Family Ties

Families in the Caribbean are quite diverse in size, structure and composition. The head of any family in any Caribbean island is also pretty unique and adheres to no textbook prescriptive design. The traditional bedrock nuclear family has been reshaped through significant historical developments starting with indigenous first peoples whose blood still exists in small injections in some islands particularly Trinidad and Guyana. The arrival of Europeans in the presence of Columbus and his cohorts as they sailed west in an attempt to reach the east followed and precipitated the horrific introduction and persistence of African slavery. Once the slave trade was abolished there were Portuguese and Chinese immigrants followed by East Indian labourers through indentureship, the euphemistically named process of paid slavery.

Each ethnic group brought its distinctive family patterns. These patterns are the result of interweaving and intercourse in and out of wedlock. These patterns include fathers who are not present in the home, grandmother-dominated households, and common-law unions with short life spans.

Some of these patterns are reflected in the relationship between the cousin of my wife’s aunt and her husband. Gladys is the fourth cousin of the common-law husband of my wife’s aunt, Brenda. Gladys and her husband have never been married and a loosely understood visitation arrangement has evolved in a common-law union. I have never known his name, so he was nick-named “Mr Brenda”. Gladys was therefore the cousin of Mr Brenda. Gladys had two sisters, Mabel and Ruby. Ruby had four sons while Mabel had two boys, one daughter and a stepchild for her second husband Earl. Earl was from a large family with twelve siblings. These were Adolphus, Egbert, Martha, Thomas (also called “Boy”), David, Jennifer, Eastlyn, Earl, Esther, Christopher, Crystilina, Boysie and Rupert, also called “Toy”.

Toy’s Godfather was Muffit. As is the norm in the Caribbean inter-island travel and migration is commonplace. Muffit was from Montserrat and came to Trinidad just prior to a major eruption of the still active volcano. His father was Cuthbert. Cuthbert passed away when he was 46 and in his will he left land adjacent to the Soufrière Hills volcano for Muffit, his sister Juliana, his other sister Rebecca and Muffit’s brother Errol. Errol, who had lived his life in close proximity to the real threat of magma from an active volcano reshaping his lawn, kitchen, bathroom, manicured afro, and life, decided enough was enough and departed Montserrat for a calmer life in St Lucia and soon married Yvette who lived near the Pitons. Errol would never confess to it but he had a special affinity to mountains. Errol and Yvette had twins, Peterline and Peteroy. Peteroy later married a girl from Dennery whose name was Winnifred. Winnifred’s brother was Fitzroy Sammuel who became a fisherman and while in pursuit of significantly enhanced economic opportunities embodied in a large swordfish, he arrived in Barbados on a fishing vessel and settled in St Phillip.

Having caught his fish, Fitzroy found himself on the other end of the net and after years of consuming coo and flying fish he entered into a common-law relationship with Jodelle from St Lucy whose uncle Nathaniel was a Baptist priest who had a sister by the name of Nancy. Nancy was married to Stanley who was a policeman in the Royal Barbados Police Force. Stanley answered an advertisement for policemen in Trinidad and Tobago and moved to Port of Spain without Nancy and his only son Ottley. As fate would have it Stanley met Olivia from Morvant and had three children, Olive, Ophelia and Oscar. Olivia died unexpectedly and Stanley married Pamela in a truly coincidental alphabetical progression of wives.

Children follow in the footsteps of their parents whether intended or unintended. When Oscar left school he got a job at the Red Spot Sweet drink factory and met Rosalina who was a snow-cone vendor outside the factory. The relationship though sweet at first became frosty but not before it produced a boy by the name of Roger. Rosalina was the daughter of Alister and she was mother to Baby who was friendly with Timothy. Baby’s name reflected the uncertainty of Rosalina when she arrived at the Registrar of Births and Deaths to register the child’s name.

Baby’s beau, Timothy was the stepson of Angie who lived next door to her cousin Savitri. Savitri was the daughter of Babsie and Babsie was cousin to Gaitri who lived with Sandiford. Sandiford had a brother, Kenneth who drove a Hilman Hunter taxi from Oropouche to Fyzabad. Kenneth had two sons, Emerson and Sonny. Sonny played saxophone in a band and later married Ms Ruth’s daughter, Pulmatie. Pulmatie herself was never a musician, but owned quite a stash of long playing albums and came from a family in Robert Village and was two cousins removed from Esmerelda and Cassandra. Cassandra was older than Esmerelda and they were both neighbours to the Kayam’s. There were four sisters in the Kayam family, Sally, Barbin, Angie and Peggy. Sally and Angie remained in Robert Village and Angie moved to Erin.

Peggy got a job at Inland Revenue in Port of Spain and moved to Belmont. There she met Abdul. Abdul married Peggy in the Red House one Thursday morning and a year later they adopted Rookmin who grew up in an orphanage in Port of Spain. Rookmin, following the advice of her mother, married Larry at age eighteen and bore him four sons. Their names were Donald, Selwyn, Sampson and “Goose”. Goose was ambitious and bought a Kawasaki motorbike. He rode with passion and verve and loved to perform wheelies to the admiration of on-looking women. One day this verve made him swerve and led to an unfortunate accident on the Lady Young Road and Goose was hospitalised and had a cast placed on his left leg.

At the hospital he met Belinda a nurse, who was the daughter of Martha, granddaughter of Mr and Mrs Kayam, second cousin of Pulmatie, distant relative of Emerson (brother of Sonny), great-niece to Sandiford, great-second cousin to Babsie, whose great-aunt was Baby. Belinda, who was Roman Catholic, had Baptist cousins in Barbados and was also the niece of Earl and great-niece of Gladys. Belinda therefore had three brothers-in-law in Donald, Selwyn, and Sampson while Rookmin and Martha became pumpkin vine family.

By the way, Mr Brenda’s name was George. He was an only child.

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