Sunday, January 31, 2010

A Tribute to My Grandmother Rosie McKenzie

Lessons Learned at my Granny’s Knees
Basil Waine Kong

I served as the Chief Executive Officer for the Association of Black Cardiologists (ABC) in Atlanta for 21 years and I am generally known for having coined the tag line: “Children Should Know Their Grandparents so they will become GREAT Grandparents”. This obviously related to my attempt to motivate people to develop healthy lifestyles so they will live long enough to help nurture their grand children as well as their great great grand children. It is a very special responsibility that I take seriously now that I am a grandfather--six-times over. Until you have held a grandchild in your arms, you cannot imagine the joy! If I had known how much fun they were going to be, I would have had them first.

Whether it is the United States or Jamaica, there are never enough grandparents to positively impact on the ambitions of our children. If we are ever going to solve our social problems, (juvenile delinquency, unwanted pregnancies, unruliness and under-achievement), we need the influence of grandparents and preferably, great grandparents. I am deliberate about advocating my seven steps to good health so our grandparents will leave later. My professional and personal mission has been to stop the thief that is stealing our grandparents---heart disease.

I am sentimental about grandparents because I spent my impressionable years in the care of my fabulous Granny in Woodlands District in St. Elizabeth (Jamaica). She will always be part of my soul. When I was twelve years old, if you had placed my mother and father in a police line-up, I could not have identified either one. My grand mother raised me and was the permanent fixture in my life. So, I subscribe to the African proverb that advise us that when a grandparent dies, an entire library goes up in flames. She was one of a kind and the library of my youth.

Having spent her entire life in St. Elizabeth, my grandmother (Rosie) was fifty nine years old when my mother placed my younger brother Earl who was three years old and me, four year's old in her care and went off to 'merica. Granny died when she was seventy six, leaving in her wake, fourteen children and a lifetime of generosity and good deeds. While she spawned thirty nine grandchildren, I always felt that “Granny” belonged to me. I had endless unsettled arguments with numerous cousins (particularly Carlen McDonald) about whose Granny she was and convinced myself that she was “My Granny”. While I was in college, a letter from me to her arrived the day she died affirming my gratitude and affection that was read at her funeral that I regretably could not attend. I will be forever indebted to her for her love and guidance. She actually believed that all children should be raised by their grandparents; “What do parents know about raising children?”

I had the same sense of possessiveness when my first grandchild was born. After I was informed that my daughter (Jillian Kong-Sivert) had gone into labour, my wife Stephanie and I took a flight from Atlanta to Baltimore to camp out in the waiting room of the hospital to await the arrival of this precious little princess (Mackenzie). Unfortunately, in the same waiting room were my ex-wife and her new husband as well as my son-in-law’s two sets of parents. While they all claimed to be grandparents to this child, I tried to convinced them that this was (in deed) my grand child and invited them all (to no avail) to go home and not crowd up the place.

The same issue comes up annually when some of my four children do not show up for Thanksgiving or Christmas because they have to also spend time with their in-laws. How unreasonable is that? Stephanie and I cannot seem to convince them that there are 50 other weeks when they are welcome to visit their in-laws with no protests from us. Are we the only ones that are reasonable and completely logical about this?

After my brother Earl and I moved in with our grandmother, she immediately enrolled us in Ms. Gatty's play school where we played and sang songs all the live long day.

Granny was always telling us that Woodlands is a healthiest place in the world to live. She pointed out to us that the support of family, neighbors and friends, the sunshine, cool breeze from our mountainside, clean rain water, fresh air to breath and all natural foods to eat with lots of opportunities lively up ourselves are the ingredients of a good long life. At least once per day, children would hear: “Be pure, honest, sober, industrious, and considerate of others and success in life is assured.” This became our mission in life.

To make her point, she told us the story of Brother Boogs who was born in Woodlands but was raised by a Chinese family (Old Chen and Ms. Ada), grew up with their sons Harry and Caz). At fifteen, he was sent off to Kingston to attend Kingston College. He suffered through his education because the city boys always made fun of his country talk and dress. He became an Engineer and was never without work as employers preferred to hire people from St. Elizabeth because of our reputation for honesty and hard work. "When you say you are from St. Elizabeth, that's all the recommendation you need to get a job."

