01 July 2010

My Grandmother and Jim Reeves

As a teenager I made the epic journey from coldest England to a strange land where my parents were born in the Caribbean. A place I heard much about but couldn't quite grasp what my parents loved and hated about the place they left.
My maternal grandmother wouldn't come to England and I was brave enough to want to venture across a gulf of water on a plane to stay for 3 weeks.
The first thing I noticed about my grandmother was she was very slim and exceedingly tall for an elderly woman. She gripped my arm like a vice and touched my face, hair, neck, stroked my back with her free hand. No rushing - she took her time. She looked stern. After what seemed like an age, her face broke into a smile and with tears running down her face she kissed me, wet soppy kisses everywhere! People who were stood around her home in the semi-darkness, watched and then clapped as she assaulted me with her kisses! This place is weird! These people are weird!
She was proud that I travelled so far to see her - the first child from her baby who had been born in England. We sat around in the yard with these people who had come to see this visitor from 'Hinglan'. The night creatures sounded too loud. The air was cool and fresh but very warm to me, even as it got darker.
After bathing and creaming myself I got ready for bed. I was very tired and disorientated and my grandmother and she checked my bed for the umpteenth time, plumping it, smoothing it, making it 'just so'. Suddenly I heard a big noise, a screechy sound under the bed. Suffice to say I was hysterical that I was expected to sleep in a room with nasty bugs making a racket.
My grandmother, insisted that the noise was from a creature outside the room. I looked at her as if she suddenly had a severe hearing problem as that noise was coming from under the bed. I was screaming out loud at the thought of being so tired and then having to sleep in a bed with some human-eating creature under it. The next thing I knew she threw herself onto the bed and howled - with laughter- she was holding her sides and rocking, making this big noise, whilst I'm stood there wondering what the hell was going on! Just as I thought she had calmed down and her shoulder shaking slowed down as she eased herself upright, she would look at me again and keel right back to where she was on the bed. Very strange people, I thought.
She wiped her eyes with her scarf and explained through smaller laughing sounds that she had never seen anything so funny in her life and I had come all that way to bring her a good joke.
So that was within a few minutes of meeting her. My grandmother.

She was a devout Christian who regularly gave any money the family sent over to the church. (Headed by a man who lived in a huge mansion on a hill with incredible views and several of the latest luxury cars- some other time.) We used to sit in the shade of the mango tree and I was eating fresh juicy mangos that she had picked and collected for my arrival. The chickens would run around the yard, the breeze would blow and on a Sunday the residents on the other side of the valley (a 4 mile walk away) would move their room-sized speaker boxes outside their house, plug in and play: Jim Reeves. Yes, Jim Reeves.
My grandmother would be preparing for church in her pristine white, highly starched and pressed clothes and as she prepared would sing along. So now, atheist that I am, each time I hear Jim Reeves I get a little misty eyed. Isn't that weird?


FishHawk said...

My mom and dad were big Jim Reeves fans. I can appreciate just how beautiful his voice is, but most of his songs are not what I would listen to if given a choice.

RE - Entrepod said...

Jamaicans Love Country Music and Jim Reeves is certainly country and spritual. fyi, you still hear it in the country.

Anonymous said...

My girlfriend's mother (she's from St. Thomas) is also a big fan of Jim Reeves as well as Elvis Presley and the like.

I've always been fascinated by the one-way entertainment/conversion canal of Christianity. Think about this; where on this earth, in any generation, would you be able to find thousands (maybe tens of thousands) of White Christian women soaking up the mellifluous tones of a Black (the darker the better) Christian crooner? Let's say that we were able to find an example; would these White Christian women also have the same propensity to hang a picture of this Black man on the walls of their homes? Which Christian household would be more likely to have a “charged” atmosphere; the Black home with a picture of Reeves, Elvis and lest we forget the object of the adoration, Jesus (one of the Eurocentric versions) or a White home with pictures of a couple of dark skinned Black Christian singers and a more realistic olive-toned Christ?


Zee Harrison said...

Thank you FishHawk, Mama Assid Entrepod (where have you been? how you doing?!) and 1skepticalbrother for leaving your comments.

1SB, you have a point. A serious point and thank you for making it.
As an atheist black woman I have lived in black communities where the god and jesus on display was always white. The indoctrination has run so deeply and powerfully that to question it, which I have done on almost every occasions, labels you as 'the devil'.
My emotions are not stirred by Jim Reeves but more that the rituals and identities which were part of my grandmother and the environment she lived in were powerfully linked with simple music which was written and performed well - regardless of the fact that the content of the songs were based on fairy stories.

I have yet to see images of a black jesus in white homes, you are correct.
There is no historical evidence of the existence of the man named in the new testament as Jesus - so regardless of the racial grouping Christians choose to place this mythical, composited, hijacked character into, it still boils down to the same thing - nonsense. A story.
I didn't want to colour my account as it was more about my grandmother and what meeting her grandchild for the first time, a child who looked just like her daughter (my mother) meant to her. Unfortunately Jim Reeves was a big part of her life and most of the scattered neighbours who lived in the hills and like Mama Assid said above, 'you can still hear it in the country'.

Black people outside and inside Africa, have travelled a long way, and my grandmother was a product of that journey, but it didn't make me feel comfortable seeing her giving so much of her time to the church all to benefit a man who was a snake oil merchant, a misogynist, a man made wealthy from money sent from abroad which the recipients would give to the church gladly - all in the hope of 'sitting at the right hand of the lord' when they die.
Utter, utter dishearteningly sad crap!
But my grandmother was a product of her history and environment, of nature and nurture.

I don't imagine that enough black people will escape the shackles of religion to make any difference. I see the missionaries, child abusers (yes, that is what they are), visiting 'third world' countries for new victims and I am sorry to say they are gaining ground. Secular societies are their enemies and so they move to a new patch, create a new marketing strategy. Just like paedophiles.

Forgive me for straying off point, but my misty-eyedness encompasses all of the above, but still reminds me of my loving, caring grandmother!

Apologies for not responding to comments more often but I will try to when I can.
Thanks to all commenters and readers.

krissthesexyatheist said...

When I hear Freddy Fender I think of my parents and Catholicism. Still like one of them.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for your time and effort you put into this blog page Zee.

I get misty-eyed too when I remember those Sundays at my grandmother's apartment in Harlem, with my mother and her sisters, the hymns, the soul food, etc.

aka 1skepticalbrother

Helen said...

Very touching memory! Thank you for sharing.