this was a good week

This is a different sort of entry for This Was A Good Week -- apologies to those who were expecting the usual links.  But this was an exceptionally interesting week for me, and I couldn't wait to share this with you.

My dad is the second of nine children; the fourth child, his brother and my Uncle Larry, is an amateur but avid historian.  He lives in Canada, and is a schoolteacher by trade -- languages, to be precise -- but for most of my adult life, his avocation has been to chronicle his family's story.  He meticulously researched his parents' lineage -- no easy feat, seeing his father is descended from slaves, and his mother's people are from mainland China.

When I was in my 20s, Uncle Larry traced our family lineage to China; but more recently, he traced our family surname, Walrond, back to the times of William the Conqueror.  (It's far more difficult to trace our African blood lineage, obviously.  While we know my grandfather's grandparents were slaves in the Caribbean island of Barbados, slaveowners generally kept very poor records of the names and births of the enslaved; as such, there is little to no information available about of our family members earlier than my great-grandfather, on my father's side. We have the English surname that we do because it wasn't uncommon for slaves to be given their owners' surnames -- a way of indicating ownership.)  The result of his painstaking work, accomplished by combing through my grandfather's memoirs and performing detailed research in libraries around the world, is his recently-published book, Ratoon.  This work is part-autobiography, part-biography of my grandfather, and part-history lesson; of England and the Caribbean in general, and Trinidad in particular.

I purchased this book about a month ago, primarily out of loyalty and a desire  to support Uncle Larry and his work.  If I'm honest, however, history has always been a challenge for me, so I was a bit apprehensive about actually reading it.  Nonetheless, I took it with me on my trip to Seattle this week, since flights are always the best time for me to crack open a book.

I've finished it, and my heavens, what a gift this book is:  glimpses into his (and my dad's) childhood, my grandfather's life, and how English medieval history, the African slave trade and Caribbean colonialism all play a part in our family story.  I was riveted, and learned so much more about how historic events directly impacted my family than I'd ever imagined. 

So today, with your indulgence, I wanted to share a few excerpts with you, ones which particularly moved me.

On Emancipation Day in the British colonies, August 1, 1834:

"Throughout the British colonies,the evening of 31 July was a sombre and emotional one.  After a hurriedly eaten evening meal, some slaves climbed to the top of the nearest hill to wait for sunrise on 1 August.  This was going to be their "Dawn of Freedom."  Some slaves dressed in their finest and headed for their churches and chapels, which had been decorated with flowers, branches and palm fronds.  Once there, they sang hymn after hymn, in praise and thanksgiving, while keeping an eye on the clock.  At midnight, the ministers gave the message 'You are free.'"

On technological advances during my grandfather's life:

"My father began his memoirs with this rather simple sentence:  'I was born on 31 July 1899, at King Street, St. Joseph on the island of Trinidad.'

When I first read this line around 1993, several thoughts flashed through my mind.  The most salient, though, was the date 1899.  I considered myself very lucky to have had such a close relationship with someone who was so old, still in possession of all his mental faculties and very wise. 

I began to think of all the technological and social changes he would have witnessed.  In the area of transportation alone, he would have gone from horse-and-buggy days to the age of the jet plane.  This is the only technology story I can relate:  My brother had installed a fax machine in the family house at Champ Fleurs, Trinidad,  and showed my father how to use it.  Shortly after his return to Canada, my brother phoned my father and asked him to fax a document to him.  The document arrived, and all seemed well.  About three minutes later, the same document was transmitted and received again.  Thinking this was due to some mechanical malfunction, my brother ignored it.  However, when within five minutes a third copy arrived, my brother phoned to find out what the problem was.  My father said, 'Well I put the paper in as you showed me and pressed the buttons, but it came out at the other end, so I put it in again and it came out again.  So I thought I would try one more time.'

All was explained and understood.  Years later, someone asked my father what was the most fascinating invention he had witnessed.  His answer was the fax machine."

My grandfather was a schoolteacher and headmaster as a young man, but he was almost 70 when I was born, so I only knew him as an elderly, retired gentleman.  While I never found him unkind, I found him serious and stern, only interested in how my schooling and piano lessons were going.  So I found this entry particularly poignant:

"It was not long before my father had established a working routine in his school  In his memoirs, he wrote the following:

By this time I had settled down to work in the school, which was very pleasant and gave me much joy.  I had to ride a bike to school and I made it possible to get there at 8 a.m. or a little passed eight o'clock, early enough to let the children find me there on their arrival.  On arrival, the children came to my table -- those who came before the bell rang -- and bade me good morning with a smile, drawing from me a 'good morning with a smile.'  They taught me to smile."

On one of my grandfather's close friends:

"The mention of cricket brings to mind one of my father's contemporaries of whom he had written on several occasions.  The friend was Ben Sealey.  He was born in St. Joseph on 12 August 1899.  He and my father had both trained to be teachers at the same time.  Ben, however, was an athlete, and I am not sure how long he remained in the teaching profession.  As an accomplished cricketer, though, his career spanned the years 1924 to 1941.  In 1933, he was selected to tour England with a West Indian team.  His tour was a busy one, and he was successful both as a bowler and as a batsman.

He was a frequent visitor to our home, especially in the early and mid '50s.  By then, he was working for the Caroni Sugar Estate.  He loved to drop in just around mealtimes.  He was a jovial man and was always welcome to visit.

In 2013, I was able to contact his son Frank, who now lives in the family home in St. Joseph, and I obtained a picture of Ben.  (By the way, Frank confessed that he, too, likes to drop in on his friends around mealtimes.  As he put it, as long as he had a friend, he was not going to go hungry.)"

My grandfather met my grandmother when he was 36 and she was 18 years old (!).  I love this story about my grandmother's younger brothers during their courtship:

"As a child, I could never understand why my mother's siblings -- and there were nine of them -- all called my father Hello.  I finally got the courage to question my mother.  She explained that when my father came to visit, her youngest brothers, a set of twins, would peek out from behind chairs and other items of furniture, and say, "Hello."  My father would respond by saying, "Hello."  They would repeat the same greeting.  The game was afoot.  In a short time, he became Hello, and the name stayed with him."

And finally, a poem written by my grandfather,  left in his memoirs:

Bright, calm, sweet self-possessing stars,
high up in the horizon set
to light and cheer the toilsome way of man,
to raise his manhood up to higher plane
and cause him to present, as offering poor,
all that is great in him.

With a sunny heart, a mind which is always cheerful and
hopeful and sympathetic, age has little in common.

The mightiest force in the world is the silent power of love.

~  Randolph Osric Walrond

July 13, 1899 - July 27, 1996

Have a wonderful weekend, friends.  (And incidentally, if you like your in-depth history with a generous side-dish of personal anecdote, and you have any interest at all in the history of the Caribbean, pick up a copy of my uncle's book -- the ebook version is only  CA$ 3.99!)