While Brother Boogs was only forty years old, however, he felt unsettled and lonely, lost his appetite along with all vim and vigor. He felt tired and his heart was empty. He never understood how Kingston people dress up so nice to attend church but their lives were devoid of honesty, integrity, caring or sympathy for others. He became depressed and sullen and stayed awake at night worrying about threats on his life by gangs, betrayal of his so called friends and the general hostility of people he encountered. He became severely ill and nothing the doctors at Kingston Public Hospital prescribed on his frequent visits helped. In the parlance of Jamaica, "De man was sick, sick, sick, sick, sick, sick, sick, sick..."

Believing that he was terminally ill, he left his employment and returned to Woodlands to die but failed. On his return, the Chinese family that raised him migrated and he was able to reclaim the shop, house and land that they left behind. His neighbours were so glad to see him back, they visited him regularly, carrying in their torines, curry goat and rice, pumpkins soup with corn meal dumplings, roast yam, calaloo and salt fish, brown stew chicken, cane juice, custard apple and sour sap juice and best of all, corn pone and sweet potato pudding. The carrot juice with sweet milk and a Dragon Stout put lead back in his pencil. He developed a strong liking for "flumbadip" that was made from corn pork with coconut custard and red natta. Maybe there was something about food is the way to a man's heart as that was Ms. Dinah's specialty.

The minister heard he was on his deathbed, visited him accompanied by the choir and prayed over him as well as sing his favorite hymns. Brother Boogs was encouraged to visit the neighbours as well whenever he felt like it without even having to be invited or make an appointment. He recovered nicely. In three months, his appetite returned and he slept like a baby. He fell in love with Miss Dinah, a good cook and charming country girl who was a member of the church choir. She attended to his every need. They were regularly seen taking long walks and visiting family and friends with their arms around each other and sporting broad smiles.

He put some seeds in the soil and reopened the grocery shop that became a popular place to visit with friends. He also bought an automobile, joined the choir and even taught Sunday School. He eventually got married and fathered two beautiful daughters (Izet and Sylvie) and a son (Francisco), who, along with his beautiful wife, were his reasons for living. Whenever he went to Kingstown for supplies to stock the shop, he found time to recommend his therapy to all the business associates he encountered. For those who knew him as a depressed skeleton, they were amazed at his new lease on life.

It was not to last, however, as his sweet attentive wife died in childbirth along with their fourth child. After that, he no longer desired the company of any other woman, drank a great deal of rum and song sorrowful songs but was known near and far as the best man to shoe horses and was also known to place large bets whenever there were horse races at New Pond. His daughters became nurses and went off to 'merica, built him a house and had him visit them in America but whenever he visited, after a few weeks he would be desperate to come back to Woodlands where he was as happy as he could be. He is remembered for devising the true test of friendship: play dead and see what your friend do.

My grandmother prayed unceasingly. God was a part of every sentence("Lord willing, I will see you tomorrow"; "God bless you"; "Isn't God good?" What a friend we have in Jesus!). I have very vivid memories waking up early in the morning and seeing my grandmother on her knees beside her bed. She sang hymns such as "A Mighty Fortress is our God", "Rock of Ages", "My company before is gone and I am left alone with God", "brother, sister, let me serve you, let me be your servant too","Amazing Grace" and her favorite:

"Hark the voice of Jesus crying
Who will go and work today
Fields are white and harvest waiting
who will bear the sheaves away
Loud and strong the master calleth
Rich reward He offers three
Who will answer, gladly saying
Here I am, send me, send me."

All day long while she cleaned the house, pick coffee and prepare our meals the echo of her voice was ever present.

The reason I so enjoy the hugs and kisses of friends, family and even strangers is that I could not leave her presence without a hug and kiss. I could not return from school without a hug and kiss. She would end each day sitting in her rocking chair reading her Bible for all to hear by the light of a kerosene lamp with the “Home Sweet home” written on the shade. My favorite place was sitting on the floor at her knees, with my back and head on her frock and apron while she stroked my hair.

She delighted in telling us Big Boy, Bra Nancy or duppy (ghosts) stories as well as tall tales and riddles. "Riddle me this and riddle me that, guess me this riddle and perhaps not. Sweet water standing." My favorite Bra Nancy Story was the time the best known Ginald in Jamaica went out to beg for food and came back with five bananas. Fortunately or unfortunately, he had a wife and four children. So, he gave them each a banana and asked them not to worry about him as he did not mind going hungry. His wife immediately said she would not hear of it and give him half of hers and the children followed suit resulting in them receiving a half each and Bra Nancy receiving two and a half. Big boy was asked if he knew who was crucified on the cross and didn't know the answer so the little girl behind him stuck him with a hat pin prompting him to yell: "Jesus Christ!" To which the teacher congratulated him for the right answer.

