Mother told us how it was in 1969. She and Dad were raising three children in Jamaica. Dad sometimes traveled to the United States as a farm worker. We lived in a tenement yard. A lot of families lived in a big yard in different houses, but they all used the same toilet and kitchen.
The kitchen would be the place where gossip started. If a tenant didn’t go to the kitchen to cook dinner, everyone would know that the family didn’t have money or anything to eat. Every family tried not to be in that position.
Mom told us about a tenant who didn’t have any food to cook; however, the tenant went into the kitchen, put the pot on the wood fire and put a stone into it. Next, she added some water, salt, thyme, scallions, and a dash of pimento, giving her soup a delicious scent. When the “food” was ready, she took it off the fire still covered, gladly escaping the wagging tongues of the ladies.
Some time later, it would be my mother’s turn to try to escape the wrath of the tongues. Dad was away in America, and the money that he sent to Mom didn’t arrive on time, so we had nothing to eat.
One evening, as we sat on the veranda looking toward the street as cars drove by, Mom told us that she was going to cook “turn cornmeal” for dinner. Those days, this meal was for the dogs. It was cornmeal cooked with a little salt, but Mom decided that she was going to add sugar and coconut milk. We all said yes because it was similar to cornmeal porridge, which we loved.
I was the one chosen to fulfill the task at hand by going to the shop next door. I took the money from Mom, running and skipping and singing, “One pound cornmeal, one pound cornmeal,” continuously, to memorize it.
I proudly entered Miss Dell’s shop. At the counter, I tiptoed to my full three feet, trying to look right into her eyes, sending her a telepathic message: I’m a big girl now. As soon as our eyes met, I stretched out my small hand and offered the money, then I loudly shouted, “One pound turn cornmeal!”
I don’t remember how she reacted, as I was standing proudly and patiently waiting for my precious order. It was later when I returned that I heard Miss Dell had come to the back of her yard, which was adjacent to our yard, laughing, to tell my mother, and other tenants who were all in the yard, exactly what I ordered.
Well, I guess Mom worked some magic, trying to convince them that the cornmeal was for tomorrow’s breakfast porridge because we all went to Grandma’s for dinner that day.
To this very day, this is a big joke in my family.
Born in St. Thomas, Jamaica, Sharon Brown Lamont came to the U.S. in 2019. She and her husband of five years, Desmond Lamont, have two sons. A certified nursing assistant, her career goal is to become a registered nurse. She is currently a student in the High School Equivalency program of the Family Health Centers at NYU Langone, Project Reach Youth. Annette Reives is her instructor, and John Kefalas is the site supervisor.