There are still many Bajan stories to tell, but if we fail to tell them, they will clearly be tainted by the varnish of cultural penetration.
Once upon a time, if I uttered the word “liar” within the earshot of a family elder, like my grandmother, instantly her hand charged towards my neck or cheek — whichever it caught first — at “bird speed”, with the force of a boulder rolling down Horse Hill.
Of course, we learned how to duck. However, words like liar, idiot and ass were banned from our vocabulary and if some spoke an untruth we were supposed to say that “the person tell story (or stories)”.
Thankfully, as I share this story about our culture as retold by two of my James Street Sunday school pals, Dalton Bostic and Pierre Nigel, I don’t have to fear the weight of a fist, a strap, or a court sentence.
About two weeks ago, Dalton called me to clarify some hotel details as he sought to solidify a Bostic grand family reunion that is scheduled for August in Barbados. When he was finished, he shared with me that “Oliver Broome, another James Street church member, had passed away.
Oliver, a friend of mine who played for police, was an excellent wicketkeeper and batsman, who mastered the swing of the Australian ball used by Cable & Wireless, by hitting hard — sometimes straight or over third man.
Dalton then told me that many of the boys from Lightfoot Lane, Sobers Lane and Mahogany Lane, played cricket on the parade square of Central Police Station, and Oliver Broome often coached them.
Intuitively, I then asked Dalton if “Doctor Basic”, a well known city character was by any chance, family to him.
“Well, you know he had his problems.”
“Yes, that was the story then, but have things changed? Mental health appears to be still a neglected area. Its link to recent mass shootings in the USA is a perfect example.”
“Yes. Dr. Bostic is family to me. Let me see. He is my grand mother’s cousin. He never stopped visiting her. He would come on Saturdays, but remain outside. The Bostics were originally from St. Peter and we are also connected to the Belles (Dr. George Bell’s father) — let me see his first name was Coswyn, I think.
“He was CVS Belle, from the ‘Palms’, Cheapside, St. Michael.
“Yes. He was related to Princess Belle on the Bostic’s side. Dr Bostic often left home at 10 a.m. on Saturdays, with a bull horn and rusty sword, and was gone all day until 5:30 p.m. advertising dances using FEEDERBAY Broadcasting station operating on a frequency of 032.776 FM.”
Dalton, who now lives in Middlesex in New Jersey, once worked at Fogarty, in Bridgetown, and spent eight years in the US Air Force. He told a lot more stories and explained why The Barbados Academy and Rudder School “was one and the same” — Rudder was the name of the headmaster.
He was also keenly interested in the recent Boston Marathon incident and wondered if it was now payback time for America who he thinks has created many enemies over the years and may now be reaping what it sowed. In this regard he included Korea.
To cut a long story short, and still continue the same story, I shared Dalton’s with Pierre — who is a natural story teller and who also hails from the City. Nigel not only confirmed the Dr. Bostic story but laughed and added his piece.
“One day, after Dr. Bostic had finished promoting a dance, when he went to the dance keeper to collect his money, he was told that the tickets had not grown any money yet. Dr. Bostic did not say anything. He simply went back to the streets and cancelled the dance. Man, suddenly the dance keeper found money to pay Dr. Bostic, who then re-advertised the dance. And guess what. I’m sure I have a picture of him somewhere,” said Nigel.
I never met Doctor Bostic, but I do recall the day that “Gear Box” stood at the door of the Harrison’s College chemistry lab, which was near the Crumpton Street entrance. The third formers froze, as I walked to the door. I spoke to Gearbox who smiled, turned and left quietly. Some year’s later, Dr. Raymond Forde recalled the incident and asked me what was it that I said that made Gearbox leave, so easily? I asked him if a quarter was enough. He nodded and I gave him 50 cents. That was all.
Once, all across Barbados, many characters abounded. They were central to many childhood and adult conversations. One source recalls that the boys would tease “town man or “rat bakes” and then run, leaving the girls to endure the wrath of an acid tongue. These cultural icons provided local TV live and direct. They made us Bajan.
Today, our young adults are connecting to unfiltered images. It appears that education — the hand that fed us — and standards and manners, the glove that kept our hands clean, are now separated by external influences. I notice that some are wearing leg warmers and boots. If it hasn’t started, the false eyelashes, art fingernails and heavy make up will soon follow.
What if Nicki Minaj, a judge on American Idol, increasingly becomes regular conversation? Does anyone care? Isn’t it still true that the rise and decay of a society is indelibly intertwined with its culture?
I extend my deepest sympathy to Pat Broome and the extended family.