"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."