I didn’t have regular parents. You know, the ones waving from the porch behind the white picket fence as the school bus drove off down the street. No, no. I had Storybook Parents. You know, the ones who were more like the fabulous people you imagined them to be, hugging you when you hurt, and fixing your beautiful pony tails before kissing you gently on the forehead and tucking you in at night. The ones with love bubbling up inside and overflowing onto you.
But my Storybook Parents made dramatic appearances in my life from time to time, bearing unforgettable memories of all sorts.
There were many of us in my village who had been sent to live with relatives because our birth parents couldn’t or didn’t want to take care of us themselves. My Grand Aunt, Sis, told me that my mother had had me too young and the man who had made her pregnant had either disappeared out of her life, or might as well have. My best friend Tita was like me. We were told that our mothers had gone to “make something of themselves” and would send for us when they could. We never had any such reassurance about our fathers so it was a complete surprise to me when my mother showed up in Morris Hall one day, and the gift she brought was my father!
It was my birthday and my Grand Aunt, Sis, had made my favorite – potato pudding with delicious coconut custard on top. She had just brought it in from the kitchen and the creamy sauce was bubbling on top like little balloons that popped when you looked at them. The pudding clung to the side of the pudding pan and formed a little gold crust all the way around. Later when Sis took the pudding out of the pan she would leave enough for Tita and I to enjoy as we walked to the river to scrub it clean. I began to salivate as I watched the bubbles burst and settle down one at a time but I knew I would have to wait until it cooled and completely set before Sis would let me have that delicious taste in my mouth. I stood by the table and inhaled the sweet smell.
When I heard the car drive into our yard, I looked out and saw a big, shiny red and white car that had fins at the sides like a fish. I guessed that it was somebody important because Sis rushed inside and started dressing me up in one of my pretty Sunday dresses.
I Saw my mother come out of the front of the car, then a man and another woman. I was so happy to see my mother that I started to run outside but Sis held me back. My mother came into the house. She had beautiful long red finger nails and her skin, which was dark like Uncle David’s looked smooth and silky as if it had just been cleaned and polished. When she smiled, she had big dimples in her cheeks and her teeth were very white next to her skin. She stood in the doorway and smiled because Sis was still fussing with my dress.
“How yu do, Sis?
“Awright. How yu?”
My mother looked at us for a minute.
“Sis, why you always wait till Mari grow out her clothes before you make she wear them?” Sis glanced at her.
“If the way I dressin her don’t suit yu, yu can always come from town every mornin and dress her yuself.”
“Sis, If you don’t want keep her, is a whole heap a people who will keep her, so don’t throw no words pon me.”
My mother knew that would stop any further arguments because Sis would never let anybody take me away from her. My mother stooped down to help but Sis brushed her aside and told her to go back outside and take care of her friends. My mother sucked her teeth in annoyance and left. Miss Evelyn and her daughter Miss Blossom, who rented one of our other houses in came over to our verandah to observe the visitors.
“How yu do Bloss?”
“Life rough as usual.”
“Yu know how it go. We don’t get no help from dem fathers. Yu lucky yu only have Mari. And yu have Sis to take care of her for yu. I don’t get no help from any of mi children fathers.”
Miss Evelyn chimed in, “Blossom, don’t talk like I don’t help yu take care of all them children yu droppin every year!”
“Mama, I not saying yu don’t help—”
My mother turned to Miss Evelyn, “Miss Ev, she didn’t mean yu don’t help.”
“Yes, she mean it. She always make it sound like I don’t help—”
“Calm down Mama, Is just that is a whole lot of them and sometime yu just don’t hear when they get into mischief.”
“What Miss Chin have to do wid dis?”
“I didn’t say Miss Chin, I said mis-chief.” My mother burst into laughter.
“Just because I don’t hear as good as I used to—”
Sis looked at Miss Evelyn, “Evelyn, why yu always put yu nose where it don’t belong?”
Miss Evelyn ignored Sis and watched as Sis finished brushing up my hair and took me outside. The man was now leaning against the verandah in conversation with Miss Blossom.
“Mari, is yu father. Say hello.”
