Grandpa & Rum

Style Observer

Grandpa & Rum

#NationalRumDayJa2019 might very well be behind us but what's one final swig courtesy of Tanya Shirley, educator & author

Sunday, August 25, 2019

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My grandfather, Carlton Beckford, loved rum! He believed that if you could handle your liquor, ie not pass out in the streets, then you would be less likely to find yourself in compromising positions. For that reason, he introduced his granddaughters to rum at an early age. Today we would label him as an irresponsible adult, but back then things were laxer, and grandparents had the ultimate authority in the “village”.

In this photograph, I'm around two years old and some people believe we don't remember things from that age, but I remember. My grandmother would bathe me, powder and lotion from head to toe, dress me in my Sunday best then send me to hang with Grandpa. I would shadow him as he roamed around his house on top of Great House Circle; a man proud of all that he'd accomplished, from driving the bus that took Hon PJ Patterson to Kingston, to owning Becky's Auto Supplies on Spanish Town Road. Eventually he would say, “Me thirsty” in that booming voice of his and we would head inside, past the hanging beaded partition into his bar. He would pour the Appleton into his favourite mug, take a sip then bring it to my lips. I would sip and scrunch up my face and he would laugh, then friends would join him, and before Grandma came to take me with her on the road, I would catch pieces of his stories.

In later years, my sister and I would argue over who got to mix Grandpa's rum and coke or rum and water because when you brought it to him, he would always ask, “You taste it?” and we would truthfully answer, “No, Grandpa” because we knew we should only sip rum in his presence; we weren't expected to be guzzling rum in the kitchen at our age. He would say, “Taste it, man, make sure it strong” and we would giggle while giving the unlucky sibling the “I win” evil eye. Until he caught the rake and said, “Let your sister taste it too, and help you decide.” Kiss teet!

When he got much older and we had to hide his car keys, you knew better than to visit without a tub of Devon House grapenut ice cream and a bottle of Appleton rum. He would watch the ice cream melt, then pour the rum over it. The first gulp was always followed by a loud belch or lip smacking and, “Don't tell your mother.” The doctors had told him not to mix alcohol with his medication, but I believed him when he said, “A dying man should at least be allowed a drink.” I would mix a little white rum and pineapple juice and for hours while we each nursed our one drink, he would reminisce about the old days: the domino games every Wednesday and Saturday, the country trips with his grandchildren piled into the back of his blue pickup, learning to drive a truck when he was 11 because “I had to help my father feed the family”. The sun would start to set, its orange face sinking into the mountains and as we stared into our empty glasses we could hear the soft spirit laugh of my grandmother and when I got up to kiss my grandfather goodbye he would whisper, “Hide the rum in my bedroom trunk” and every single time, “I love you”, loud, as if even after his death he wanted me to hear those words and know them to be true.

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