Book: A Country Boy – More Ossie Stories
Author: Earl McKenzie
Critic: Glenville Ashby, PhD
In the bucolic setting of bygone Jamaica, the life of Oswald Johnson, fondly called Ossie, unfolds. Nostalgic and near sentimental, writer Earl McKenzie captures the rhapsody, authenticity and predictability of youth. His A Country Boy – More Ossie Tales, is a compilation of imaginative tales that encapsulate the joys, accomplishments and travails of its protagonist.
There is the draw of peer pressure, the thirst for knowledge and experience, the struggle with identity, and the thoughtlessness of name-calling and bullying.
There is contentment in a life stripped of fancy and the toxicity of materialism There is an unmistakable joire de vivre and an unpretentiousness of country living that characterize just about every villager and every scene. There is comradeship, frivolity, jest and banter in the opening salvo, ‘The Haircut.’ The narrative, ‘Mass Peng’ follows in like vein. Still, McKenzie’s characters struggle to find meaning. Dreams are brought to a crashing halt, as in the case of Maas Andy in ‘The Freize,’ who can only reminisce with sadness of halcyon times. “I won many trophies with her,” referring to his horse Mountain Mist. “I have them on a shelf in the living room. I was Champion Jockey one year.” Life can prove taxing.
Throughout, McKenzie is the consummate griot, his tales tinged with apothegms that stir the imagination and invite philosophical reflection.
It is in ‘Mass Peng’ that we read the admonition, “When trouble come, it don’t set like rain.”
‘Losers & Finders’ delivers a message of filial responsibly. Dictums abound, some unambiguous (“even the trees have eyes), others in need of in-depth interpretation: “Empty bag can’t stand up,” and full bag can’t bend.” And there is the forebodingly instructive, “No matter where you go, there you are.”
In ‘The Frieze,’ we read, “Old broom knows the corner.” In ‘The Loan,’ we are advised to “Never be a lender or borrower be,’ and ‘Lend only what you can afford to lose.’
And quoted in ‘Harvest Festival’ is John Milton’s quote, “God doth not need either man’s work or his own gifts but by giving we take a step toward transforming ourselves for his glory.”
Notable is humanistic element found in ‘Harvest Festival.’ We learn of selflessness and the spirit of giving, the spirit of redemption and the curative force of music. In this church gathering, there is humility in the pronouncements, “remember to render your hearts and not your garments,” and, “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not nor the years draw nigh, when thou shall say, I have no pleasure in them,” – reminders to all in attendance.
In this day of harvest, “[t]he church was full of rich wonderful sounds” from the Famitry Band that came out of a reformatory. The saxophonist, in particular, piqued Ossie’s interest. “It seemed that he was definitely cured.”
And in ‘The Gambler,’ there is a sliver of tension as the plot develops and, like Ossie, we are left, if for a moment, in a state of suspended animation.
In ‘The Magician,’ we can only help but feel Ossie’s enthusiasm. Under the guidance of ace magician, Popsi, he enthralls his audience of school mates and teachers as he masters “the laws of reality to create the appearance of unreality.”
‘The Stranger’ is McKenzie’s most emotive tale. Moved by a preacher’s sermon, the ghosts of a young man’s past surface, his conscience unquieted by a heinous crime he perpetrated. He admits his guilt. The story fittingly ends with the most lugubrious of settings. “It was a dark night with no moon. The sky stared down coldly with its thousands of eyes. Leaving the service dumbfounded, Ossie and his mother “walked in silence along the dark country road.”
A Country Boy closes with ‘A Jamaican Carol’ that captures the spirit of Christmas and Ossie’s Impressive transition toward adulthood.
McKenzie’s work can easily be likened to feel-good tales of yore, but beneath the surface are enduring principles, such as, industry, responsibility, piety, faith, and gratitude, the very principles by which we are called to live.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper)
A Country Boy – More Ossie Stories by Errol McKenzie
Feedback: [email protected] or follow [email protected]
Publisher: LMH Publishing Limited, Norman Road, Jamaica
Available at Amazon
Ratings: Highly recommend
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