I remember going to the Barbados. The rays of sun caressed every inch of my body and I always had a cold, refreshing, freshly made glass of orange or pineapple juice. I never thought about the emails and voice mails that were piling up at my job. As I took a stroll through the Barbados I noticed the pastel colored stucco homes. I saw houses that were lime green, pink, bright yellow and a house had a few different shades of pink. The brightly colored umbrellas were lined up on the beach. I saw a tourist with his straw hat pulled over his face taking a nap while his wife dipped her feet in the turquoise waters. "Marco...Polo...Marco...Polo...” the children in the water yelled. They were playing the same water game that I had played in my aunt's pool back in the mid 1970s.
A couple on their honeymoon chose the serene part of the beach and romance rolled across every wave and under the shade of the palm trees. They even wore the same colored light blue bathing suits. Perhaps they received “his and hers" bathing suits on their wedding day. They did not smell the scent of the barbecued chicken coming from the deck of the hotel nor did they notice cruise ships passing by. All that mattered to them was sharing their blanket, the music on the radio and numerous embraces.
I loved the seafood in the Barbados, the friendly natives, the sound of the steel drums and the Caribbean print shirts that the band wore while they played. However, the Barbados has a different meaning to me now that I had the chance to meet a man named Edwin Hurdle. Although I am an Italian-American writer and have written Italian-American themed stories my den is a place where all ethnic groups are welcome. I am intrigued by other cultures and traditions. There are so many precious memories to share with each other!
"My family is from the Barbados," Edwin told me. Although Edwin was born in New York City, he said that he visited his grandmother a few times in the Barbados. She is a bubbly and vivacious 82 year-old woman.
"How are you doing today?" her neighbors asked.
Edwin's grandmother smiled and was beaming with joy. "My grandson, Edwin, is coming to visit me," she said as she was sitting in the shade slicing pineapples.
"Well, let's hope he does not bring any New York City rain and cold air with him," her neighbor said jokingly.
Her gardening tools were laying on the ground next to her garden. "I can't wait to show my garden off to Edwin," his grandmother said as she looked over at her garden.
One of the children in her neighborhood rode his bike into her driveway and asked, “Do you think Edwin will bring me a Yankees T-shirt?” while he smiled.
Edwin’s grandmother waved at him and said, “Be sure to stop by when Edwin arrives. I am making cou-cou with salmon and herring.”
Edwin has fond memories of cou-cou, which is corn meal mixed with herring. Sometimes flying fish, salmon, or tomato was added and then it is served in a bowl. I think this might be the equivalent to an Italian’s polenta which is cornmeal topped with marinara or meat sauce and sometimes mixed with mushrooms, sausage or just olive oil drizzled on top.
The child said, “Are you making macaroni pie?”
Edwin’s grandmother swept her porch and said, “Of course. I have to make macaroni pie. It’s our tradition.”
The child’s eyes lit up like a Christmas tree. “Whoa! I am definitely stopping by for the macaroni pie!”
My mouth watered as I thought about the traditional macaroni pie of the Barbados. Edwin told me, “Macaroni pie is a dish which contains boiled macaroni with cheese. My grandmother baked it in the oven after putting it into a pie pan.”
Edwin’s grandmother put a new bright orange hibiscus plant in front of her house. One of her friends stopped by with a big grocery bag.
“Here you go. I bought them fresh,” her friend said.
Edwin’s grandmother peeked in the grocery back after she put down her broom. “Oh, those pigs feet and pigs ears look great! Did you get me a bottle of vinegar?”
Her friend said, “Yes, I remembered the vinegar and fresh lemons, too.”
Edwin has such fond memories of a traditional dish called sous which is pigs ears, pigs feet, vinegar, and lemon juice. Sometimes they would eat sous by itself or with a brown pudding which is made from the pig. Edwin told me it is sweet, but not too sweet. I remember my mother buying pigs feet and how scared I was after I noticed them in our refrigerator. Pigs feet were popular in many Italian homes.
Edwin’s grandmother smiled as the calypso music played from her living room and echoed through her yard. Although Edwin currently lives in New York, he stays close to his traditions by observing the West-Indian American Day Parade in New York. Edwin puts on his comfortable shoes, light cotton shirt and sunglasses and attends the parade every year.
