Lessons from my grandmother

My mother hard at work
Work my mother for ya children
My mother hard at work
Work my mother for ya children
My daddy he’s down
Way over, far over
Working out the cultivation
Come in with food Daddy

Come in daddy come

Come with food come

And if we should live up in the hills

Man in the Hills, Burning Spear

She used to press three grains of corn into my little hand.  I can still feel the contours like permanent imprints on my palms, that unlike my grandmother’s do not grow weary and calloused from washing other people’s clothes but from spending too many hours trying to fashion thoughts into words.
And I would take the three grains and put them carefully, reverentially into a little hole my grandmother dug with a brown-handled rusty spade. Her instructions were sparse.  She expected you to know what to do. My grandmother who had wrestled poverty and a society that chose not to see her all her life had no patience with not knowing.
My grandmother who was poto l’eglise  and hardcore PNM too besides, studiously ignored the advice of the messiah of the time Eric Williams who I hear, advised that massa day was done and that people should put down their hoes and shovels.
My grandmother who weaved magic food spells out of little.  Who no matter where she lived, always planted something.
My grandmother was no economist or environmentalist.  She was a barely literate, little piece of a woman who spoke kwéyol with my mother’s friends from Guadeloupe and St. Lucia with an effortless eloquence.
My grandmother knew the value of being able to feed yourself.
Long before Vandana Shiva described what it is to be an ecofeminist, my grandmother demanded from the women in her family a certain level of dignity, a certain amount of determination, a certain straightness of the back and independence of spirit.
My mother studied books. Plenty books to not end up washing clothes like her mother.   Books to a fault.  My mother learned from her mother the art of taking nothing and creating a feast.
I stood in the yard when I was small between two these two super women.  Watching corn grow and sorrel and peas.  My mother with her photographic memory slit Mr. Cock’s neck and dumped him in a boiling pot of water.  My grandmother expected nothing less.  She raised no wilting flowers.
My grandmother who was poto l’eglise gave us bush baths with plants of which I can only remember the smells. Strong smells, to frighten away negative forces. She never explained why and we never asked.
My grandmother who never made it past fourth standard knew the difference between tulsi and wonder of the world.  Which bush was good for what.
I stand in my own yard now.  Watching hard little green tomatoes grown deep green into red. I pick a little bit of fever grass for tea.  I think my grandmother would be unimpressed.  My life is easy, obscenely easy. Neither chick nor child and I can’t find time to plant more. I, who should know better.  I fear I am a disappointment to her years of struggle.
I think about what she would make of that new KFC ad. The one with the mother whose child is inconsolable until she reaches for a piece of fried chicken.  I think about what she would make of bad behaved ministers and prime ministers who refer to themselves in the third person.
My grandmother would have steupsed at their folly. She would have said they must be suffering from I never thought.  She would have set her mouth in that resolute Santa Cruz way and said common sense ent too common.
My grandmother might have sworn in kwéyol even as she fingered the beads of her rosary.  Because women like her knew the value of work, hard work, back breaking work so that the next generation doesn’t have to suffer the same indignities.  But women like her  also knew the value of taking in front.
Of being able to heal yourself, and the value of every top being able to spin on their own bottom.  She, who loved to play with words might have said that neither super farm nor Super Pharm is the answer.
If you can’t feed yourself how you expect to live?
I want to remember what my grandmother taught me, but the noise of economists and politicians and advertisers gets in the way.  As if hard times never existed in Trinidad. As if people weren’t deliberately discouraged from self-sufficiency to feed our greedy food import bill.
We used to stand in the yard, my grandmother and my sisters and my mother and watch what we had planted.  Watch it grow and reap the fruits of our collective labour. And it was good.
My grandmother taught me there are many ways a woman can be fertile and fruitful.

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