My imagination was active for days after some of her tall tales such as when a hunter ran out of lead bullets and used a seed to shoot an elephant. Years later when the hunter returned, he saw a large tree growing out of the elephant's head. With my Granny, there was never a dull moment or a shortage of things to do(including Board games and Chinese checkers), except we were forbidden to play cards as she did not want to encourage gambling.

She always encouraged us to "do a ting" to make extra money. So, in addition to raising rabbits and sowing carrot seeds and planting peas in land that I prepared myself, my brother and I made coconut drops and grater cakes and sold them at Mass Claudie's shop. We were able to double our money by investing in a coconut, a pound of sugar and a little ginger. With that profit margin, I could have made a quick million dollars by expanding my operations.

Nothing was more important to Granny than manners. Before we emptied the chamber pot at the root of the banana tree, we were obligated to say "Mawnin Granny" and say Mawnin with a smile to everyone we encountered on our way to school and generally speak to everyone. "Please", "Thank you Mam", "Good mawning" and "Good night" were automatic. She smiled with pride when the neighbours told Granny how her half china pickney dem have manners. I found it strange when I migrated to 'Merica and they said "Good evening" as a greeting instead of "Good night".

We never touched anything that didn't belong to us. Once when Aunt Myra was attending a function at church and asked me to run back to her house to retrieve something she forgot, she put some money on the bench beside me as a reward. Since she didn't say it belonged to me, I never touched it and it became someone else's bounty. When we spent the night away from home, I always made the bed as soon as I got up. Don't touch your food until after the grace and until the person at the head of the table start eating.

Growing up with Granny was a blessing. She was so noble in sentiment and entertaining in conversation. She could strategically place the right Bible passage in a conversation citing chapter and verse to make the point. She was everyone’s friend and the neighbours treated her with love, respect and kindness. This poor country woman living in a very small unattractive frame house with four square rooms, scantily furnished and unadorned, but it was a palace for all we knew. Granny invited confidences because she never betrayed a secret and was always sympathetic to the young women who sought her advice about their “man problems”.

In reviewing our country lifestyle, I marvel that we ever got anything done other than tend to the necessities of living. In the city, they shopped for a week and store their food in refrigerators and pantries. In the country someone had to go to the shop for every meal. Water had to the fetched a mile away from the Parish tank and carried in a kerosene can on top of our heads that we balanced on a katta (padding between our heads and the can). We would put a little branch from a tree to prevent the water from splashing. I delighted my American friends with how I could balance my books on my head.

Someone also had to go a ground to dig up some yam, potatoes, badu or whatever was in season) and find where the fowls had laid some eggs. On Sundays, it was my job to kill and pluck the chicken. I delighted in cutting off the head of the chicken and run after it for about five minutes while it ran around like a chicken without it's head. Then we also had to find wood for the fire, start fire (which was time consuming). Even though we had to milk the cow, slopping the pigs, throw corn to the chickens, planting and weeding the ground, picking pimento (all spice), coffee, cocoa, breadfruit, chocho and whatever fruits were in season, we found time for music, sports and visiting our neighbors. I made my own ping pong table and paddles and we learned how to put the balls in hot water to round them out when they were dented.

Granny insisted that everything had to be clean and neat---a place for everything and everything in it's place. We made up the bed and swept the floors every morning. Someone had to polish the reddish wooded floors each week. Our helper was very good at making music with the coconut brush and beeswax. I can still hear the rhythm. The other entertainment was listening to Miss Laurie wash our clothes. Sweet music man! And we didn't put clothes on the clothes line to dry, they were put out to sun.

My Granny was forever frustrated with people who only cared about themselves. Her favorite quote from the Bible was Philippians 2(4): “Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interest of others.” She also quoted Romans 14(7): “For none of us live to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone.” “We shall all stand before the judgment seat of God.” She often said, “So, for what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his soul? (Mathew 16(26). This was her reason for being, her sermon, her cause and her message for all who would listen. At each evening meal, she made a plate for Mother Blake and another for Miss. Pucous, single old ladies who had no one to care for them. I took one plate of food and my brother took the other and returned with the plate from the day before. We would eat when we returned from our mission of mercy.

While she understood that people had a right to look out for themselves, she was most distressed when all the talented able bodied men and women from our community (including her son Ronnie McKenzie) went off in the fifties to rebuild England after the war and in the process decimated our community, our music, poetry and skills left us with the great migration. Barber Warren and Georgie Heron left and only Stanley Hichman was left to cut my horse main (my hair). We had to take our shoes all the way to Springfield to Mr. Steward when Melvin Grey left. There was no more cricket and domino clubs or competition and the most distressing of all, Herbie Arnold and his band left and there was no more music.

