Tuesday, 26 March 2013


The percussionist pounds a resonant and random beat on his timpani. The choir squeaks its confused chorus.  The conductor frantically flails his arms. A chaotic cacophony of sound ensues.
An orchestra tuning up? A school concert? A bizarre alternate form of music? No! This is Barbadian music of the night.
The flailing maestro - giant palm fronds moving spastically in the Caribbean breezes. The percussionist - the spring tide surf pounding its waves on our shore. The choir - my beloved tree frogs, chirping in a volume that belies their minuscule size. These mighty little frogs, no larger that the end of your baby finger, celebrate nightfall each and every evening with their nocturnal chirping. It is a sound, when heard in a movie theatre or on television, that immediately transports me to Barbados.
Our window is open to a million twinkling stars, to the moonlight laying her shimmering path across the sea and to caressing Caribbean breezes. My head rests on the pillow. Let my lullaby commence. A little night music, please maestro!

Sunday, 24 March 2013


"Regrets, I have a few." Isn't there a song echoing those sentiments? I would love to live a life with few regrets. Not humanly possible, I think. At the very least, there are regrets of things said or unsaid, actions taken or actions not taken.
My deepest regret concerns my maternal grandparents. That is not to say that I didn't love them. I most certainly did and, thankfully, they knew it. In a book I once read, the author wrote of faceless elderly people, how the old are easily overlooked; we simply do not notice them. They are frequently treated as rather dull with not much to contribute. Really! What of any interest could a wrinkle-faced, age-spotted, white- haired person have to offer. Dear god, youth are chauvinistic and I sadly plead guilty on all counts.
My grandfather ('Gramps', we lovingly called him) and my grandmother ('Granny', a sterner version of Gramps) immigrated to Canada from Barbados in the early 1900's. Imagine! My grandparents were Barbadians and spent their early lives on this "island in the sun". How extraordinary!
"Scandal", we all whispered in the family. Apparently Gramps was engaged to Granny's sister, but in getting to know her family fell in love with Granny and ultimately married her. Difficult for family and sisters even in today's world, but forcing emigration to another country is almost laughable. Apparently not so in early 1900's Barbados. And so, Gramps and Granny set off by ship to Canada, abandoning their home, their culture, and their climate.
I was aware of all of this. Encouraged by my Mother, my fourth grade speech was about Barbados. To this day, I can remember the opening lines. "Twenty-one miles long and a smile wide, Barbados is the most easterly island in the Caribbean......" Not once in my young life, from childhood through my teens and even into university, did I ask my grandparents about their early years in Barbados, about their journey by ship, or about how they felt never having returned to gaze at their Caribbean Sea. Did Gramps and Granny have that lilting Bajan accent I now so love to hear? Dear god, I cannot even remember that. I was totally self-absorbed - busy in my very important life, don't you know! Granny and Gramps were, well, just my grandparents.
What was I thinking?
Jim and I, both with and without our sons, Christopher and Matthew, have journeyed to Barbados so many times that we have lost count - around thirty, we calculate. We have explored the exceptional Barbados Museum of Culture and Heritage, always lingering in the map room intrigued by the location of long gone family plantations. We have visited St. Nicholas Abbey, a gloriously restored sugar plantation and sat transfixed, watching home movies filmed by plantation owner, Charles Cave, on their family visit to the plantation in 1935. With my sister, Jo-Anne and her husband, Jim and I have visited the Barbados National Archives.  Assisted by an at first dubious then very excited head archivist, we traced our family back to the early 1700's.  Handling those aged original documents was a privilege I shall never forget. We have stood at hauntingly beautiful St. John Parish Church, high on a bluff overlooking the Bathsheba Coast, awed by the coastline vistas. At this gothic delight of a church lie some of my Mother's ashes. It is so fitting. May she forever enjoy her favourite Barbadian view.
Jim and I have driven the length and breadth of Barbados, gleefully getting lost on tiny back roads - any opportunity to talk to the locals. If there is a native Barbadian dish or fish that we have not tasted, I am unaware. We have even, heaven forbid, enjoyed many (!) tastings of the demon rum.
Thus, in every sense, to journey to Barbados is to "come home", but an essential link will be forever missing. To hear from Gramps and Granny about their life here would complete my picture. I have so many unanswered questions about life in that era - clothing, diet, religion, climate and hurricanes, cholera and smallpox epidemics, plantation working conditions, race relations, the sugar trade. My list is endless and now, due to my shameless neglect, will remain unanswered.
And so on every visit, I sit on our balcony, early morning coffee in hand, breathing the sweet Caribbean air and watching the sun rise over South Point as our island stretches and comes to life for another day. I close my eyes and imagine conversations with my grandparents across time. Most importantly, though, I say, "I know it's a bit late, Gramps and Granny, but thank you. Thank you for our amazing heritage."

