The Channel 12 TV Long Island, New York weather guy is visibly excited.
“Today, not a cloud in the sky in Long Island’s wine country. It’s a day for the East End beaches. Enjoy!
Long after the screen cuts to a commercial, I still have the smile on my face and my memory of another sun shiny day proclamation.
“Another day of blue skies and bright sunshine in the Kingston area,”
forecasts CeeBee, our popular radio DJ on JBC, the Jamaica
Broadcasting Corporation. “No clouds will darken your day” he
declares. “Now here’s something for all the Happy Go Lucky Girls out
there,” he says as he spins the chart-topping, single by John Holt and
The Paragons. I couldn’t be a happier 15-year-old girl this afternoon.
Nobody is as cool as “CeeBee, the cool fool with the live jive,” the best
DJ on earth. Whatever he says is okay with me. No clouds will darken
Rocking to the rocksteady beat, my friend Jennifer and I chime in,
singing line for line, “Ha, ha, ha, ha, Happy Go Lucky Girl. Ha, ha, ha,
ha, Happy Go Lucky Girl.” I love rocksteady. It’s so cool and the
rhythm is so hot. It’s performed by Jamaican vocal harmony groups,
such as The Gaylads, The Maytals and The Paragons. I’m a happy go
Jennifer and I are riding in the much maligned 1960 baby blue Hillman,
5-seater sedan, the Vernels’ family car. Mrs. Vernel, Jennifer’s mother,
is hunched over the steering wheel staring straight ahead, but she shouts
to us above the radio volume we’ve turned up to full blast.
“You girls, pipe down. I really wish you’d develop as much enthusiasm
for your school work as you have for listening to this rag music.”
Sitting in the back on the lumpy and stained brown leather seat, Jennifer and I ignore her mother’s nagging and continue singing in harmony with giddy joy. The windows are rolled down to catch the faint sea breeze mixed with the acrid fumes from assorted derelict trucks and cars of uncertain vintage. Everyone seems to be in a hurry driving through Kingston’s narrow, two lane streets. Horns blare and bicycle bells jingle with alarming fierceness. On the sidewalks, adding to the dissonance, street vendors hawk their wares and the multitudes, outfitted in jewel-bright summer wear, swarm over every available bit of pavement. We’re heading away from downtown to a fitting at our dressmaker.
As we draw nearer to our dressmaker’s house and place of business, the
noise and bustle of downtown Kingston fades away, and we see fewer
people walking the streets. Fewer cars too. Riotous branches of purple,
red, pink, and white bougainvillea spill over whitewashed fences and
dance in the late sunshine. Both sides of the streets are lined with small
prefabricated houses sitting in the middle of well-kept lawns.
After greeting Mrs. Chen, we start fitting our dresses for the upcoming
end-of-term party. We know that we can always rely on Mrs. Chen to
persuade our mothers to allow a more fashionable outfit – maybe even a
bit more daring. As she takes pins from the pin pad on her wrist and
shortens a hem here, or tightens a sleeve there, we admire the work in
progress. We change a detail here and there, joke around and gossip.
We gratefully accept the delicious lemonade and bite into the hot meat
patties offered to us, as it is getting on to dinner time.
“Jennifer and Sylvia, you girls come and pick up your party dresses on
Thursday, and Mrs. Vernel, since yours is for the concert at church on
Sunday, you can pick it up on Saturday.”
We pile into the Hillman, and soon arrive at my house. Jennifer is going
to sleep over. We wave goodbye, call out good night, and wish Mrs.
Vernel a safe ride home. We begin walking up the driveway. As we
walk, we chat about our new dresses and literally skip the last few feet
up the driveway in anticipation of the upcoming party on Saturday.
I’m not sure when we notice, but we realize that the verandah is filled with
people, maybe 20 or so family, friends and neighbors.
“What’s going on?” I shout out. “Are we having a party?”
The words tumble out of my mouth. Nobody responds.
The living room doors to the verandah are open on both sides, and more
people are milling around in the living room. I desperately want this
group to be here for a party. But nobody is smiling or dancing like party
people, and no music is playing. A sickening feeling is beginning to
well in my stomach. I hear a wailing cry coming from the dining room.
I walk towards the sound and am intercepted by my stalwart next door
neighbor, Mrs. Sewell, who opens her arms and engulfs me in a tight
“What’s going on, Mrs. Sewell? What’s going on? I know it’s
something bad, but what?”
“Sylvia, I’m sorry. Your brother George is dead.”
“What?” I cry out. “George is dead? How do you know that? It can’t
be true. Nooo,” I scream and pull away from her, stumbling into my
“It’s true, Sylvia, George is dead.”
I am stunned. I don’t know what to do. I’m wishing somebody has
made a mistake and it isn’t true. All the while, my body is gripped with
a bone-breaking ache. Hot tears spill out of my eyes, and down my
cheeks. George is dead. My big brother is dead. I say the words silently, over
and over, sometimes as a statement, sometimes as a question. Why
didn’t I feel it… sense the moment when he died? My brother George
and I are close, I say to myself. I should have felt it.
According to the report, my brother, a merchant marine with a Texas
shipping company, was washed overboard during a storm in the Gulf of
Mexico. The captain and crew searched the area all night through
daybreak and still didn’t find his body. I didn’t even know people so
young could die. George was 26 years old.
Today, I played The Paragons CD, “Happy Go Lucky Girl,”
and I remembered that shattering day. I think of George as sunshine. I
remember how he always made me feel special. He would give me just
what I wanted or better than I’d wished for, especially on my birthdays
in November. One year, he gave me a reel-to-reel tape recorder so I
could make copies of my favorite songs from CeeBee’s radio show.
It took a long time for me, the happy go lucky girl, to banish the dark
clouds in the sky. Now, no matter how many clouds pop up in my life,
as they occasionally do, my forecast is blue skies and bright sunshine
ahead in honor of George.
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