Columns

Great Jamaican families I've been fortunate to know

James Moss-Solomon

Sunday, July 15, 2012    

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I start with a huge thank-you to the 4,800 persons who participated in the GraceKennedy Education run last Sunday. The support was 70 per cent more than last year's event and a good time was had. Thanks also to the sponsors who really came in with cash, kind, and large teams. Thanks to downtown businessman Alfred (Franno) Francis and his team who made it happen.

At least half of the participants had never been in Downtown Kingston before and they loved the features, especially the scenic waterfront. Through your kindness a lot of children will get an education, so God bless you all.

Each of us can think back to family friends that we have known and loved and who have influenced our lives in positive ways. Jamaican family friendships have been a feature going back much farther in history than the 50 years of Independence. As we celebrate Emancipation, Independence, the Olympics, and the 125th anniversary of Marcus Garvey's birthday, the friendships of the years seem to be areas that have inspired many of us as young Jamaicans growing up.

Mainly people with strong rural roots formed the basis of Kingston which did not pass Cross Roads, as north of there was St Andrew, and few families lived beyond Vineyard Town. Downtown was the lively spot for living, entertainment, and retailing. But these people lived the Jamaican dream of bettering themselves, and over the decades transformed their lives into success that led to upward mobility in the society. Jamaica needs to remember the ambition, pride, and love of family and community that made this possible.

One of these in my infant life was the Abrahams family of Haining Road with the patriarch Uncle Eric, matriarch Aunt Lucille, and Andrew, Anthony, Hope and Dawn. Eric Abrahams was to be and remains one of the consummate businessmen and perhaps the most sought-after company directors throughout his lifetime. But to me as a small child he was the much anticipated magician, and the magic "twicks" were his hallmark introduction to me as the "little baby" of our families.

Aunt Lucille (nee Hudson) must have been one of the outstanding leaders in her lifetime, and the very powerful Women's Club was her personal domain. She took control, planned, and executed in society and the Anglican Church. I wonder what Jamaica would be like today if this remarkable lady had been a politician. I enjoyed her love and encouragement and felt like I was her own last child.

Andrew, Anthony, and the twins adopted me totally and many were the evenings that they baby-sat me and virtually "pounded" me to sleep on my parents' verandah. I would later hear Anthony reporting from far-off lands on the BBC. After many years we were united on The Breakfast Club. After so many years the love still stands between our family and the Abrahams.

The Nash family members of the Bournemouth era were among my early icons and remain so imprinted in my mind. When I started swimming there in about 1960 the boys were in their heyday in swimming and water polo. Dr Philip Nash had gone on to medicine, and Kaye John had retired from competition and embarked on a business career, but in later years we became close friends.

So I watched Cedric, Gary, and Paul (father of WI cricketer Brendan) play water polo on the national team. As an ambitious youngster I was selected on a national team along with my friend Garth Henriques at 13 years old and we went to the Caribbean Championships in Barbados in 1964 and to the Central American and Caribbean Games in 1966.

I was the baby of the team and the three senior Nash boys looked after me so well, as well as the other Bournemouth crew: Frankie Mills, Gussie Johnson, Keith Brown, Hugh Moo (Sugo), Canute Kelly, Howard and Richard Bennett, and Ruddy Numa (aka Jamaica rooster), and coaches Jack and Walter Rogers, and Tony Rodriquez. In such a violent sport I was so grateful for the advice, apprenticeship, and especially the protection.

Later, Paul and I competed together as swimming teammates and local rivals, and I have never known a more gentle and loveable giant. This is the man who, seeing me about to sink to the bottom of the pool after my most strenuous international win, simply reached down and grabbed my wrist and lifted me like a feather out of the pool. He must have been the only person there in the large crowd who actually believed I could win and I thank him for making me believe it too.

In a later contest I found myself matched in a race with Cedric Nash (by then past his prime) for a place on the Jamaican 4x100 m freestyle relay. I beat him after a tough two laps and gained a place on the first Jamaican team to break the four-minute barrier, but it was an unhappy victory. It is not a happy experience to defeat your idol, especially when he is not at his best, and I guess the feeling must have been the same for Trevor Berbick when he defeated Muhammad Ali.

This legendary Jamaican family continues to enjoy a special place in my memories. We shared wonderful times over the decades, and I am still thankful to them for their great examples of sporting humility.

I will only briefly mention the Alty and Audrey Sasso (nee Parkinson) household, as through the efforts and good fortune of my brother Peter, they have become family. Mr Sasso must go down in history as one of the finest Jamaican footballers of the 20th Century, and he was a man who had a bark that belied his generous and loving nature. Mrs Sasso was the consummate house manager and between them they provided a loving household for their two children, two spinster sisters, a widowed sister-in-law and her two children. They all lived in love and harmony, and I was a happy recipient of a liberal dose of that boundless love.

Yes, I am fortunate to have grown in an atmosphere of love that has been shared with friends who have become family. These are just three examples that can be multiplied hundreds of times in the real Jamaica. I am sure that my experience has not been singular, and so I implore you all to reach out and touch someone who has touched your life over the years. We are who we are because of those influences in our lives and the complex interactions that are part of our human existence.

Violence and the consequent migration have separated many of us from our loved ones, but the memories cannot be dimmed nor the people forgotten. We pass this place just once, and perhaps this 50th anniversary is the time to reach out to all the persons that you miss and tell them that love never dies. Call a friend and share the joy.

Jamaica was, is, and can continue to be a place for us to be happy, but we do have some responsibility to ensure that we encourage the conditions and interactions that will uplift rather than tear down this land we should love. The Lord Creator Independence song said: "I believe if we try our best, we can be a great success, for us to live in unity, for peace and prosperity."

Please try to believe and act accordingly.

God bless Jamaica, land of beauty, and give us strength to do what is right at all times.

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