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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Mama make the Johnnie Cake, Christmas coming!

By Mutryce A Williams:

“Morning, morning and how are you this morning? Morning, morning this is Christmas morning! Mama make the Johnnie Cake, Christmas coming! Mama, make the Johnnie Cake, Christmas coming! Christmas coming and New Year’s morning,” he jolted forward and bellowed at the top of his lungs. Bewildered to say the least, I asked, “Are you okay?” We were sitting in his ‘drawing room’ discussing the predictions of the McDonald’s Farmer’s Almanac. The outburst seemed to come from out of thin air and, trust me, it didn’t help any that it was mid May and Christmas was months and months away. He said, “Pusa dear, draw the curtain for me. Open up de big trunk and hand me the things you see in it one by one.”

Mutryce Williams is a native of St Kitts and Nevis. She is a social commentator who writes weekly commentaries for 98.9 WINN FM, as well as the Leewards Times newspaperHe burst into song once again. This time he had the pair of shack-shacks in hand. Shaking them fiercely, tapping his foot, voice as strong as ever he continued, “Mama make the Johnnie Cake, Christmas coming. Mama make the Johnnie Cake, Christmas coming!” He passed the shack-shacks to me and said, “You got the beat right! Now pass me the banjo. One, two, three let we go. Mama make the Johnnie Cake, Christmas coming! Sing louder man. Sing. Sing a tell you, sing!” Fully immersed in the Christmas spirit, I was now strumming away at the banjo totally transformed I tell you, as if I had gone to the school of that St Paul’s banjo maestro they called Lil Tom. At that moment Papa and I had what I call an alternating string bang. We switched from shack-shack, to banjo, baha, to the big drum, guitar, to cow bell, triangle, to mouth organ and indulged in the sweet ‘feeleeleet’ of the fife. Out of breath, I plopped down on the chair, ‘Well, that was fun!’

When I thought that the excitement was all finished still humming he said, “Child, take the back way and go over the road by you Aunty Mae. Tell she a say hurry up come up here for the pork before I sell it off or give it way and tell she don’t forget to send up me black cake, cassava bread and two bottle a sorrel. I know you mother in there making hers, but is Christmas you see and you could never have too much black cake, sorrel, cassava bread and rum…and rum…and ruuummmm…ha, ha, ha is Christmas girl and me belly ain’t got no end. I going eat and eat and eat till me belly burst…aaaah. Wait, who that there out there out there over the doving pot helping she with the Johnny cake, roast pork and turning the cassava bread? Oh is she! I hope she don’t think she going go with more than wha she bring you know. Every year she do it. Who is that there calling me? I say who is that there calling me? Oh is you, Uncle Joe. Tell he I tuning the banjo and when I done I going meet he down the road and we going go round the village serenading.”

Smile on my face but with a heavy heart I knew that he thought that I was my mother. His brain has been going ‘addle’ as we like to call it, senile or now they have a word for it. It is called Alzheimer’s. Instead of trying to will him back to the present, I held his hands and allowed him to take me back there. He looked in the direction of the kitchen and shouted to my grandmother, “Woman you ain’t done cook yet? How the roast pork and Johnny Cake coming? Maude I know that woman does come say a help but no let she go with more than what she bring I tell you, mind you hear, mind.”

He looked at me and seeing me as me now but still thinking it was Christmas, he said, “Girl where you going to this Carnival thing,” He continued, “Don’t get me wrong you know is a good thing it have its place but that there itself ain’t Christmas. Yes, Christmas is for Christ and all that but it is a time of real merriment, family, sports and when I tell you sports I mean Clowns, Mummies, David and Goliath and lord them Japanese girls with they umbrella and short, short skirt. Girl you ain’t want see plenty, plenty sports, I mean Actor, Neagre Business, Indian and Cowboy, Masquerade, Bull and Them Thing. You member if I did tell you about the time I used to play Bull. Well, well, well them there was some sweet, sweet days, is so I catch she in there you know but no tell she I say so cause she would set up she face like ten rat trap and stop talk to me and I can’t deal with this this time of year here, man… any other time but not Christmas time I tell you… cause this is food, more food and belly burst down time.”

He continued, “Christmas is the time when me and boys go round serenading. Maude and she church people them do go caroling. Is the time that Maude love to fuss, paint, clean and put up she lovely, lovely curtain them. Wait there who that coming there. I sure is one she sisters them from Englandt. She don’t even tell me that they a come home. One by one they show up and the thing is you know for a whole six weeks me have to sleep a ground. We have to give up we good warm bed and be hospicable… that woman there just want turn the place into a hotel you see… in she mind I guess that is what Christmas is all about. Oh, John, me boy is you that.”

He shouted to Granny, “Hey Maude, bring me shoes there let me shine them now and don’t forget to patch the li’l hole in me jacket and starch my shirt. I have to look like a sharp boy going to church this Christmas Sunday.” He took down his tie off the ledge and showed it to John, he said, “You see this tie here is me first son George send this for me from inna America. He say is how they make them now. Tell me something John, you have anything go so? Tell me something there, you people them in a away just member you a Christmas time? Peep out there in the kitchen you see something is whole three barrel we family send from overseas. If you want a tin of sardine or two don’t ‘fraid to ask. You know we is giving people. We ain’t going eat down the whole thing we self and know you in want and ain’t give you any.” John just smiled.

Granny shook her head, sat down beside him and rubbed his hands. He was zoning in and out. He looked in my direction and shouted, “Hey wait there, Pusa you done praptice you recitation? I hope so you know ‘cause you have to say it good in Church this Sunday at the Christmas concert. Say it hard and clear you know. Make me proud. You know as soon as you done is me first going stand up and clap the hardest and say hey that is mine there… mine… You know wha’, stand up and say it now let me hear you. Stand up straight and watch the people in they face no bend you head.” At this point there were tears in Granny’s eyes. She shook her head and said, “Boy, this Alzheimer’s thing, well, well, well.”

Alzheimers is a horrible disease. It was eating away at him however it allowed me to see Christmas through his eyes. I envied the Christmases that he had. The look on his face said it all. One can tell that it was his favourite time of year. It wasn’t about Santa. It wasn’t about decking the halls with holly. It wasn’t commercial. It wasn’t about Carnival. It wasn’t about how much money you had or how many gifts you got. It seemed like a time of merriment and joy that he shared with his family and friends. It was a time of butchering pigs and sharing what you had in your cupboard or barrel. It was a time of roast pork and Johnny Cake, black cake, sorrel, cassava, lovely curtains, sports/folklore, serenading, caroling, string band and church going. It’s now Christmas. What does this Christmas mean to you? How would you compare your Christmas now to the ones you had then? Were they better? What’s missing and if anything how do you intend to fix it? Do you have that Christmas spirit? Are you in a zone of merriment strumming your banjo, shaking your shack-shack and singing, “Mama make the Johnny Cake, Christmas coming!”

December 23, 2009