I was always very competitive. On numerous occasions, when I delighted in my own accomplishments she was forever reminding me to never take pleasure only in my own success. When my learned Aunt Madge (Allen) came home to visit for two weeks, she coached me about how to properly use my knife and folk as well as my arithmetic every day and I got all my sums right on the following test. Granny wanted to know why we did not help the others to do as well. When we went to see a magic show at school, the family in front of us were in distress because they didn't have enough money. My Granny conveniently pointed out to the mother that she must have dropped some of the money which the children excitedly retrieved. When I became “Sports Champion” on Sports Day at Springfield School in 1958 by practicing in private, she wanted to know why I didn’t help the other “Pickney dem” to do as well. She said to me: "I know you love to win and to succeed at things but eventually, I hope you come to realize that helping others is even more fun." With my competitive proclivities at the time, she tried in vain to help me understand that: “If others succeed, you succeed; if they fail, you fail”. Her criticism was: “Jamaicans are too selfish for our own good.” She repeatedly preached to everyone that they should try to uplift those less fortunate: "Today for you, tomorrow for me". Or she would recall the words of Jesus: "As you did it to one of the least of these, my brethren, you did it to me. (Mathew 25:40)

On work day mornings, she boiled as opposed to brewed a big pot of coffee, extracted the bag of spent coffee grounds and added milk, sugar and salt. She would then sit in her rocking chair with the pot beside her on the veranda. People on their way to work would stop for coffee, bring her a piece of yam, some bananas, a coconut, coco or dashine, enjoy a little conversation and they were off again. She would invite them to come into the yard with: “Push the gate Mass Bertie”. We never had a dog as she wanted nothing to impede or discourage visitors. One particular gentleman complained one morning that the coffee was cold. The next day, she heated the coffee but the gentleman still complained that the coffee was not hot enough. Finally, she heated up the cup and the gentleman was happy. She would do anything to please. I hope it didn’t burn his lips.

During my entire childhood, I never met an evil person. No one ever meant to harm me. Obviously, we had school yard fights that my younger brother Earl would fight for me and any disagreement between neighbors would be referred to "Minister" or Justice Mair to fairly mediate and the disputing parties would shake hands and accept the settlement. There was a police station five miles away in New Market and maybe every six months a police officer would ride his horse up to the shop to have a "drink" with the men but I cannot remember anyone ever being arrested or ever had to go to court. Just seeing this police officer would strike terror in our hearts.

Other than using chew sticks, we did not know how to take care of our teeth so bad teeth was a problem as we ate sugar cane just about every day. As a temporary fix, Granny would soak a cotton ball in bay rum and place it on the offending tooth along with a cup of ganga tea. So, Dentist Wiggins to our rescue. He was not a trained dentist but made monthly stops throughout St. Elizabeth to pull teeth. After a drink of rum, he would pull the affected tooth and the patient would bleed a basin full of blood but survived. Once when I couldn't wait for Wiggins to come, one of my teeth was actually extracted by the shoemaker (Melvin Grey), as he was the only one with a pair of pliers. I suspect the toothbrush was invented in Woodlands by one of the old women with one tooth. If it had been invented anywhere else, it would have been called a teeth brush.

Here is a community activity I wish schools would re-adopt. Each morning, each student either brought some ground foods (yam, potato, dashine, coco, banana, corn, etc) or contribute quatie (about three cents). The money was used to buy meat and flour to make dumplings. Everything was cooked up in a huge pot on an open wood fire by parents who volunteered. Come lunch time, each student would receive a bowl of the stew with a soldier man (a one inch piece of meat) on top of the food. As we sat down together, no one could start eating before singing:

Be present at our table, Lord;
Be here and everywhere adored;
Thy creatures bless, and grant that we
May feast in paradise with Thee.
(Louis Bourgeois)

In addition to delicious but predictable menu at home, liver and light (lung) on Friday, soup (pumpkin, pepper pot, cowfoot, peas or gungu) on Saturday, brown stew chicken with rice and peas (beans) on Sunday, I particularly liked smoked and roasted tripe (cow and pig intestines). Granny cleaned, rubbed them with lime and turned them inside out with a stick, then hang them over a network of sticks above the fire place to cure. As a snack, we would put some in hot coals and eat them with roast bread fruit. The other delicious alternative was to pan fry some corn (salt) pork and pour all the grease over bread or breadfruit. I can still feel the grease in my palm from using my hand to wipe away the fat running down my chin as we never used napkins.

