by Sandra Downes
Eighty years ago Clareen Carrington was born at Bruce Vale, St Andrew in her parents’ home. She was the first of five children. She can remember her neighbourhood as always being a quiet place to live, particularly since her family lived on a hill.
“Nobody trouble you growing up in Bruce Vale Hill.” The octogenarian, who now resides at Cane Garden, attended St Saviour’s School. Those were the days when children looked forward to going to school and to returning home to play with their siblings and close friends.
The girls played hop-scotch and rounders, while the boys would either pitch, ride their scooters or play ‘soldier eight’. In addition, during crop time the children made sure they had a piece of cane to suck before they went to bed.
There was never any trouble in Bruce Vale, the mother of three recalled. “You did what your mother tell you to do and that was it.” Long division, Arithmetic, English and Geography were taught back then. “There wasn’t anything name maths,” she said.
“We went school bare foot too . . . the hot tar making yuh snort.” There were no uniforms either and girls had to wear dresses to school. Carrington remembers having “some very good teachers but if you were late, Miss Sealy (the head teacher) would shut the door by the road and you had to pass by she, to get to yuh class.” That was when the tardy ones would get “two lashes” for being late. ‘You should be early,’ Miss Sealy would tell them. As for Clareen, “I always used to get there before the bell ring because I wanted to ring the bell,” she laughed.
There was also no janitor assigned to schools so the students who arrived early “would come in and sweep and open the doors.” Nor were there any water toilets; instead, the school had a single long room with five toilet bowls.
“I could see you and you could see me,” she recalls. The area around the bottom of the toilets was sealed with cement and had a door at the back, outside the building. “A man from Belleplaine would come and open the door and clean the toilets.”
However, whenever there was an outage, the pupils would take buckets which were stored at the school and travel as far as Fruitful Hill for water before heading back to school with the commodity.
It was much the same at home. She and her siblings had to carry water from “down in the flat” back up the hill to “full up your barrel.”
Meanwhile, her grandmother did the family laundry by carrying the clothes to the stand pipe where she washed them before bleaching them on a nearby pasture. They were then rinsed before she returned home to hang them. Carrington also recalled some hard days working on various plantations in St Andrew. Sometimes it was weeding, heading cane or rocks or “chopping down bush” for 84 cents a day, until she landed a job at Building Supplies (which later became the Brick Factory) from 1966 until it closed.
Men brought the bricks from the oven into the yard and the women packed them. Some of brick tiles were packed on a crate for shipping and the rest would remain in the yard for sale. If the edge of a brick was broken it was considered a “second hand block” while those in good condition were “first quality.”
It was also a time when it was normal for nine and ten year old St. Andrew children to “pick pond grass at the estate” during the school holidays. Having borne “nuff insults” and hard work in her day, Carrington is not only thankful to God, but adamant that nobody can spend her pension cheque “but myself.”