This is the first in a series of memories of my grandparents home, Tremont. I hope to share a throwback story each Thursday. I know I have already shared a few when remembering Nana and Papa. This next one is a bit long. My apologies. Trust me, they won’t all be. This simply sets the stage for some of what I remember about the physical details of Tremont. Call it a foundation for some of the stories that I wish to share with you. You, being my beloved family, my friends and basically anyone who appreciates the value of a simple story.
Why should you really care about Tremont? It’s just a simple old Barbadian house. Nothing fancy like the real Camelot one might conjure up. No King Arthur, unless you count Papa’s carpenter, Mr. Arthur. Not your childhood or your experiences. But here’s the thing, I am going to beg you to do me a little favour. It is my wish that when you read these stories, it will awaken some of your own memories you may have from your childhood, in a house that you remember as your own Camelot. What matters are the experiences you shared in that location with the people you love, and with the people you loved dearly, who are no longer here.
A house is a strange thing. It can have a profound effect on a person. Sure it is a material thing. Buddhist philosophy would really discourage affectations to such objects. Capable of the three D’s that all cause suffering… destruction, decay and demolition. Memories, on the other hand, have a better track record of withstanding the test of time if they are documented or passed on in stories. That is not to say that some memories cannot cause suffering or sadness. But for the future sake of all our collective homes, I would like to propose a new approach to looking at such a material object. In addition to the three D’s, all realities of life, a home is also capable of encouraging three C’s… creativity, contemplation and a sense of calm. All good things to comfort the soul.
There is not one person I know that does not remember a family home from their childhood. Not one. A home where their first memories began. It could be their own childhood home. A family relative’s home. A grandparents home.
My first memories began at Nana and Papa’s home, Tremont. My uncles and my Mum have their own memories, so do their cousins and friends, my cousins and my siblings. I wish I knew all their memories. That would be lovely. If any of my memories seem lacking or incomplete, do let me know. All in all it would make for a pretty good book. But I make no claims as a writer. Just a random storyteller. And while this may not be the best platform for sharing all that I remember, it is what it is. I am simply going to do my best to share some of the little stories, from time to time, that make me smile and sometimes cry. For all of us that knew Tremont, I am sure we can agree with my brother’s viewpoint that “Tremont was our Camelot in many regards”.
I only ever knew Nana and Papa while they lived at Tremont. I am told that prior to this, they lived in a part of Christ Church known as South Ridge, in a much larger home during Papa’s years with Barclays. I asked my Mum when they moved to Tremont and she remembers that after Papa retired, the bank had asked him to stay on past his official retirement date. It was in the early 70’s but we are not exactly sure when. My uncle believes they moved there in 1973. That would make me one. So you can understand that I am working on a pretty big puzzle at the moment.
My uncle found the date of Tremont’s purchase. It was documented as March 4th 1980. They rented from Mr. Davis for years and my Mum suspects that Papa bought it because he could not face the task of moving all the “accumulation” over the years.
First and last impressions are important. Tremont was no exception. A long, old, unevenly paved driveway led to the house. A Bajan cherry tree used to live about half way down the path as did an eerie derelict house to the left with rotten floorboards. My older sister and I used to explore there sometimes. It would later be demolished and turned into concrete boxy, unattractive apartments. We used to pick the best cherries to make Bajan cherry ice. Great on its own or with some good old local Bico vanilla ice cream. Nana always told us not to swallow the spongy seeds because a cherry tree could grow out of our bellies. The image of this always fascinated me.
Below is a rather dodgy photo of me behaving like a rude girl with a bowl haircut. Trust me, I only share this so you can make out the driveway and steps. Please kids, do not play with guns. This would have been in the mid 70’s. Apologies, I’m truly sorry. If I remember correctly, this gun had a disc of caps that would make a good little bang and smell like gunpowder. You can shudder. Behind the red looking bush in the middle sits the massive cherry tree behind it. You can also catch a glimpse of Nana and Papa’s white Ford sedan and red Austen Mini station-wagon.