Bammy remains one of my favorite things to eat. We dug up the blue seal, cotton tree, black stick or white stick cassava roots, wash, peel and grater them and place the slush into a straw basket that I would take up to Ms. Maude's house. The basket was placed on a flat stone with a bucket underneath to catch the juice, a wood plank was jammed into a tree root, ran on top of the basket and a large stone was tied to the end of the wooden plank pressing the juice out of the slush overnight. The next day, only the flour was left in the basket to be baked as bammy or boiked as cassava dumplings. When the juice settled, it produced starch and poison water.Interestingly enough, because the residue is high in cyanide, it was used to kill rats, mongoose and stray dogs. I cannot help wondering how much cyanide I have ingested over the years.

Woodlands specialized in growing yams of all kinds (yellow, white afro, St. Vincent, sweet, renta, pom-pom, yampi, macha, ghina, mozella, firefly,jackie, zippo, cobi,Trinidad, blue and blue sprout). We enjoyed it boiled, baked, roasted and even fried up with corn pork. Yams also contain a small amount of cyanide.

Granny was also the doctor of the community if for no other reason that she preached "Cleanliness is next to Godliness" at every opportunity. I have no idea where she got a syringe but she used it to extract wax and corn bugs that occasionally became logged in people’s ears while they slept. It was an agonizing experience until it floated out in the soapy water that Granny repeatedly sprayed into the ear. She often made a paste with "chick weed" and placed it on our wounds for quick healing. Like me, most country boys have machete cuts below their left knee and this was the cure for the "sore foot".

She also wormed us twice per year. You do not want to know the details of this ritual of Sena tea and cod liver oil. Cerisee, willow tree bark and ganja tea also healed whatever ailed us. When we had a fever, she poured hot water in the wooden tub with some fever (lemon) grass, put a piece of board across it for us to sit over the hot water and covered us with a thick blanket and sang church songs that calmed the savage beasts and expelled the virus. The sweat would roll off our faces and drip, drip, drip back into the hot water. As a lawyer, I tried to convince the so-called inventors of the “hot tub” that it was my Granny’s idea. I am still waiting for the royalty checks to arrive.

In addition to her wooden tub, other household furnishings included a panya (Spanish) jar with a thunder ball to keep the water cool. A two door cabinet with two drawers, five shelves and glass windows that displayed her china, glasses, silver knives, folks and spoons but more importantly, that is where I would find the condensed milk that I drank from time to time---straight out of the can.

In one corner of our dining room was a wash stand where a basin sat in a circular space. A pitcher of water under the basin with towels on both sides. A bar of Pomolive soap and a bottle of Detol sat beside the basin. We were not allowed to come to the table before washing our hands and drying them off with the pritty decorated towel that hung on the side of the washstand.

In the living room was a carved wooden sofa,a bench and a rocking chair. When company arrived, the children sat on the bench and listened to the conversation but we were never allowed to speak until spoken to. We were asked questions as well as encouraged to sing, dance, recite poetry, a Bible verse or spell words or even "kin pupa lick" (do a somersault)for the entertainment of our guests. Granny knew I loved showing off spelling "Mississippi" and would ask me to spell it the crooked letter way or the straight way for everyone who visited and they would reward me with a penny or even a thrupence.

A long table with a bench for the children and four chairs for the adults where we shared wonderful meals. What was remarkable about the table, however, is that it was my pulpit. After Sunday dinner, Granny would tell me to get up on the table and preach. In very exaggerated manners and voice, I would try to repeat what Parson had said at church. This was the source of great amusement for all who were present and I just loved doing it.

One bedroom had two beds stuffed with dried banana leaves and pillows stuffed with the feathers of chickens we plucked. In the other bedroom, was a bureau and a bed with springs and a cotton filled mattress.

In addition to hurricanes, Woodlands is also located on a fault line. We were sitting in our dinning room in 1952 when the earthquake struck. While my brother and I were paralyzed with fear, Granny pushed back the cabinet that was about to fall, then she held onto the panya jar that was also falling. It was quiet a sight. When the tremors stopped, while God had spared our house, we ran around the neighborhood evaluating the damage and found some houses ruined and that a big hole (50' wide) had opened up and swallowed a dozen trees about ten chains from our house.

