Thursday, April 11, 2013

Confessions of a Coffeewallah

Most mornings, driving to work is an experience in the fine art of defensiveness. The traffic, the irate drivers, the ever present  vehicle with mounted flashing light and siren wailing - essentially bullying their way through. It all adds up to stress on the go. Even those of us sans children look forward to school vacations where the traffic falls off, sometimes to even manageable levels.

On those few mornings, when there is the possibility of paying attention to more than just the road, I sneak glances at the buildings and image what it must be like to occupy some of them. I wonder about the people who inhabit them. Are they  happy? What are they like? What is there history? I love a good story and many of the houses that line a particular street are older, and like most older folk, they look like they have many to tell.

Two women who greatly influenced my life died this week. One was much heralded and much vilified depending on whom you spoke to. That would be Margaret Thatcher. Baroness Thatcher came to power in the UK about the time I was heading off to High School, it was the end of the 70's and I, an impressionable young person seeking my own identity, separate from that of my mother and grandmother before her. My mother was already a professional women, though I somehow doubt she saw herself that way. Unlike many other other mother's at my primary school, mine worked, if she had not, we would have starved so it was never an issue of if I would get a job, it was a certainty. Just the same way that I was expected to pass exams and attend university before acquiring some worthy profession. We were women hear us roar and all that.

Ms, the groundbreaking magazine touting working womanhood featured the business suit for women on its front cover. A boxy, somewhat ugly creation with a large bow added on for it to be less threatening. Looking back now it seems rather funny. And there came Mrs Thatcher, a ballsy woman with two kids who strode like a colossus among the men. Heady days. You did not have to like Mrs Thatcher's politics but you could admire her sheer gall. That generation of women understood duty, determination and were not apologetic about their choices. Thirty some years later, people are still rabidly divided on the Thatcher legacy but one must consider, she was a product of her environment and the choices she made were the result of those experiences.  But women like Mrs Thatcher lowered the glass ceiling for my generation of women, and for this we are all eternally grateful.

The other woman who influenced my life was much less famous but no less celebrated by the people who knew her. My aunt Enid was not my family at all, she was the aunt of the X-man but for the time that I knew her she was extremely kind to me. Auntie Enid was what used to be called a spinster, she never married but lived with her sister and family. She too was a professional woman who worked within the public service. To the end Enid was always immaculately turned out with beautifully done hair. She and Mrs Thatcher were of the same generation so her indomitable spirit was no surprise.

Auntie Enid always made me feel special, that was her gift. I knew how much she cared about me when she subtly took sides one day against her beloved nephew. In her own way she too was a ground breaker and our conversations in the car on the way to the hairdresser were always interesting, we shared many things including a love of cooking. She made the most sublime brownies and her Sunday lunches were legend.  Auntie, gave me a sense of family at a time when I needed one, she will be sorely missed by all.

But I digress, we were talking about the stories houses tell. There is a particular one, the style is like those of the estate houses built in the forties, chocolate bar bricks, sweeping porch, long stairway to the upper floor. Sloping galvanised roof to facilitate rain run off but to remain cool during those long, hot Caribbean days that toast your brain in the shade. This house has been on the corner of French and Robert Streets for a long time, I wonder at the things it has seen. A gentrified neighbourhood on the Woodbrook estate that turned to a bustling business area as the city crept ever outwards to encompass the surrounding neighbourhoods. The building has been a family home, a pre-school, at one time some or other business occupied the downstairs while the upstairs retained its mysterious facade. The house looks truly lived in from the outside.

Like a fading older lady she now sits somewhat abandoned, no signs of life as I drive by. The roses in the garden look a little beaten up and faded, as though they too are tired. The surrounding buildings are being done over, the latest hip colours, burnt orange, dark purple, iguana green and yet she retains her gentility with dirty white walls and green trim...fortunately the blue flirtation that the owners tried previously went away. Perhaps her day has passed and like many of her contemporaries she will make way for a spiffy new office building or yet another blah concrete box or perhaps someone will admire her fine bones and re-make her into something new. Only time will tell. But every morning as I drive by, I salute her for standing another day a reminder of things past and lessons learnt.

1 comment:

Gabriela said...

You made me remember of a house close to my childhood house. It was a huge house and one of the windows, one very high, was broken and formed the shape of an armadillo. I waved it hello every tome I passed by.
One day, a terrible bomb destroyed that window. The owners replaced it with a new one. The magic was forever gone.