The front steps at Tremont were always a bit of a problem. A bit like that photo of me, holding a gun and looking like a poster child for the NRA. They spanned a good ten feet at the bottom and reduced to maybe six feet by the time you made up the ten steps to the verandah. The steps were originally unpainted poured concrete that became very slippery when it rained. Each tread was imprinted with a line at intervals to suggest a tile pattern even though there were no tiles, just indents. The tiles would be laid later in the 80’s. Anyone that visited was warned to be careful coming up the steps. On leaving, the farewell always included, “mind your step”. I never understood why until I was about 11 and watched my Mum slip and fall while holding my younger sister as a baby. Not the first, nor last person to take a tumble, or break a limb.
Ignorance is a treasure when you are a child. Things always seem bigger than they really are. Chalk it up to an error in size ratios. I used to love playing on those wide solid concrete railings. I saw them as slides. They were always painted white. I remember well because the peeling paint used to stick to me. I would sometimes have to flick little white paint chips off the back of my bum and thighs.
Originally, there was a separate pair of narrow, matching double doors with windows on either side. These were located pretty much where those louvred windows currently are on the verandah in the ‘painting’ version of the house. The right side was usually closed because Papa kept his office at that end. In a future renovation, this feature would be removed altogether by making one large set of doubles doors as you now see. On entering the doors, a shallow living room area greeted you that ran the width of the house. The left side continued into a dining room with the first bedroom, my uncle’s, on the right side.
A small transitional archway led to a hallway that had builtin glass cabinets. The main bathroom shower was on the left, almost directly opposite the master bedroom. The toilet was located next in tow as a separate room in the hallway just before the kitchen. Awkwardly placed, it was faced with white wainscotting. It is in this same hallway that Nana used to keep her Singer sewing machine and make my doll dresses. Incidentally, it also happens to be where the thread from my blog header came from.
The kitchen was anything but elaborate. It sat at the back of the house. From the kitchen table, which met you on entering, you could see the detached garage to the right, through a set of glass louvered windows. The tiny 3′ x 3′ pantry in the far right corner contained shelves that wrapped around all three tiny walls. The door was made out of peg board, presumably to let things air out. The top shelves housed antiquated brown coloured carnation milk powder bottles and large glass jars filled with brown sugar, flour, rice and pasta. Coming from a hurricane, Jamaican generation, Nana was accustomed to shelves at the supermarket that could go bare at a moment’s notice. So she insisted on having provisions ‘just in case’. As far as I could tell, the provisions were never used nor replaced. Nana also came from a generation where there was no such thing as an expiry date. Tins would develop rust but Nana refused to get rid of them. Just in case.
The basic kitchen cooking area led to a sunken backroom that housed a long concrete sink with trough to the left and at least two fridges at any given time. These fridges were in addition to the main one already in the kitchen zone. Leftovers always needed a home in their Pyrex dishes of all shapes and sizes. Oranges and patties too. Papa would bring these back from each visit to Jamaica, the patties being in white cardboard boxes often crushed from being packed in suitcases. The back door was also in this room and led to the awkwardly shaped backyard. My sister and I would have the best baths in laundry buckets out there. Back then we thought those buckets were the size of bathtubs, fit for queens. Kids.
Our Camelot would not have been complete without a massive breadfruit tree. It lived at the end of the pie shaped property at the very back, to the left of the wire fence you can barely make out in the photo above. From time to time, my Dad would be given the approval by Papa to harvest one or two for the eating. Usually roasted in foil but sometimes served as breadfruit cou cou, in an oval glass Pyrex dish. I remember the long pole he used with a sharp knife wired to it, to make harvesting easier. Again, no Excalibur but it did the trick.
As the years passed, every time Tremont appeared to be bursting at its seams, Papa would add a room. The same way one might add a notch to an old belt that has become too tight. I really think he did it out of guilt to appease Nana. You see, Nana never really liked Tremont.