As we are protected from high winds by the mountains around us, we did not have devastating hurricanes and we would enjoy running around picking up pears (avocadoes), coconuts, oranges or whatever fell from the trees. Everyone had a mackerel barrel full of fruits that were prematurely blown off the trees. When I was ten years old, a hurricane named "David" devastated Jamaica and met another hurricane named "Florence" who was leaving Cuba headed for Jamaica. Florence asked David how it was in Jamaica and David told Florence that the politicians had already mashed up Jamaica, so she vered off to Mexico.

As my mother (who lived in 'Merica) sent us a lot of balls and toys, there was never a shortage of children at our yard. We also had a lot of land available for cricket, football and catch me games. For the cricket bat, we used a coconut bough. When I was fourteen, my Uncle Ronnie migrated to England and left me his bicycle. I often sold rides on my bicycle for a penny until someone slammed it into a tree and put an end to my little enterprise and my trasportation. It was never repaired. My slingshot was always in my back pocket and there were always smooth small stones in my side pocket just in case we encountered a bird. A lady came to our school one day to ask us not to shoot the beautiful song birds but I don't recall that her speech curtailed our hunting that we roasted on hot coals and ate while licking our fingers.

Granny could never stop smiling when mangoes came in. She would say; "A good mango season is a reminder of how much God loves us." We would bring home basketful after basketful and we would all sit around the basket and polish off those beautiful,red and green, sweet mangoes that left the creamy juice dripping down our chins and turn the front of our shirts and blouses a bright orange and left stings in our teeth. What's for dinner Granny? "I turned over the cook pot. It's mango season." It was really, really special when she she served ice cream with slices of mango.

It made sense to her that night air was dangerous. She had observed that people who stayed out late at night often got sick and even died. So, as soon as it got dark, she closed all the windows, stuck pieces of cloth in the holes and would not allow us to go outside. All her chickens had to be indoors. This puzzled me for years until I had an aha moment fifty years later and realized that she had good reason to came to this conclusion from her experience during a malaria (ghenga) outbreak. Since mosquitoes came out at dusk, people who stayed out at night were more likely to be bitten by these pests that carried the malaria parasite, got sick and even died. Interestingly enough, I happened to be reading "The Lives of Celebrated Travelers" by James Augustus St. John and published by Harper and Brothers (NY) in 1854 and came across this passage: "In observing on the 31st of July an eclipse of the moon, he imprudently exposed himself to the night dew, and next day, he found himself attacked by fever and delirium, which were the commencement of an illness that with very trifling intermission confined him during two months within doors." This myth has been around for a long time. I have a feeling it was malaria.

When I was about ten years old, Granny became concerned about duppies causing mischief on our zinc roof at night. She asked the local Obeahman to come and he prescribed the burning of sulphur candles at night. When she followed his advice, the house smelled so bad, we had to run outside and stayed there (night air or no night air)for several hours until the smell dissipated. I suspect, the noises were rats or even bats. The Obeahman, on the other hand, was useful to prepare the cricket pitch when we had a game with a visiting team. Chanting a few songs and sprinkling fresh chicken blood would absolutely guarantee a victory.

While we did not exchange presents on Christmas mornings, the first thing we looked forward to was Granny's egg punch. She put on the milk to scold (heat up), break a dozen eggs and carefully separated the red (yolk)from the white. She handed the bowl with the yolk and brown sugar to Elton to grind and the whites with a few drops of water to Ronnie to whip with a fork. When the yolk was nice and creamy and the white was nice and fluffy, she combined them, added hot milk, a Guinness stout and a Red Stripe Beer, mixed it all up and served it for breakfast. wow!

She also taught us the recipe for rum punch:

One of sour (lime juice)
Two of sweet (strawberry syrup)
Three of strong (Over proof white rum)
Four of weak (water)
A dash of angostura bitters and you are good to go.

The hurricane pattern for Jamaica was also put to poetry:

June too soon
July stand by
August you must
September remember
October all over.

My Granny was also a genius of recycling as she heartily subscribed to the old Jamaican adage: "What no dead no dashway". Solder a handle on a condenced milk can and you have a coffee mug. Chicken Feed bags made shirts. Glue could be made from pouring kerosene on anything made from rubber. To this day, my wife will attest that like all Jamaicans, I have a hard time throwing things out. More importantly, I hate waste, especially time. I want to fill every minute with sixty seconds of useful activity. "If you waste time, time will waste you." I would actually go mad if I did not have books available at all times. When I reflect on how much knowledge and joy I have received from the thousand or so books I have read, I lament with great guilt that one third of the people of Jamaica have never read a book.

