Monday, April 22, 2024

Carmel is queen for a day


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DRESSED IN A bright yellow dress with blue and black accessories and trimmings, Carmel Brathwaite celebrated her 70th birthday in aristocratic style.

Sitting in a carriage with yellow and blue decorations, she gave a queen’s wave to several onlookers as she and her granddaughter flew the National Flag high in the air, as they rode through historic Bridgetown.

It was October 29, and an excited Brathwaite had her granddaughter Takara Branford, who was dressed identically. Brathwaite was smiling from ear to ear before the journey to Bridgetown even began, but it took nine-year-old Takara to warm up for the carriage ride. But, as soon as Jazz’s large horseshoes hit the asphalt in a rhythmic gait, her faced gleamed bright.

Brathwaite told EASY magazine that her love for Barbados inspired her birthday celebration.

“I love everything about Barbados – there is no comparison. I travelled to almost every Caribbean island, the United States, Canada and Britain, but somehow my country always stands out to me,” she said.

“I especially love our ceremonial parades. In all of my life I have only missed a few. I was there for our first Independence celebration in 1966. I was 20 years old at the time and I remember a strong feeling of nationhood when the Union Jack was lowered and our flag was raised. That day the rain fell so much that the Garrison was muddy, but everyone was happy and sheltered one another with their umbrellas.

“When Errol Barrow gave his speech I hardly heard a word he was saying because everybody was clapping loudly, screaming, cheering and hailing him. I did not know the National Anthem word for word but I had a piece of paper with the lyrics and that was one of my proudest moments.

Carmel said she felt like a queen in the buggy.

“I wanted to pay tribute to my island for my 70th. I think it was an amazing experience. The buggy was dressed exactly the way I wanted. When I was on the road a lot of people were waving at me and shouting, ‘Mrs Brathwaite, how you?’ I could not remember all the faces but I waved back. It was like if I was a queen for a couple of hours.”

“I believe most of them who called out to me knew me through my profession. I owned a salon and in my free time I would go to district hospitals with my staff and wash the elderly’s hair. Those old people looked forward to seeing us just as much as the young children we visited in the children’s homes. The staff and I really enjoyed giving back to the community. I remember an old lady telling me she wanted her hair cut in the dove tail and that made me laugh.”

Brathwaite said that her childhood days are some of her most cherished memories. She said the “old Barbados” was fun and full of adventure for children. Her favourite times of the year before 1966 were summer vacation and Christmas.

“What I loved about the summer was spending time with family in the country. The slang was different and country people used to hardly go to town so they sold their own goods in the country,” she said.

“My family owned a butcher shop and I always had some activity to do. On Wednesday we would cook soup because that was the day they killed sheep for mutton. I used to enjoy baking bread too. We used to bake bread in a big cast iron pot, which is something I never saw in St Michael. We would cook with wood on an outside fire and we would eat what we plant, so country life was really different.

Brathwaite said life back then was way different from today’s.

“Back then we used to eat a lot of ground provisions . . . .That is why we have so many centenarians. I remember an old man’s reaction when he first saw macaroni. He said, “Where yuh does get these small cassavas from? Who pull out the strings and make them?’” she said, while laughing loudly at the memory.

“In those times there was no fridge and people would buy ice from the ice van. The ice man would use a pick and cut the ice straight in blocks and when you get the ice you would wrap it tight in a crocus bag and sprinkle it with salt. This would cause the ice to last long, sometimes for three days.”

After summer, the best time for Carmel was December.

“I couldn’t wait till it was December. Christmas had a smell and a look. We had khus khus grass beds that were nice and high. We used to put the khus khus in a crocus bag and put a hole in the middle and shove the khus khus grass root in there to give it a nice fragrance. The only perfume we had back then was khus khus perfume so we used the roots to get the smell.

“Children and their parents would wash down the outside of the house and repaint the house. Then depending on where you are from, country or town, you either laid marl or sand around the house after weeding. The children liked this because it looked like snow. We would also varnish the furniture and put down congoleum or marmoleum sheeting on the floor and the tablecloth we used was called oilskin and when you lay that down it had a nice smell as well. We would use grapefruits and shaddocks to decorate the centre of the table because those were the fruits to eat for Christmas.

The smell of ham, for Carmel, meant many treats and she recalled how the ham was prepared for Christmas Day dinner.

“We used to get a lot of postcards during Christmas time too, because that was the only way you and your family overseas communicated. At the corners of the shed roof (living room) we used to have strings running from each end with nothing but postcards, which became Christmas decorations. And you could not go in the shed roof until the 25th. We used to hang the ham in the kitchen the same way.

“During that time everybody didn’t have a stove so we used to wait until the neighbour was finished baking. And if she lived close by she shouted out and we always shared what we prepared with each other.”

The fashion wasn’t left out of her trip down memory lane, and Carmel said she was quite the dresser back then too.

“There was also a lot of style in my day. What the young people wear today is nothing compared to our fashion. In fact, what they call fashion is only a cycle. We used to wear short dresses and miniskirts with fishnet stockings. Big broad belts were in, platform shoes and big hoop earrings, which we used to call mods.

“We used to call the three-quarter pants pedal pushers, and the only difference is that we had our zips in the back while the young people today have their zips to the front. And when you go to the hairdresser the curls used to come out better with the curl tongue. The little girls had curls like Goldilocks or they used to get their hair plaited in four big plaits in the upsweep and two big ribbons. The only thing we didn’t have is the sprays and stuff to hold the hair for days like what you have now.”

Brathwaite is blessed with six children, 17 grandchildren and three great grandchildren. She and her husband enjoy when they come over for family gatherings.

Although Brathwaite was of the view that they mostly came over because they liked her cooking. They were brought up in church, she said, and taught discipline which she declared is lacking in society now because children do not spend sufficient time with their grandparents.

“Although I am looking forward to the 50th anniversary, I want us to be more loving and caring to each other. I realise that we have not only lost some respect for each other but I find that mothers are having a hard time getting help with their children. And the children lack a grandparent’s connection and guidance, which I believe is needed to fill the gap between the past and present.”


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