Originally two bedrooms, the first expansion was added to the back of their master bedroom to give Nana a dressing room and walk in closet. That’s where Nana’s gaudy pink painted furniture lived that Mr. Arthur made for her. Mr. Arthur was initially commissioned to make speaker boxes for my uncle’s band. Lovely man. But the furniture he made looked like boxes gone rogue that had swallowed Pepto Bismol and got bleached by the beautiful sun. Even Frank Lloyd Wright, the architect, would have agreed that there was a lack of unity in form and function at Tremont. And I am not just referring to the furniture.
“great architecture has this capacity to adapt to changing functional uses without losing one bit of its dignity or one bit of its original intention. And I think that’s the great thing about the building at the end of the day.” – former Guggenheim Director Tom Krens
Next came a reno to the main bathroom to include the toilet and a new room addition of a second bathroom on the right side of the house. This was for my younger uncle so he could have an ensuite from his room. In fact, it was to act as a double ensuite as it had two doors: one leading from his bedroom, the other to Nana and Papa’s bedroom. On paper I am sure it made sense. In reality, however, Nana and Papa’s bedroom always had an extra twin bed in the corner, off to the side of their double bed. This was for us. The bed never moved after the addition. So when you slept in the bed, there was a door always closed where your pillow was. Not an ideal scenario when you have a nightmare about a person breaking in.
When Papa and my uncle kept using the main living area for the band, Nana happily okayed an extension off the left side of the house for a proper office. This space took on a life of its own. More depth was added to allow it to act as a guest bedroom. Then came a closet addition for more storage. Then another “storage” room area was tacked on with built in cupboards. Why purge when you could expand? This principle also explains why the original garage at the back had not one but two stand alone rooms added behind it.
Nana died in 2004 at 92. Papa, in 2006 at 95. Tremont still stands to this day. Currently being rented out. Not to be confused with an Airbnb I stumbled across when I did a Google search on it. In 2009, when I visited in the summer, we took a drive there one afternoon which is when I took the photo of Tremont.
* * * *
Because* of Tremont, we casually refer to our home in Toronto by the name of our street. I intentionally ignore the number that sits before it. A girl can wish. When anyone visits during rainy weather, or in the winter, I too say: “mind your step” when they leave because they also get slippery. Yet, unlike Nana, who claims to have disliked Tremont, I don’t dislike our tiny home. I try my best to nurture it, shitty basement and all.
Because of Tremont and Nana, I gravitate towards artwork that depicts houses and/or portraits of women. Failing that, gaudy bright colours are often a second place choice for my walls. Thank you, Mr. Arthur.
Because of Tremont, I appreciate the world of interior design and home decor. Humble roots have a way of making you stop and appreciate a thing of beauty when you see it. Again all objects, I know. Three D’s. Got it. The paradox lies in the fact that even though the devil may be in the details, it is also in the same little details that we find beauty. Beauty that has the power to warm the heart.
I often comment on the saying that “a fish only grows as big as its bowl” does not hold up when you apply it to humans and houses. Our four children seem to keep growing, unlike our little 1928 Toronto home. Tremont was the exception. Three of our four kids are now taller than I am. When we are all in our kitchen it is not unlike the image in Alice in Wonderland when she is literally bursting through the house. My husband would love to renovate. I would love to educate our children. Maybe one day we will add a room off the back, like how Papa did for Nana. Either way, our home is where I currently feel most enlightened. Call it My Camelot.
* When I was in university I took a summer course in US Civil War History. The professor was a very interesting man and I really enjoyed the course. On my culminating paper, I started a sentence with the word “Because”. For some reason, he took offence and called me out on it. In chicken scratch, he explained that it is frowned upon to begin a sentence with this word. I was offended and also angry for being shamed. This was a history course, not an English writing course. To this day, whenever I can, I start a sentence with it. Because I can. And this small detail, also reminds me that I am a storyteller, not a writer.