It is a little unbelievable that we generated no garbage. Leftover food was fed to the pigs including banana and breadfruits peels that we boiled in old kerosene tins. Any paper and particularly newspaper we received from buying salt fish, flour, sugar, salt and bread ended up beside the toilet to be read just prior to it's final disposal. Bottles were valuable to store cooking oil, carry water, to make a firelight when traveling at night or returned to the shop for a refund. A broken plate was made into small disks with the decoration on one side and white on the other that we would throw to the ground with the winner being whoever had the most flowers. We had no plastic. Even at the shop, we merely washed the glasses in the soap basin, rinse them and turn them upside down on pegs. When we took baths, the remaining bath water was used to hydrate trees. Nothing was wasted.

There is a familiar Jamaican proverb that advises that one can "tun han and mak fashion." The essence of the thought is that you can work with what you have, however modest it may be. Granny was always fixing things as well as make things stretch. When a hole appeared in the cook pot, she used a hammer to ram some cloth into the space and continued to cook with it. She was always darning socks by placing an egg inside the worn area and pull thread through each edge. We made our own hula hoops from a bicycle tire and when it wasn't a hula hoop, we bent a wire around it and pushed it around as if we were driving an automobile. We even made our own marbles from clothes wire and sand paper stones until they were round. Did I mentioned that we also made the sand paper? We fashioned gigs from guava limbs as well as sling shots from a wishbone limb, a small piece of leather and some rubber from a bicycle tube.

My most indelible memory, however, related to the brutal lashing I received at the hands of our headmaster when I was twelve years old. Thursday afternoons were to be spent working in the garden (model farm) to teach us to be good cultivators. All of us hated the back breaking work in the hot sun including the teachers who were supposed to be supervising us but were often elsewhere having tea. We also resented the fact that all the food from this garden ended up in Teacher's kitchen. Well, four of us boys went off to play cashew (marbles). In Woodlands, we call it chushu. Just when I said “rounds two” and took aim with my marble at the pile of cashews in the circle we had marked out on the ground, Teacher Harry Crawford jumped over the wall and ran towards us. We were paralyzed with fear. He went from one boy to the next and angrily beat us with a guava switch. When I went home, the blood from the welts on my back had caked on my shirt. Ordinarily Granny took up for the teacher but this was too much. He had crossed the line.

Granny marched me up to the Headmaster’s cottage and stood at Teacher Crawford’s gate and cussed him for about an hour. This is the one and only time she ever lost her cool. She was fit to be tied. She marched back and forth in front of his gate and yelled obscenities at him and called him every awful name that she could think of in front of the crowd that had gathered. I was feeling sorry for Teacher. She characterized him as a monster for brutalizing her child. With that performance, I could no longer return to school. So, she took me to Nightingale Grove School (3 miles away) and boarded me with Headmaster Marvin Morris during the week. My academic performance accelerated during that year with the help of another student (Lizette Sherman) who was also boarding with Teacher Marvin Morris and I felt very big up walking to school with the headmaster each morning.

A year later, Teacher Crawford was replaced by the very talented and superb Teacher Clifford Chang and his wife Joyce. I returned to Springfield School to enjoy my final year in Jamaica with my Granny---my inspiration, mentor and the best teacher to whom I owe my broughtupsy.

Yes. Everyone loved Ms. Rosie. She was kindness incarnate. In fact, if you look up the word “kindness” in Webter’s Dictionary, you will find her picture. Who would not love someone who was always at the ready to lend a helping hand and to offer whatever she had to improve the human condition. I have never met anyone who was more generous and who had the uncanny ability to lift the spirits of all who came in contact with her. She taught me that the more she gave away, the more she got in return and it was always better to give than to receive. Her direct words were: "Good deeds are like seeds planted in rich soil, guaranteed to return a good harvest."

But before you start claiming her as your Granny. Don’t forget that she is mine. Interestingly enough, there are many other Granny's like Ms. Rosie around Woodlands---even today!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Wicked Plants

Cassava, Ackee and other common Jamaican plants

I recently read the book “Wicked Plants” by Amy Stewart (Algonquin Book of Chapel Hill, 2009) and was fascinated by what the author had to say about common Jamaican plants.

