There are times when one has to take note of the influences in one’s life. For a great many persons and of course for me and my siblings the single greatest impact has been family. We lived on Lord Street in San Fernando. It was a curious but warm and lively place in the heart of San Fernando and home to many. That is a story all by itself!
Positioned at the confluence of the courthouse, the police station and a rum shop it lay witness to the operations of two major arms of the state and the periodic unstatesmanlike condition of inebriated men who were also passionate about the separation of powers, preferring strong drink to chaser.
The daily management of Lord Street was undertaken by Marva our mother. She was forthright and steady in holding these duties together. My father, Learie Hammond Dowrich was named after cricket greats, Sir Learie Constantine and Englishman, Walter ‘Wally’ Hammond. Born on 16 January 1935 in Port of Spain, his names point to his mother’s love of cricket and recognition that cricket is a metaphor for life.
He was also nicknamed ‘Loby’ short for ‘Loby Fat Pork’’. He attributes that moniker to his sister, my aunt Medelyne. Of course when you hear it repeatedly it sounds normal especially when Uncle Floyd says it. When excited Uncle Floyd stammers. So Learie my father is also Loby, the brother, Uncle Learie to his nephews and nieces and grandpa to his eleven grandchildren.
Then if I stay on the path of highlighting his aliases (that is not to say that he has many) how could I exclude the unique handle ‘Larry’? Mr. Pitt, his buddy, calls him Larry for reasons unknown to anyone save Mr. Pitt. Even when someone says his real name Mr. Pitt hears the name Larry. We have learned to live with that. As Loby would say, ‘is not what he says, is what he means’.
My father worked at the Cement Factory and he espoused the philosophy that underpinned our love for reading and for educational achievement. Loby always bought books. He was a member of the Book of the Month Club so new titles were always ordered and easily available. He surmises that this membership goes back more than thirty years! There were books on woodworking, house designs and plumbing. He subscribed to Reader’s Digest, Ebony, and National Geographic. I vividly remember the images of that horrific 8.0 magnitude earthquake that demolished Mexico City in 1985 laid bare in the pages of the National Geographic.
He bought the complete Encyclopaedia Britannica set in 1972. He bought the original Shakespeare comedies and tragedies. Then there were books by William Shirer (The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich), Will Durant (Lessons of History) and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, famous for the series about the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes. There were huge hard cover books of stories by the Brothers Grimm and the Anderson Brothers which brought to life dragons, giants, beanstalks and sword wielding heroes and presented damsels in distress waiting to be rescued after sleeping for years and years.
There were also books on Anglicanism and world religions. Then there were the heroic and sturdy adventure books by Alistair MacLean (The Guns of Navarone and Where Eagles Dare) which I read over and over. Come to think about it I read several of those titles over and over particularly Sherlock Holmes and The Brothers Grimm.
Every time I wandered off and started searching his bookshelf there was a new book to be found! It was as if books sprouted to life asexually on the shelf! But on reflection, the diversity of titles on his shelf is more in keeping with the outcomes of sexual reproduction. Some of these titles were: Story of the World (J M Roberts), Peter the Great (Robert Massai), the twelve volumes of The Story of Civilization (Will and Ariel Durant), At Dawn We Slept (Gordon Prange), Gulag Archipelago (Alexander Solzhenitsyn).
His love affair with books aroused my desire as well and at around age ten gave me the impetus to delve into all of the books in the Hardy Boys series while my elder sister Michele collected the series on Nancy Drew (which I read as Chuck allowed some excitement in each adventure where Nancy was involved).
In the pre-adolescent years there were the Enid Blyton stories which were fun while they lasted. This last sentence is a dart which directs all to the fact that reading is fun. In allowing myself to be immersed in the many books of Loby I was in fact lost in many worlds where the mind roamed free and my spirit was happy. This in retrospect created a thirst which sought to be quenched when I read for specific educational purposes while pursuing Advanced Level or university during my undergraduate or graduate programmes.
Learie is a simple man who relished knowledge. In turn he wanted his children to have access to knowledge. He invested heavily and unrelentingly in many books opening opportunities for each of us to explore. As Father’s Day draws near, his remarkable influence on two generations remains one of his legacies. I read, my daughters read and with the advent and all pervasive influence of technology, reading is a click away.
Our terms of reference and therefore our heartfelt philosophy is that in every home there must be books. My sister Laura said to me in a hushed tone once, seemingly mortified that upon entry to a friend’s house she noticed that no books were to be seen. She said, ‘Lance they have no books!’ Her face was twisted with the pain that only an absence of books can bring.
Can you feel the pain that Laura felt? Does your house have books?
Loby has many. He can lend you a title or two.