The Merry Girls of Tremont

Children are like sponges. They can absorb their surroundings in such a subtle way that it is often easy to go unnoticed. Hard to say what they are actually soaking up. These experiences then become crucial pieces in the development of the brain’s neural pathways. Sooner or later, just give that sponge a little squeeze, and you will find that it all flows back out.  For better or worse, a child’s environment helps to create a foundation for their future. Our childhood at Tremont is a testament to this. 

As far back as I can remember, Nana and Papa’s home in Barbados, Tremont, was cluttered. While I would not necessarily classify Nana, or Papa, as hoarders, they certainly did not like to let go of things. I get that. I can be the same way. ‘Just in case‘ can come in handy sometimes. I once took an old window from the curb and held on to it for a good seven years until I turned it into a beloved chalkboard.  I remember when a friend of my Mum’s stopped by for a visit at Tremont and jokingly commented to Nana, “Why, Mrs. Brennan, why you got all this junk lying around here?” I think he did it to taunt her. She was not impressed. Nana was proud like that.

Some of the clutter at Tremont was related to the fact that my uncle, my Mum’s younger brother, was in a band. Originally, as a young teen with The Merry Boys when they formed in 1965, they became The Merriboys in the 70’s. This would transition into the rock band,  Ivory in the 80’s and later, Splashband in the 90’s. I share this because it was neither uncommon nor unusual to see huge black speakers and equipment on the verandah at Tremont. And in the living room. And in the dining room. I can even remember a mixing board on the table in the dining room that Nana covered with an old bedspread to keep the dust out. Stacks of flyers and tickets were also frequent visitors in Papa’s office in the one end of the living room. Needless to say, Tremont was always full of life and activity. A bit like a revolving door, where at any moment, someone might be entering, or leaving.

Me wearing band gear. 1976. Age 4.

Me. 1976. Pretending to be a ‘MerriBoy’ in my uncle’s gear on the verandah at Tremont. The Norfolk Island Pine in the background.

What fascinated my sister and I about all this was how we loved to participate. Each year we would beg to be put to work licking stamps and stapling flyers for any upcoming engagements, featuring the band. We were quite young but please do not feel sorry for us. This is not a case of third world child labour. We were simply living in our own little world, wanting to get in on the action. A bit like me in the questionable photo above. First guns, now cigars. For my children’s benefit, and to set the stage up (as I am sure many of you reading this will not need the reminder), this was a world before Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter or Instagram. No YouTube like the links I just shared.  Just good old fashioned mail to your mailbox, attached to your house, not your smart device. This was the 70’s and early 80’s.

The biggest party of the year for the band was Old Year’s Night. Locations varied from year to year. To get ready for the event, Nana would bring out two sets of dipping bowls with a super soft piece of sponge in each. The sponge was soaking in water to rub the back of the stamps for each flyer that had been folded, addressed, and stapled shut. We secretly loved the taste of the slippery glue on the stamps. Whenever Nana and Papa would leave the room, we would lick them instead of using the sponge. Or at least I did. Can’t remember if my sister did too. I’ll have to ask her. I tried my best to recreate what the dipping bowl used to look like. Here is the sponge as I remember it in one of Nana’s Pyrex bowls. With a developing brain, I did not think at the time to take a picture of the real bowl as a future memory. I was more than likely in a glue coma.

The stamp dipping bowl.

Recreation of the sponge bowl for licking stamps at Tremont.

This meant Tremont was always bustling with excitement at Christmas time. The days and weeks leading up to the night were always busy as people would pull into the driveway to come and collect their tickets for the big gala. People getting ready for a different kind of spirit.

Come to think of it, I believe I loved those printed tickets even more than licking the stamps. Some of the earlier tickets I remember had a perforated edge at the two thirds mark. If I had to remember the size, I would say they were 3″ x 5″. But then again, I was likely not too good at maths back then. Or now for that matter. When presented at the door, on New Year’s Eve, the stub would be torn off and the rightful owner needed to keep it as proof of purchase. I can’t recall which side they kept.  It was just in case they wanted to leave and come back. For whatever reason. As a child, I could never understand why this might be the case.

Any leftover tickets at Tremont were ours to play with. They became our own tickets for whatever we wanted. We would line the backs of them with our silly lists, in pencil. Sometimes we would use Papa’s typewriter to try to type on the blank backs. The card stock was a bit thicker than regular typing paper, plus it was smaller. So this was often a challenge. If we could get that ticket successfully typed on, it made the ticket look legit (in our eyes). Like a golden ticket. Admit One. Featuring, The Merry Girls.

*   *   *   *

Now that we are no longer little girls, while I cannot speak for my sister, I would say for the most part, we both try to be merry as often as we can. Some days are better than others. Whenever you give us a squeeze, the eight children and two husbands between us have the power to either make us very merry, or very… (fill in the blank). We still make lots of lists. For groceries mostly. If our homes become too messy or cluttered, we both get agitated and down. A bit like how I suspect Nana may have felt.  We are proud like that. We are both music lovers, as are our children, thanks to all the exposure we had a kids. I don’t have a stamping licking habit and I am not a gun toting, cigar smoking imposter. I guess this little sponge didn’t quite soak it all up.

The Merry Girls of Tremont

[Photo credit above and at the top header: Andrew Hulsmeier. Taken in the 70’s].

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