Among the local Jamaican products mentioned are:
1. Cashew shells. The stain (urushiol) will cause a nasty rash. Biting on the shell to open it will produce a rash on your lips.
2. Peas (red kidney beans) when eaten raw can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea from phytohaemagglutinin.
3. Prematurely harvested Ackee can cause vomiting.
4. Cassava contains a substance call linamarin that converts to cyanide in the body. The risk of cyanide poisoning can be eliminated through careful preparation that involves soaking, squeezing, drying, baking or cooking of the root. If not prepared properly, it can cause weakness, tremors, lack of coordination, vision problems and partial paralysis. When I was a child, my grandmother harvested the cassava, wash, grater and squeeze the juice out of it. She left the juice to settle into starch and poison water that was used as rat poison or to kill stray dogs. The remaining flour was dreid and made into bammy or boiled like a dumpling.
5. Oleander contains oleandrin, a cardiac glycoside that brings on nausea and vomiting, severe weakness, irregular pulse and a decreased heart rate when digested.
6. Castor Bean from which castor oil is derived can cause death by ingesting as few as four seeds because it contains ricin which is removed in manufacturing when sold as a laxitive.

Consider yourself warned.

Our Son Passed His Medical Board Examination

Another Doctor in the Family

What is the difference between a barefoot boy from Woodlands District, St. Elizabeth, and a doctor? The answer: One generation!

We celebrate every day but we are as high as a kite today. We took our youngest son to a wonderful restaurant (“Nan’s” in Atlanta)last night, big him up, prayed, clicked our wine glasses and the three of us held hands and cried tears of happiness. We just learned that Aleron passed his final major examination (Boards, Part 11) and will be graduating from The Morehouse School of Medicine in May. Allah and all the Saints be praised: nothing but net; a hole in one; a ten!

Congratulations Son and much respect. You have done it!

Aleron is a healthy, handsome, talented Alpha Man with the most amazing personality. In other words, “He is young, gifted and Black! And that’s a fact!” Can you tell how much we love him?

We are blessed with four phenomenal children who are not only healthy and happy but who all celebrated great milestones and accomplishments, have wonderful families and careers as well as gifted us with five and a half beautiful grand children. How is that for a blessing? They all join us in this moment of joy and thanksgiving. Impossible dreams come true when God and a loving dedicated wife reside at your side. I am fulfilled.

Basil Waine Kong

Monday, January 25, 2010

Elaine Bryan's Column in the Gleaner

Financial Freedom - Be healthy, wealthy and wise in 2010 (part I)
Published: Monday | January 25, 2010

Elaine Grant Bryan, Contributor

As we continue to maintain a healthy lifestyle, while taking the necessary steps towards enjoying financial freedom, I challenge you to join me in my four-month weight loss goal. Together let's make an effort to lose 25 pounds by May. We will be able to prove the power of group support in pursuing a common goal.


1. Avoid eating three big meals per day. Our digestive system works best with small frequent meals.

2. Eat small snacks every two to three hours during the day.

3. Stress contributs to our obesity. Consider adding a high quality vitamin B-Complex to daily regimen during periods of high stress.

Meaningful Collaboration

Good health is vital to the enjoyment of economic prosperity. According to Dr. Basil Waine Kong, President of the Heart Institute of the Caribbean Foundation, "Track your blood sugar and maintain ideal weight. Obesity and diabetes attract each other; therefore, as the rate of obesity goes up so does diabetes. When we are overweight, we are at risk of developing diabetes, which increases our risk of heart attacks, strokes, blindness, amputations and impotence. Three out of four diabetics will die from heart disease and stroke."

He also suggests that we should consult a medical doctor if we have the following symptoms: Fatigue, blurred vision, excessive thirst, frequent urination, unexplained weight loss, and non-healing soars and wounds. By reducing obesity, we are taking a swing at diabetes.

Dr Kong also offered some advice for a preventive approach to health in Jamaica. He suggests that Jamaica needs a system that promotes health and not an expensive health care system that only treats disease. In a country where the average household income is less than US$4,000 per year, we cannot afford to provide invasive and expensive medical services to treat illnesses that can and should have been prevented. By being proactive instead of reactive, we can inspire people to take health promotion and disease prevention seriously.

Together we can realise our goal of being healthy, wealthy and wise in 2010. I invite you to email me if you plan to be involved in this great endeavour. I am looking forward to the first 25 participants. Plus, remember that you will be on a path to financial freedom if you do not have to spend so much on doctor bills and expensive medicines.

Remember the What What What Approach - What you do with what you have determines what you become. Readers, we have each other, so join me in this weight-loss challenge and let's celebrate in May!

Elaine Grant-Bryan is an empowerment speaker, Georgia Leadership Sandy Springs graduate, recipient of the Mayor of Atlanta Phoenix and Judge Glenda Hatchett Awards & Real Estate Expert featured on HGTV and Fine Living Channels.

Send feedback/questions to