Growing up in Belmont in the 60s and 70s, my fondest memories are of a strong community, family and extended family values and spirit.
While you were aware of socio-economic challenges and constraints, the strong sense of neighbourhood and neighbours acted as a check and balance.
Carnival, calypso, steelband and social activism reflected the Zeitgeist.
No obstacle or challenge was seen as insurmountable. This is not to say that everything was “hunky-dory.” No! Not by any stretch of the imagination.
“But making do with what you have,” “being neither a borrower nor a lender is” and “eat little and live long,” were all intonations and general rules.
Single-parent mothers, in particular, ruled their roost with iron fists and unbending motherisms. They were both fathers and mothers and didn’t shirk their double roles, unflinching.
“Spare the rod and spoil the child” was rule number one and rules numbers two to ten were all referred to as rule number one. “Don’t hang your hat where your hand can’t reach,” “drunk or sober mind your business,” “blood runs thicker than water,” and “speak your truth and speak it quick.”
On more than one occasion I have said or written about the joy of growing up with a single parent in Belmont. I have made no secret of the love, respect and admiration I have for the two women who cared for my brothers Garth and Sean, sister Arlene and I—shaped us—nurtured us into the human beings we are.
And might I add the many individuals, too many to name for whom, Jennifer Lewis nee Salandy was a second mother, auntie and granny. Between my mother and her second mother Beryl “Auntie B” Carmicheal (Yes! relative of Stokely Carmichael and Auntie B’s brother Oscar Sealy). The number three Bedford Lane, Belmont clan was nurtured. Old school vibes and values blended in with the reality of the times.
The 60s and 70s were changing, revolutionary and transformational times in T&T. Independence, Black Power, Civil rights...Carnival, calypso and steelband meant different things to different segments of the society. You either stood for something or not. You either had the courage and fearlessness to stand up and be counted or not.
The passing of my mother Jennifer Lewis on the morning of Wednesday, June 8, 2022—there are no words that I can write or say that can adequately express the raw pain and ‘heartbrokenness’. But my brothers and sister and I—our children—are comforted by the truth that in fighting against the odds, in being indomitable, our mother’s calling and purpose were lived and completed.
The world has changed. T&T has changed. But the importance of parenting be it single, two-parent family or extended family is still invaluable. The importance of community and neighbourhood is still priceless. If T&T has lost its way it’s because as a society and community, we have and continue to place money, the acquisition and holding on to it, as the be-all and end-all. More important than family, parenting and community. Single-minded materialism and consumerism have fostered a deep profound self-contempt for what matters most.
There are those who allege the old school and traditional way is no longer relevant. What was once good parenting is now viewed as mental, emotional and physical abuse. There are so many conflicting theories and scholarly papers about what is good or not so good.
Hard-line and hard-core parenting and guardianship are no longer the things.
Who knows what are the answers to the many perceived and real ills and challenges facing T&T in this post-COVID-19 era.
But those of us who face the reality of grieving and saying goodbye to old-school parents and grandparents. The passage of time will not dim the memory of the perseverance, determination and dedication of their love.
Losing a mother is one of the deepest sorrows a heart can know. Someone told me a few days ago—or that should be reminded me—that a mother is a son’s, first love.
Rest in peace mommy, granny, and auntie. We love you. You are our hero. We will miss you. Thank you for making us who we are. Your unconditional love saw us through many of life’s ups and downs. A life well-lived.
A mother’s love matters.