“Hey, Edwin, come over here!” his friends always call out for him every Labor Day as they gather on Eastern Parkway in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Some of the children sit on blankets, while others drink their cold refreshing fruit punch as they gather on the sidewalks.
Edwin elaborated and told me, “The flags of the Caribbean Islands wave in the air as everyone displays their love and pride of their particular native Caribbean Island. The parade is a family gathering of the Caribbean Nations. There are people from Jamaica, St. Thomas, Barbados, Grenada, Trinidad and Tobago and many more. People from all backgrounds and different parts of the city gather and become one family that day.” He continued and told me that Trinidad and Tobago have the same parade on that day but it is called “Carnival” and that the tradition spread to New York City.
Many people become immersed with their Caribbean traditions on that day as they eat bowls of rice, peas and jerk chicken. They also enjoy rotti which is stewed chicken with gravy, potatoes and some other spicy ingredients. It is placed in a pita and baked in the oven. Sometimes, people add a little bit of beer to the ingredients. Some people eat green bananas. They peel the skin off the banana and mash the banana, sometimes it is served with fish or herring. There are booths of beef patties, flying fish, and curry goat lining the streets of the parade. The curry goat stems from Jamaica. The West Indian Parade in New York is a festive way to celebrate the Caribbean culture and the heritage of the islands.
I took a journey back to the Barbados in my mind while Edwin told me about his memories. I envisioned Edwin's grandmother inviting her friend to sit down at the picnic table after she placed a beautiful tablecloth patterned in pink, orange and yellow hibiscus, bananas and sea shells. It was a perfect day in the Barbados.
“Have some lemonade,” she told her friend.
“What do you think Edwin wants to do when he arrives?” her friend asked.
“I know that my Edwin is going to give me a big hug. That is always first on his list. After that, I am sure he will go down to Hackman’s Cliff," his grandmother responded.
Edwin remembers Hackman’s Cliff and the times he put on his blue Nike beach thongs, comfortable tan shorts and light yellow T-shirt and made his way there to gaze at the clear aquamarine waters. He walked past the charming houses and the cascades of yellow and coral roses and tropical flora which grew over the white picket fences. The Cliff was one of my Edwin’s favorite places. He remembers walking to the cliff, drinking a cold ice tea, wearing his sunglasses on the top of his head and becoming absorbed by the sunset. Hackman’s Cliff in the Barbados is a place that touched Edwin’s heart.
I too remember the beautiful sunset in the Barbados and other islands that I have visited. You can really lose yourself as you become absorbed by the blazing, orange sun and vivid crimson and lavender skies.
Edwin loves his grandmother very much. It is her loving ways and special memories which make Edwin want to stay tied to his traditions even while he lives in New York.
“My grandmother is 82 years old but she is very active. She painted the living room and still loves to work in her garden. My grandmother looks out for me. Even if she tells me things that I already know, she keeps telling me anyway," Edwin said. Edwin’s grandmother wants the very best for him.
Although Edwin is tied to his traditions he also loves American music. Edwin remembers singing a song by the Temptations to a woman that he cared about. Although he sang, “My Girl” he added a few words of his own to it because he wanted to make it even more special. He looked in the mirror earlier on that day and told himself that he needed to express his feelings for her. He picked up his phone and when he heard her voice he serenaded her over the phone. She was happy and deeply moved by his serenade. Unfortunately, she went back to an ex-boyfriend a few weeks later.
Edwin is full of live and love. Yet, he has experienced pain in his life as some of his affections were not returned. Although his heart has been broken many times, he continues to appreciate his friends, family, traditional foods of the Barbados and music, especially Classic Soul, and Rhythm and Blues from the 1960s and 1970s as well as Queen Latifah, Salt n’ Peppa and MC Lite.
“I enjoy The Temptations, Teddy Pendlegrass, James Brown, The Stylistics, and Gladys Knight & The Pips. I really think they paved the way for many current musicians,” Edwin said.
When Edwin was very young he never understood why his family and adults called such musicians as The Stylistics and Gladys Knight and the Pips, “real music”. As he approached his teen years he realized why it was referred to as such. I agreed with Edwin when he told me that talented singers know how to touch our hearts with the lyrics and the music, especially when they sing with their heart and soul while teaching us a lesson about love. It is not just what the musician says, but the way that they say it. Their passion radiates over the airwaves or out of our stereo speakers. Most importantly, musicians and singers teach us about love, loss and sadness.
