Saturday, February 14, 2009

Love Story

The longer I am in Jamaica, my harder my blog entries have become to compose. The people about whom I write are no longer characters in the book of my service year in Jamaica; they have become my friends, my family, and my home. I struggle to write this very entry because the people whose story I am about to tell are very dear to me. But I think that this is a story that needs to be told.

When I started this entry, I wanted to tie it in with Valentine’s Day. But then I realized that the story I want to tell is not about romance and flowers and heart-shaped boxes of candy. It is a love story, but it is an uncommon love story.

Mr. Osbourne Brooks and Mrs. Edith Brooks have been part of the PVI experience for all volunteers working in Mount Friendship. “Aunt Edith” was a faithful member of Mount Friendship’s Catholic community until she fell ill several years ago. Since then, volunteers have visited her, prayed with her, registered her for the National Health Fund, and enjoyed the presence of her peaceful nature.

However, to visit Aunt Edith meant that the volunteer would also come to know the gruff Mr. Brooks, for Mr. Brooks was utterly devoted to Edith and rarely left her side. He cooked for her on his coal-and-zinc stove, he fed her, and he bathed and dressed her. On good days, Mr. Brooks would help Aunt Edith outside to sit and enjoy the sunlight while he would do small repairs or sort out the food he grew on his bush farm. They would speak quietly to each other, often saying a great deal without exchanging many words. The couple had known each other for years, but did not marry until late in life. And although they did not have any biological children, the two “grew a ‘ole ‘eap a pickney” over the course of their marriage—they took in dozens of children and raised them as their own.

I loved to visit with them and to watch the adoring looks that they traded and the gentleness with which Mr. Brooks handled Edith. Mr. Brooks would give me callaloo spinach to shred while he teased me about my nonexistent love life or he would let me give Aunt Edith her afternoon cup of tea.

Sadly, Aunt Edith’s condition worsened and she passed away in early January. One of her adopted children asked me to come to the house the following morning to sit with Mr. Brooks. However, when I arrived, Brooks was nowhere to be found, and no one knew where to find him. I drove the winding roads, stopping everyone I saw to ask if they had seen Brooks. The responses followed the same pattern—he had been crying, and he had gone into the bush. He clearly wanted to be alone, and I reluctantly gave up my search.

At Aunt Edith’s funeral, Mr. Brooks sat silently in the first row and wept silently throughout the mass. Jamaican funerals tend to be dramatic affairs, but I could not pay attention to the proceedings—all I could see was a man grieving the loss of the love of his life.

It seemed as if Aunt Edith’s death was a blow from which Mr. Brooks could never recover. During the days following her death, he wandered the roads for hours, for there was longer a reason for him to stay at home. He went to every service that every church in the area offered and he seemed to be searching desperately for solace.

But then, I began to see glimmers of the old Mr. Brooks. I came across a photograph of Miss Edith and brought it into church one Sunday. He gazed at the image and mopped at his eyes with a handkerchief, but he was smiling at her image through the tears.

Recently, I found more evidence that Mr. Brooks was starting to feel like himself again. I stopped by his home one morning on my way to the school, and when my cell phone rang, he seized the opportunity to fall back on his old joke: “De boyfriend call fi you?” He asked. I assured him that he is the only man in my life, and he grinned widely at me before turning back to a chair he was fixing. After a few moments of silence, he spoke again.

“My girlfriend, my wife, she was my honeycomb,” Mr. Brooks murmured.
“Why is she a honeycomb, Mr. Brooks?” I asked.
“Because nuttin nah sweeter den honeycomb,” he answered.

For Mr. Brooks, nothing in this world will ever be sweeter than Edith.

The people with whom I spend my time are not characters in a story—they are people with their own flaws, virtues, and quirks, and they are more real to me than anything else I have ever encountered. But the lives they lead and the dignity with which they handle their challenges provides a story that I feel compelled to impart to others.

The story of Mr. Brooks and Aunt Edith is one that I think needs to be shared; it is not only a love story, it is a story of devotion, dedication, and, when it comes right down to it, it is a story that has the sweetness of honeycomb. I wish you all the happiest of Valentine’s Days and I hope that you find ways to celebrate the uncommon love stories in your own lives.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Happy Birthday, Mom!

I am posting this a few days early because we are leaving for a community retreat in Mandeville, but this Tuesday, February 10th, is my mother's birthday!

For those of you that don’t know Mary, she happens to be the most beautiful, sweet, intelligent and loving woman I have ever met. I am dedicating this entry to her, as without her love and support, I would not be able to do the work I do here in Jamaica.
It saddens me greatly that I am not home to help her celebrate this day. Please bear with me as this entry will probably be the cheesiest I ever write. If you do know Mary, make sure you wish her the happiest of birthdays.

2 Nalgene Bottles…$16.00 U.S.

1 Pair Hiking Sandals…$39.99 U.S.

3 Pounds Red Peas…$500.00 JA

1 Bag Jamaican Coffee…$203.00 JA

Having your daughter's students, the Mount Friendship church ladies, a dog named Stubby, and PVI 2008/2009 wish you a happy birthday...priceless.

I wish I could be home to celebrate, but know this: I love you, Mom.