his van. He would sell all kinds of linen and some other things. We mostly bought clothing material. “Truss” is like a loan. You got it and payed for it in installments (or in full) on his next visit. His name was “Sumday”( I don’t know his correct name) but he came by monthly. This is the way we bought clothes for uniforms as well. We bought groceries from “Chong-que” shop in La Brea and sometimes it was on trust.

High School uniforms in Trinidad at that time mostly consisted of a shirt and skirt for girls and shirt and pants for boys. We had hand me downs. Vady got my white shirt and then Betsy got it from her. It was so worn out by washing by the time Betsy inherited it, that it was very thin and was not so white. My brothers also inherited hand me downs. I think this was a common thing in the village because everyone had so many children.

Everyone had one pair of shoes that they went to elementary school with and a pair of slippers – rubber slippers or other kind that you roamed about in. Of course no one in the village as far as I know wore shoes in the house. This is an eastern custom. In high school you had to own a gym shoe to do sports. I remember going to elementary school with a hole in my shoe and it getting wet with the huge puddles in the sidewalk in front of the school. I did get a new one after a few weeks but my mother did not know I was going to school with with hole in my shoe. I was still a child. Mama said “don’t you know that you would get sick”. Later on when I did get sick I often wondered. Will write about it later.

We never thought of ourselves as lacking stuff or poor. I think most kids in the area and village were of similar circumstances. There were some children that came with better school bags and school supplies but there were others who came bare-feet to school.

Things were always improving economically as we were growing up and when we got our first jobs we all helped. My brother Toyer built a whole new kitchen and bathroom when he was working at the bank. My brother Chunka, when he started to work for the oil company, created the yard that is still there now. It was dug up and paved to make it even with 2 steps to go from the top of the yard to the bottom. I took out a loan at the bank I worked at and had the house painted( it was never panted when it was built and I hated the shabby color of the concrete).

The good old days. Life is always richer in experiences rather than richer in money. I never thought of us as poor. Neither my siblings. Sometimes I did wish for more clothes to attend bazaars and other events but I knew we my parents could not afford it – life was just life, sometimes wonderful and sometimes troubling. We did not have much rules. We knew right from wrong without being told much. We knew we could not lie or cheat or steal and we must be kind.

I was a quiet child and was more introspective of the world around me. I observed things and people. I knew who liked me at school and who did not. I remember in “ABC” class(kindergarten class here), some of the girls chasing me around the school teasing me. It was awful and there was not reason for it. It was because I did so well in class. Maybe because they knew my father, I have no idea. I knew that some teachers did not like me because I did better in class than their friends’ children who were in the class also. At a young age, I knew that because my parents were Hindu and it was a Presbyterian school there was some favoritism. I did not say anything to anyone. I grasped a lot about people since then. I will write a little more on race, religion and my relationship with God in a later chapters.

Regardless, it was the “the good old” days. There was nothing else to compare it to. It was just what it was – life. I look back now and loved that life, loved that village.

Live the best life you can, no matter where, when, or with who😊.

I cannot say what I am going to write about next because I always have so much to say and end up not having to write about what I promised. It think I will write about Christmas in Rousillac since it’s Christmas time. Let’s see.

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