I remember when I first heard the term “forefathers” used. I was at elementary school in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, preparing for what was then the College Exhibition (later Common Entrance) Examination when our teacher ventured into the complexities of “Civics” and said that our forefathers came from many lands far away such as Africa, India and China.
One of the boys, nicknamed “Saddle-head” (because the back of his head was wider than the front which seemed to narrow to a knob), was aghast and said to Miss Rouse, the teacher, “Miss, Miss. I only have one father, I don’t have no four fathers.” We all supported him and Miss Rouse had to patiently explain the difference between the homophones “four” and “fore”.
Un-”four”-tunately many of us did not quite understand at the time. I am optimistic that in their adult lives they would know the difference when indulging in any kind of play especially with homophones.
I sat under the spreading Neem tree in our yard in Antigua last Sunday thinking that while, with my advancing age I might soon become a forefather myself, I was content at this stage to be a father of four. Two are with me in Antigua and last Sunday were busy setting the table under the neem tree for a Father’s Day breakfast.
What’s in a Neem, you ask? Neem is a species of mahogany and is famous for its medicinal properties. WIKIPEDIA states that “all parts of the tree are said to have medicinal properties (seeds, leaves, flowers and bark) and are used for preparing many different medical preparations.” Neem products are anthelminthic (good for killing worms), antifungal, anti-diabetic, antibacterial and antiviral.
Neem is also supposed to be a contraceptive and spermicide but that knowledge comes four children too late.
Not that I would trade my children, even retrospectively, for any Neem-brand outer garment. One just has to see the last two children busily preparing to make Father’s Day memorable for me to wish for more. I know that in China I would have been jailed for life for exceeding the progeny limit but here in the Caribbean we have no such strictures.
In India I might have boasted only of two sons and leave in darkness the fate of my daughters. Here under the Caribbean sun, our daughters are as precious as our sons.
Zubin helped his mother with the fry-bakes. He even carved “DAD” on one and had to stop my absent-minded daughter Jasmine from eating it. The bakes were really the accompaniment to the main event- saltfish that was desalinated in a bowl of water the night before and then sautéed with garlic, onions, tomatoes, sweet pepper, hot pepper, carrots, chadon beni and chive.
My love for saltfish is legendary and evident (as some say) in my fathering four children. From Belize where the bakes are called “fry-jacks” and “johnny cakes”, we also acquired a taste for black beans and grated cheese. The first avocado of the season sat proudly on the table and though cut up was not angry. It had to be proud to be invited to the party in the first place.
A few years ago we bought a picnic table and some chairs and put them under the neem tree so that we could enjoy the breeze from the nearby Atlantic Ocean. This Sunday, like most of the preceding and succeeding days, was hot and oppressive indoors but very cool outdoors in the shade of the Neem tree. Jasmine set the table and had to sit holding down the table-cloth to keep the strong breeze from sending it flying to Barbuda until I came out and relieved her.
Our two dogs, Crix and his son Bunjie, knew that something was up and rushed out to join us, revelling in the day and the presence of the entire family, including my mother. We both thought of my father who died several years ago and how much he would have loved being here with us and the grandchildren he had never seen.
Like all of us, he had his faults and weaknesses but I never doubted his love for me. It was enough for four fathers or more.
Zubin picked two ochroes from the plants that my wife Indranie has encouraged to put down roots along the side of the house. He put the ochroes on a chair and one fell down. Bunjie started to eat it. He is a weird dog and loves vegetables. We have to hide the onions and garlic from him.
Indranie’s brother Raymond, a father of two who died a few years ago, had visited us once and offered a bone to Crix which he politely refused. “It’s bad enough that you are a vegetarian,” he said jokingly to his sister. “But it is the first time I ever see a vegetarian dog.”
In the meantime gifts were produced all within very limited budgets but even more appreciated because of the hard times that have characterised our last few years. Antigua has been good to us and away from the murders, hijackings and political hi-jinks, we have bonded very closely as a family. I take the children to school and leave them there without any fear that I would receive a ransom note and risk losing them.
We sit under the shade of the Neem without any fear of gunmen jumping the very low ornamental concrete fence and forcing us inside. A couple days earlier I had sat there in the late evening with my wife and my old boss, Bruce Aanensen, and we talked and laughed about his family and dogs, cricket and life as an unfolding spectacle but still a participant sport.
Perry Gossai, a Berbice lawyer, stopped by after watching the cricket, on the way to St Kitts to spend Father’s Day with his two sons, daughter-in-law and grandson. I got a text message from my daughter Marsha and one from Zubin’s sports-master.
My son George wrote an article on Chris Gayle which I sent out to my friends because he had captured the essence of why Chris is important to West Indies Cricket.
If there is a moral in this it is that we all have to try to make the best of what we have. It is the lesson of the Neem tree. It is the Neem of the game.
*Tony Deyal was last seen saying that Father’s Day always worries him. He’s afraid he gets a gift he can’t afford.
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