For one thing, when I was growing up, mother always insisted she was dying. Yes, she’s been dying for as long as I can remember. She was so serious about this, she listened to the radio each Sunday choosing sad songs for her funeral. The Old Rugged Cross was her top pick. Just As I Am was another. Yes, Sundays were quite depressing.
And three things would happen when anyone else on Cayman Brac died:
1. Mother would claim she was dying from the same illness. “Yeah, I got the same thing poor, ole Johnny had. I gonna soon be gone, too.”
2. She would swear she had a premonition of the neighbour’s death in a dream.
3. She would swear the neighbor’s ghost visited her during the night.
Do you know how stressful it is when your mother is a ghost whisper?
Mother was also NOT the soothing type. Sympathy was rare for fear of raising children who were “soft.” So, her reaction to me standing there with the top half of my toe stubbed off, was, “Wha’don’t kill yuh, makes yuh stronger.” Then, she’d generously dump flour on my wounded toe and send me off to play. Limping. No disinfectant. No, I quickly learned not to ask for that or the rubbing alcohol might come out. Band-Aids? Not a chance. If I was lucky, she would fashion a crude (horrendously embarrassing) bandage from a ripped t-shirt around my disfigured toe. There. Now, limp away and go play.
And mother never said things like, “Don’t worry. Everything will be okay.” Instead, she chanted, “That’s wha’ yuh get because you don’t listen to nothing I say.”
But anxiety was a normal part of life with mother for other reasons - she constantly had “bad feelings” (aka foreboding feelings), her “bad eye” was always jumping and her sinister dreams and superstitions usually predicted some ominous occurrence. For example:
• If she dreamed about white sand – someone was going to die.
• If a black cat crossed the left side of the road – someone was going to die.
• If she dreamed about dirty water – someone was going to die.
• If she saw a black snake – someone was going to die.
• If her bad eye jumped – something bad was going to happen – someone was probably going to die.
• If her good eye jumped…wait… HER GOOD EYE NEVER JUMPED.
Mother even admonished us if we laughed too much. She’d say, “Laughing brings crying.” Which is code for “someone’s going to die.”
As I got older her pessimism intensified. Prior to the birth of my first child, my (psychic) mother (who was still alive by the way), predicted that I would have an ugly baby. Her reason? Because two attractive people always have ugly children. This was mother’s ancestral theory – apparently our ghost-whispering ancestors were experts in genealogy.
Still, I tried to benefit from her “no-nonsense” attitude and wisely chose to disregard her other odd opinions.
Eventually, I dumped flour on my own stubbed toes and as I watched the white flour clump and turn a deep maroon, I’d hear her saying, “Wha’don’t kill yuh, makes yuh stronger.”
In that way I grew up tough, unafraid of hard work, oblivious to ghosts, completely un-phased by the notion of ugly babies, and in possession of copious material about mother to be used for a hilarious bestseller.