For those children whose fathers either lived with them, or lived somewhere in the district, seeing their fathers was nothing special. For me, it was like a storybook coming to life because I had made up so many stories about him that I felt like I already knew what he looked like. My mother gave me another little push.
“Say hello to yu father, Mari.”
I looked up at my father for the first time and the image I had had in my mind was shattered to bits. Instead of a thin wiry man with crinkly eyes like my Grand Uncle, he was a great big giant with a sparkling smile and strong arms that swept me up into the air like a little dolly.
“What a nice little girl yu growing up to be, Mari.”
I didn’t know him, so I kept looking at my Mother and back at Sis.
“Say hello to yu father, Mari,” Sis encouraged me.
I wouldn’t speak. He took me out to the car where the woman was now leaning against the front door of the car. Sis looked the woman over but didn’t speak to her. The woman didn’t speak to Sis either.
“Bevvy, this is my pretty little daughter Mari.”
“Is a nice little girl. I will wait in the car.”
She got into the front of the car and closed the door. My father opened the back door, put me into the car and got into the driver’s seat. My mother walked to the front of the car. and looked at the woman sitting there. She tried to open the door but it was locked so she got in beside me and we drove away. I didn’t know where they were taking me but I stood up on the seat to wave good-bye to Sis who was disappearing in the distance. The woman in the front turned and yelled at me to sit down so that I wouldn’t get dirt on the car seat. My father brought the car to a sudden halt.
“Don’t yu ever talk to my daughter like that again. This is my car, she is my child. She can stand any damn where she like. You understand me?”
I don’t know whether the woman understood or not because she turned her back to him and looked out the window. He turned to me.
“It’s all right Sweetie, you go on and stand up if you want.”
But I was too afraid to stand up again so I stayed seated. My mother put a protective arm around me and looked at the woman angrily. After we got to the main road, we drove a long way, past Mr. Chin’s shop and Paradise Bridge and almost all the way to Bog Walk. Then my father turned off into a gate where there were a lot of colorful machines and animals and a lot of people. We got out of the car and my father lifted me up and took me on to the machines. He told me it was a Ferris Wheel and that I shouldn’t be afraid because he would protect me. When it started, it spun around and around and tickled me so that I laughed and laughed for the whole ride. When it stopped, we went on some other machines then we played with the animals and my father bought me a big teddy bear and sweets to take home. The woman who was with us kept telling me not to touch things and that I should behave myself. Finally my mother turned and said something to my father. The woman turned and yelled at my mother.
“If yu don’t like it, take yu pickney and go back home.”
“Smitty, tell yu red bitch fi leave mi pickney alone. You hear me?”
“Is who yu a call bitch, you black ugly cockroach!”
“The cockroach under yu, you red bitch.”
The woman tried to grab my mother but my mother slapped her and my father stepped in between them.
“You want I just leave the two of yu right here? You better behave yuself, yu understand me?” Neither of them answered my father so I guessed they understood him. But just to be sure he asked them again.
“Yu understand me?” They glared at each other and both turned away without answering.
“Yu understand me?” My father walked away with me. When it was time to go home my mother grabbed me from him and sat in the front of the car. The other woman tried to open the front door but my mother had locked it so she got into the back seat and slammed the door.
When we got back home, my mother jumped out of the car almost before it stopped. My father got out and told the woman to come with him. She refused to move. He picked me up.
“Would you like to do this on your next birthday, Honey?”
“O.K., then that’s what we’ll do!” He gave me a great big hug and put a lot of money into my hand.
“Give this to Sis. Tell her to take good care of you.”
When he was ready to leave, my mother refused to get into the car. He hugged her and tried to convince her to get in but she refused. Finally, he and the woman left. My mother didn’t eat her dinner or any of my potato pudding that evening. When we went to bed she hugged me real tight and cried until she fell asleep. When Sis woke me up for school the next morning, my mother was gone.
All that week Tita couldn’t stop talking about how handsome my father was and how lucky I was that he was rich. Finally, Tita and I found other exciting things to talk about. Life in Morris Hall went back to normal.