Lunch-time luck

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As a child, I always thought that my father had a strange first name: Alford. For the longest time, I’d never met or heard of anyone else with that name. When introducing himself for the first time, he often has to overemphasize the “ford” part so that people don’t assume he’s an Alfred who cannot enunciate. But most people just call him “Allie”. I learned, however, that in high school, he went by another name and this is the story of how he got it.

My father, Allie, went to Kingston College, a high school in Kingston – Jamaica’s capital city. During this time, he was living with his eldest sister, far from his home in rural St. Ann. Needless to say, there were high expectations for his academic performance as well as his behaviour. However, anyone who has been to high school will know that the environment is not always conducive to good behaviour. When you’re being bullied or provoked by other kids, there usually comes a point when your good-naturedness becomes futile and you must resort to other tactics. One on such day, Allie was at lunch and the boys – Kingston College was an all-boys school – were being particularly troublesome. They were trying to pick fights with any and everybody for no particular reason. As it turns out, Allie’s number had come up, his good-naturedness had had enough and he was in a fight before he knew it. The altercation quickly escalated to a physical struggle and soon Allie was pinned down on a desk. His opponent, who probably had a lot more experience in this arena, was poised to throw the first punch.

As luck would have it, Pepsi-Cola was quite popular in those days and Allie had had one with his lunch. Just as his opponent was getting ready to end the fight, an unintended effect of consuming the carbonated beverage was becoming apparent. Allie quickly shouted, “Wait, wait wait! Lemme belch fuss!”, fuss being the patois equivalent of “first”. The group of boys all stared in stunned silence before erupting in boisterous laughter. That, of course, was enough to end the fight and earn Allie a new nickname: Belch-fuss.

Lost in translation?

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I’ve started transcribing some of the stories I’ve collected and I’m really excited that the process has me laughing out loud at some of the stories’ content. However, the process has me thinking whether all that humour will come through as I try to move from oral storytelling to the written word. I can’t be the first person to have this concern with storytelling so there must be some solution or way to mitigate the loss of “juice”. I’ve mentioned humour but the other aspect that will certainly be lost or tamed is the use of the Jamaican vernacular. I think that I will have to write the story proper in English and leave patois for quotations. But this concession saddens me a little. I feel that some of the stories’ souls will be lost. This brings me to consider who my audience is/will be? Am I collecting stories for myself? my family? the world? I want to say “all of the above” but that may be unrealistic at best and stupid at worst. If I really think about it then I’m collecting for my family: past, present and future. Perhaps that should help to clarify things and narrow down my options but it doesn’t – not immediately anyhow. Writing in patois is a difficult task and perhaps it will be more trouble than it’s worth but I feel I shall have to explore to find a sweet spot. Hopefully, the sweet spot will provide some clarity – let the stories speak to whomever will hear and desire to listen.