My Grandfather was born in Durban,South Africa. His parents were East Indian Doctors. He was a handsome man. Tall, slim, dark skin with jet black hair. He had five siblings. He would often tell me stories about his childhood in South Africa. How he remembers that Blacks had to walk in the center of the street, the Coolies (Indians) had to walk on the side of the road and the Europeans walked on the sidewalk. He never understood why he wasn’t allowed to look at them, talk to them or walk on their sidewalk.
When he was 14, he woke up one night to the sounds of intruders in his home, who had come to kill his parents. As the only boy, he remembers his older sister begging for their lives. The children were spared but his parents were not so fortunate. The next day, the children were split up amongst the remaining family members.
As the only son, my Grandfather was sent to Guyana to live with his Father’s sister. She was also a Doctor and had a very comfortable life. My Grandfather attended College. This was a major feat in those days. He also traveled with her extensively and spent years visiting London, Paris and other European cities. His sisters were split up and sent to various relatives. They all lost touch except for his oldest and youngest sisters. One ended up living in London and one went to Canada. All of his life, he would write them beautiful letters and when they responded, he would read them to me. His oldest sister died before he could ever see her in person. When he was 71, he traveled to London and was reunited with his youngest sister and her children. He said it was one of the happiest days of his life.
Back in Guyana, as an Indian, he was set up to marry another woman. While these arrangements were taking place, he started welding as a trade and was hired by a major steel company that was building oil rigs throughout the Caribbean. They were working on rigging in Trinidad and he was excited to get the work.
He loved the island of Trinidad and it’s people. Everyday on his lunch break, he would walk into town and frequent a small restaurant. The restaurant was run by Mrs. Chung. An older black and chinese woman. Waiting tables was her daughter. A short, feisty, chubby young woman. She served that lunch with an attitude. The tall handsome young man loved to spar with her and started to look forward to his lunch visits.
Eventually, he would marry her and never leave the island. He never saw his aunt again as he ended up breaking the arranged marriage that was set-up for him back in Guyana. Tha family was shamed and his life would have been in jeopardy had he returned.
Instead, he stayed in Trinidad and made it his home. He and his wife built a home filled with love. They were blessed with seven children. One son, the oldest and they followed with six daughters. The fourth child was my mother.
My Grandfather was a wonderful man. He was wise, always had a great story to tell, loved a good western on TV, a cuban cigar and he loved his rum. While my Grandmother was the iron hand one that maintained order, he personified love. He was blessed with a happy spirit that was infectious whenever you were around him. He spoiled every child in his presence and made all adults feel like a part of the family.
When his Grandchildren were born, the numbers reversed. I became the only Granddaughter amongst all male grandsons. He was thrilled to finally have all of those boys running around but I think I always held a special place in his heart because I was the only girl. He was famous for telling me that I was his “only” Granddaughter and kissing me on the head.
He spoiled me rotten. I remember being eight years old and he would make pancakes for me with bacon and a tiny cup of coffee. Mostly milk and sugar but definitely against my mother’s wishes. I would sit next to him, eating breakfast and swearing that I was a grownup.
My parents divorced and my Grandfather continued to show me what a father was for most of my life. He was always there, always positive, always encouraging. He was always boasting about my grades, my talents, my skills.
When I met my husband and brought him home, it was my Grandfather that looked him in the eye and told him “This is my only Granddaughter. Treat her like the precious commodity that she is.”
When I found out I was pregnant with my first son, my Grandfather went into the hosiptal. He had been losing weight rapidly and it was clear to us that something was not right. We found out that he had cancer. He had probably been in pain for months and just refused to tell anyone. He wanted desperately to see his great grandchild but couldn’t make it. The last conversation we had near his hospital bed, I held his hand and he rubbed my stomach. The whole family thought I was having a girl. He looked at me and said…”You know you’re having a boy right?” “You think so?”, I asked him. “Absolutely. I know these things”. I kissed him and he died the next day.
My son is named after this man. The greatest man I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. He died on this day in 2002.
I miss you.