Will Justine’s letter-writing skills rise to the occasion? Let’s check in.
(If you’re just tuning in, please read dis part, dis ya part, plus dis before yuh read down deh soh.)
Grandma Pearl: Twin Power
Pay grade, I learned that term when Mr. Leakey was talking to Grandma about how hard it is to find construction workers for his farm. He’s building a greenhouse, and, apparently, no one in the district knows how to build one. Just like I don’t know how to write this letter.
“Tell them Grandma needs us, and we need her,” Justin says.
“Oh please, Justin. Grandma doesn’t need us.”
Justin puts his hands akimbo and stares at me with his mouth wide open as if he’s catching flies.
I akimbo back at him and wiggle my body. “She doesn’t neeeed us,” I argue. “She has Parson, Miss Lor, Mr. Leakey, Miss Fee Fee, Tall—“
“Shi need wi!” Justin interrupts with his rude self. “We mek Grandma happy! Even though shi miserable up herself with us more time.”
I think about it for a moment, her boasting to her church friends and laughing with them about the things Justin and I do, even the silly, stupid stuff. “Okay. Wait!” I jump to my feet and run inside for my exercise book, a sharp pencil, an eraser and a pen.
We started using pens in class last term—blue ink. I’m going to draft the letter in pencil, then copy it off in pen onto a nice, clean sheet of folder paper. I’ll have to do that part while the 7 o’clock news is on. Grandma usually falls asleep after the headlines.
I huddle together with Justin again, rest my exercise book in my lap and select a blank page near the back, just in case. Grandma can’t find this letter. We want her to be surprised when she gets through at the embassy.
We start our letter, “Dear Sir/Madam,” and ask the U.S. Embassy people how they’re doing and tell them we hope our letter finds them in good health in the Mighty Name of Jesus.
We tell them our grandmother is a God-fearing lady and that she’s taken care of us since we were toddlers—since Mummy went to Delaware and became a caregiver for the elderly. Mummy migrated to find good-paying work so she could send money for me and Justin to go to school and have a comfortable life.
We tell them Mummy is filing for us, and, soon, we’ll be in the United States of America. But it would be remiss of us to leave Grandma behind.
I learned that word, only days ago, remiss. I heard Parson use it, and it sounded pretty. Grandma told me to look it up in my Collins Dictionary and write it in my exercise book.
I tell the U.S. Embassy that Grandma cooks for us and keeps a tidy house. She ensures we have clothes and shoes to wear and that they fit.
It turns out quality clothes and shoes are expensive in Jamaica, especially since Grandma says my brother and I are growing like the weeds in her rose garden. Grandma drawing outlines of our feet and measuring us, from head to toe, is exciting because we know it’s just a matter of time before a barrel comes and Grandma has to travel to noisy Kingston to clear it at the wharf.
Until the barrel comes, our old clothes have to do. Miss Lor, our dressmaker, is amazed at how fast we’re growing: “Good gracious Father me, Miss Pearlie-oye! A wha’ yuh a feed dem pickney ya?”
Miss Lor has adjusted our old clothes so many times, the seams are exhausted. Two Saturdays ago, she shook her head at a dress for me and a pair of pants for Justin. That means there was no more hem to let out and no more seam to pull out. So Miss Grant will be getting those for sure.
Miss Grant lives in Southfield. She’s hard of hearing but likes how we care our clothes. They don’t look like hand-me-downs, she says, and her grandchildren get long wear out of them.
I can bet Grandma will be sending ground provisions and bread with the clothes for Miss Grant. Miss Grant doesn’t work anymore. She used to cook in our canteen, wasn’t there too long, but left an indelible mark on our primary school, after the grease fire.
We tell the U.S. Embassy that Grandma is a very loving lady. She reads us bedtime stories at night and any time of day. She hugs us up when we do well in our schoolwork and hushes us if we fall down and bruise ourselves.
Grandma’s hug is a special hug that squeezes the daylights out of us—and there’s not much daylight to squeeze out because Justin and I are as thin as Kisko Pop. But Grandma Pearl’s hugs warm us like the sun on a chilly morning.
We tell them that Grandma is a very kind lady. She gives us brawta on our dinner plates and bakes plantain tarts, whenever plantain bears, because she knows they’re our favourite dessert. Last year, for our eighth birthday, she made us a two-layer cake with icing and sprinkles.
Grandma knows how to round up the young men in the district to help her out on the farm. She likes seeing our young men gainfully employed.
I learned that phrase from Brother Farquharson, gainfully employed. He used it at Christmas lunch, last December, when he was talking to Grandma about his son in England. It sounded pretty. It still sounds pretty. I’m glad that I can use it in my important letter to the embassy.
Our grandma has an indomitable spirit—I learned that phrase from RJR, the supreme sound. Grandma’s always listening to Hotline. Once upon a time, all Justin and I could hear about was Motty Perkins, Motty Perkins, Motty Perkins. Motty said this, and Motty said that. Motty, Motty, Motty!
Grandma’s husband died before Justin and I were born. No. He wasn’t Motty Perkins. His name was Godfrey Ezekiel Eldemire. We only know him from the living-room pictures and the photo albums. Grandma was a beautiful bride and very skinny. It’s weird seeing Grandma that skinny.
Grandma doesn’t stand by and do nothing when she’s on her farm. She reaps ground provisions, alongside the young men, and instructs them how to reap so there’s produce left for replanting. She sends loads of melon and pine to Junction, and as far as Browns Town and St. Ann’s Bay, and spends evenings checking off proceeds and preparing the lodgment book for the bank.
I count the pages in our letter to the embassy, back and front—four in all. I can’t believe we found so many things to write about Grandma Pearl! She will get through at the U.S. Embassy for sure!
“What about the visa?” Justin asks.
We put our thinking caps on again.
“Shh!” Justin shushes me. “Mine shi hear yuh.”
“I know,” I whisper loudly. “We’ll post the letter. . . and then . . .” I widen out my eyes to think clearer. “When Mummy sends in our papers, they will already know about Grandma, and they will give her a visa too!”
“That’s not how visa works,” Justin says dryly. “You have to fill out a form for Grandma, specially, and pay a fee. In U.S. dollars.”
I knit my brows and pout at Justin. Why is he making this embassy thing so difficult? Now I’ll need to write another letter to Mummy and ask her to lend us some U.S. dollars.
“And what about the house and farm? Grandma’s not leaving those behind.”
I squint and long out my mout’ harder at Justin.
“It’s not my fault!” he squeals.
“Where?” Justin looks around.
“No, dum-dum! Mr. Leakey, he can take care of everything.” He’s the man when it comes to farming and housing and those sort of business things.
“Aye, twinny!” Justin says. And we fist bump. Blackwood twin-power will conquer the U.S. Embassy!
THE END (for now)
If a few of my patois phrases had you going, “Huh!” fret not, I’ve got you covered.
- Before yuh read down deh soh = before you read down there
- A wha’ yuh a feed dem pickney ya? = what are you feeding these children here?
- Brawta = extra
- Long out my mout’ = pout