Friday, April 12, 2024

THE AL GILKES COLUMN: By any other name


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A few days ago I remembered my first school, St Mary’s, then located on Mason Hall Street in The City, a stone’s throw away from my birth home.
The headmaster was a Mr Drakes whose first name I never knew. As a four-year-old back in the day you knew not certain first names because it was “not in your place” to call or refer to certain people by their first names.
Just before I was seven, my family of father, mother, sister and I moved to St Lucy, birth parish of the old man. Gilksy had assumed one of three posts as a keeper of the light at Harrison Point Lighthouse. His responsibility was to keep it burning and flashing from sunset to sunrise every day of the year. Failing to do so on any night could spell disaster for some hapless ship approaching the island unaware of the deadly danger awaiting in the reefs below.
St Lucy also brought a change in schools and I soon found myself settling into and adjusting to the new and strange environment at Selah.
In The City I could run from home to St Mary’s between the start and finishing of the morning bell. Selah for seven-year-old me seemed light years away from the lighthouse with miles of walk between sugar cane in both directions along the narrow cart road of Harrison Plantation and daily races between heart and feet to escape the predatory heartmen and out-men of rustic social life of the times.
My headmaster, a Mr Marville, and I also never knew his first name.
At age ten I entered prep school at Harrison College. There being no such a thing as Common Entrance. If your father (mothers kept house) had the means to pay the $24 per term in school fees, you sat an examination and if you were lucky you got one of the places available. I was lucky.
That change saw me living in two parishes at the same time – St Michael during the school week and St Lucy on weekends and during the holidays. I liked the arrangement because if it were that I had to go home to St Lucy but found myself in detention, as I usually was, I would miss the school bus and would have to catch the last bus to Connell Town at 6 p.m.
At Harrison College I did come to know both the Christian and surname of my headmaster. He was Mr John Hammond, an Englishman whose eyes seemed always fixed on his shoes, maybe because few boys were shorter than he was.
So what recent event triggered these memories? It was the renaming of yet another school and wondering if I had attended Garrison Secondary, how I would feel today with no longer a school with that name.
Please, please, don’t ever let me awake any day to find that there’s no longer a St Mary’s but rather a Drakes Primary, no more Selah but a Marville Primary, no longer a Harrison College but a John Hammond College.
Please, please, don’t. At least not while I am alive.
• Al Gilkes heads a public relations firm.


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