Thursday, 21 March 2013

A Technicolor World

Since early childhood , I have loved that scene in the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy first emerges from her crashed farmhouse to the explosion of colour that is the Land of Oz.  After the previous black and white scenes in Kansas, the vibrant colours of Oz assault the senses.
Arrival in Barbados always recreates those colour sensations for me.
Our southern Ontario winter, nearing its final stage before the advent of spring, presents us with a dreary gray, brown and black world. Soiled snow hugs the curbs resisting the final melt that will see its transformation to dirty slush and ultimately it's disappearance. Bare brown tree branches move in the breezes, almost sorrowful in their nakedness. Low hanging bleak skies cast a barely discernible light on the already depressing terrain. Any grass poking its head through the snow, is what I refer to as "hibernation brown". Even our traditional Canadian brick architecture of gray's, browns, beiges and rust reds adds little to our late winter colour palette.
And then we are transported to Barbados - by Air Canada instead of farmhouse, in this case!  Taxiing to our hotel in Barbados can only be likened to Dorothy emerging from her farmhouse. Blazing colours shock the senses. Jade green palm fronds, set against a baby blue sky and puffy white popcorn clouds, gently sway in the Caribbean breezes. Lime green and beige sugar cane regally acts as road corridors. We round the corner and there it is - the Caribbean Sea, a riotous striated mixture of turquoise greens, turquoise blues and deep royal blues, frothing white as it meets the sun drenched shoreline. Hot pinks, sunshine yellows, fluorescent oranges and scarlet reds pop on the green landscape. The bougainvillea and hibiscus are in full bloom. Cheerful colours, as if in an attempt to emulate the local floral display, decorate Barbadian home exteriors.
Leaving behind our monochromatic existence we have gleefully been transported to the technicolor world that is Barbados. Yup! We are in Oz!

Monday, 18 March 2013


How blessed I am to enjoy treasured magic moments in my life. These moments are not be confused with "one of" happenings that take my breath away. Rather, they occur with some degree of regularity. Crunching fresh snow beneath my feet on a sunny, frigid winter's day. Leaves, like a myriad of colourful feathers, gracefully zigzagging on autumn breezes in their journey from tree to ground. Twinkling Christmas lights and the delicious smell of evergreen invading our family room. The first whiff of pungent fresh loam, the harbinger of a long awaited spring.
No matter how familiar, my magic moments stop me in my tracks. They invite me to breathe deeply, be acutely aware of my surroundings and to say a quiet thank you for the richness and beauty of life.
For thirty years, Jim and I have journeyed to Barbados. Christopher and Matthew grew up "spring breaking" on this island paradise. So frequent have been our returns that Jim and I joke that we probably missed our calling as a family. We should have been tour guides of " de sun, de sea and de island, man!"
And so you ask - your magic moment is your first glimpse of the Caribbean Sea. Right? Feeling warm sand between your toes. Right? Hearing the musical lilt of the welcoming Bajan accent. Right? And my answer - actually no!
Air Canada arrived Saturday at its assigned gate. Grantley Adams crew wheeled up and positioned the ramp stairs for eager disembarking passengers. Thunk! The plane's door was opened and locked into place. And then it happened. My senses were immediately assaulted with the heady smell of jet fuel carried on warm, salty Caribbean breezes. "You are home", my magic moment says. Thank you God for allowing me to return.