Just a spoonful

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Anyone who has ever met my Auntie Clarie knows that she marches to the beat of her own drum. She is fiercely independent and headstrong – characteristics that she has possessed since childhood.

In the late 1960s when Clarie was a girl, parents typically implemented some preventative measures to safeguard the health of their children. For my grandparents, Clarie’s parents, one such measure was a regular dose of liquid (not encapsulated) cod liver oil. If you’ve never had the pleasure of taking cod liver oil yourself, it’s as delightful as it sounds: oily and fishy. On the list of things children will willingly consume, cod liver oil does not make an appearance. Children will say it’s because it tastes awful and is almost impossible to swallow but for some strange reason, parents are convinced that it’s because children enjoy rebelling against things that are good them. Nonetheless, most children will bend to their parents’ will and obediently but reluctantly swallow their allotted dose. Not Clarie. Clarie would have no part in this supposedly healthy regimen.

One day, Clarie’s sisters and her mother decided that this would be the day that she received her dose of cod liver oil, whether she liked it or not. They knew it would not be easy but they thought that among the five of them – all bigger than Clarie – they should be able to pull it off. The plan was fairly simple: pin her down, pry her mouth open and pour in a fishy, oily spoonful. One person had her legs, another her head, another still her flailing arms, another tried to pry her mouth open and the final participant was tasked will delivering the dreadful dose. But Clarie was not intimated by this coordinated attack, nor was she going to make this easy for them: she struggled and fought, even through the occasional slap meant to inspire good behaviour and cooperation.

This harrowing scene continued for some time when suddenly, Clarie appeared to calm down. Her body went limp, she opened her mouth wide and docilely accepted the spoonful. If they had looked into her still fierce eyes, they would have known that something was amiss. She immediately closed her mouth and then unleashed the contents in a spew all over her oppressors. The cod liver oil was everywhere: on the walls, on their faces, in their hair. The team, now deflated and defeated, spent the rest of the morning trying to rid themselves, and that room, of the fishy film. Never again would they attempt such a feat.

Clarie: 1. Cod liver oil: 0.


Featured image is “just a spoonful…” by Sarah Klockars-Clauser, CC BY-SA 3.0

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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.

The stories we tell ourselves

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Recently, a friend shared some thoughts with me about the stories we tell ourselves. She said (or wrote, rather):

We become the story we tell ourselves.

People always tell me what they’re not.

What they’re not good at.

When I ask, ‘What are you? Who are you? What are you good at?’ I usually get a blank stare or an ‘I don’t know’ or ‘nothing’.

So you’re nothing, or maybe lost.

Worse, the only thing you’re sure of is that you’re not good enough.

It is the only story that you tell yourself.

We become the story we tell ourselves.

What’s your story?

I’m still not sure how to answer that question. What’s MY story? Perhaps that’s what I’m searching for through this project. Is that what all storytellers are ultimately trying to do or find? A story that reflects them? their life? their hopes? their dreams?

I’ve been actively pondering this question over the past week. What comes to mind is what I do (i.e., what pays the bills), where I come from (my country of origin) or maybe even my belief system. But none of these seem sufficiently big enough to be called “my story”. And maybe that’s the point. None of us have just one story. We are walking, talking storyboards with constantly changing plots and characters. If I focus instead on my many different stories – develop the characters and plot lines fully – then perhaps I can begin to identify the thread that ties them all to me.

I’ll let you know how it goes.