Since Edwin has roots in the Caribbean he still listens to Calypso, Reggae, and Socca. He remembers looking at his father’s old Calypso and Reggae albums. As Edwin took me on a journey to his parents’ apartment in New York, he described the strong appreciation of music that he grew up with. His godfather heard the music and would walk into the apartment, shake his head and bob it back and forth, like a bobble head doll as Edwin and his parents danced. Dancing to the music he loves is a tradition and memory that Edwin keeps alive. He remembers that in the 1970s his family, clad in their polyester pants and pointy collared printed shirts, danced to the sounds of Marvin Gaye.
Edwin’s father was never interested in the Rap music that Edwin enjoys. His mother loves all types of music and still watches music videos while she sits in her comfortable chair. He remembers KC and The Sunshine Band as it blared through the living room and made his family gatherings special. It was the era of sideburns, hoop earrings, platform shoes and frosted lipstick.
Edwin’s love of music all began when he was nine years-old. At that age it would not be unusual to find his Mom cooking macaroni pie in the kitchen while his father was attempting to fix his bicycle and Edwin, glued to the television. The ice cream man rang that little bell on his truck but Edwin would not move as he watched a television commercial about a tape which featured the best of the rock and roll bands. The song, “Kashmir” by Led Zeppelin blared through the television screen. His eyes lit up and he wanted that tape. Music was and still is a way to stay close to your family and your traditions.
Edwin has weaved the threads of his life in New York into the threads of his heritage from the Barbados. He makes it a point to hug his grandmother as soon as he arrives for his visits. All the neighbors stop by to say hello. He loves all of his grandmother’s traditional foods. As he sat with her under the palm tree in the Barbados during his vacation he realized that he can love two places at once. Half of his heart consists of calypso music, reggae, macaroni pie, cou cou and sous.
The other half of his heart is filled with the memories of dancing with his parents and godfather in their apartment in New York when he was growing up. His American and Caribbean traditions have become intertwined.
At the core of his traditions Edwin values so much is his father’s love. “My father looked out for his family, kept a roof over our head and was a family man. Also, he had strong values and morals. He would die for his family. He kept food on the table and clothes on my back.” Edwin said from his heart.
Additionally, his mother’s love is at the center of his life. "I can express my thoughts and emotions around her. She appreciates my sense of humor and is my best friend,” Edwin said.
I took a journey to Edwin’s kitchen table in New York. I was able to envision his mother washing the dishes while Edwin shared a special joke or confided in her.
“There is a woman that I met, but I am not sure how she feels about me,” he would tell his mother as she stood by the sink. Sometimes Edwin would touch his mother’s hand and ask her for guidance. “Mom, what should I do? She has hurt me and I am not sure how to handle the situation.”
His mother offered advice as she cut him a slice of apple pie. She is the reason that Edwin is a caring person as she always encouraged him to speak all of the words that were in his heart. “Let me see that poem you wrote Edwin,” his mother would say.
He took it out of his pocket and unfolded it. “My kindness and trust made you feel strong. You took it for granted all the time. My heart took an enormous beating,” were some of the words from his poem.
His mother was his confidant and his friend. He shared his thoughts and feeling with her.
“Edwin,” his mother shook her head. “You have to be careful of who you trust. You will find a caring woman. You just have to patient," she said as she put the dishes into the cabinet. She sighed and continued, "You are a wonderful man Edwin. Be patient. You will find the right one."
Edwin surprised me when he told me about his love of Italian food. Growing up his mother made spaghetti with turkey and he loved to put extra sauce on it. He also enjoyed pepperoni pizza and pizza with chicken and broccoli from Front Street Pizza in Brooklyn.
I enjoyed my journey with Edwin as he talked about his life, family and traditions. My message to Edwin is this:
“Always speak from your heart. Sometimes the heart tells you things that you don't want to know, but just continue to follow it. Your family traditions and ties make you a wealthy man. Most of all, stay close to your roots in the Barbados, as they are permanently woven into your coat. Your mother will always be your light.”
Edwin’s heart is in New York and the Barbados. He holds both flags high!