The Magic Helmet

In the name of love, some people turn a simple spoon into an airplane or ‘chew chew’ train to get their children to eat. Sometimes it works. Not always. Papa wore a helmet. It worked like magic. Do you remember what your loved ones did to get you to eat your food? How do you get your kids to eat now? 

Nana and Papa could get us to eat pretty much anything when we were little. It was probably one of the first examples of effective teamwork that I can recall. A bit like the Jamaican relay track team. Our meals were meticulously cut into tiny bite sized morsels by Papa. He could make perfectly symmetrical miniature dice out of any meat. Likewise, he could cut up spaghetti so fine that it resembled rice. Once he had finished and only then, he would pass the baton over to Nana who would make up our bowls of food, usually accompanied by rice, her very own unique macaroni pie or meat sauce. She would then return the baton to Papa who would in turn, work his magic on the home stretch. It was quite the ingenious process.

I am not exactly sure if all this effort was because we were picky children or if Nana was worried that we might choke on our food. I do know that everything they did was rooted in love. Nana firmly belief that fattening up a child was a worthy cause. Every bowl was stirred together with Nana’s secret ingredient: butter. I think when I was young I truly believed that dinner was meant to be shiny. Check my lips in the photo below if you don’t believe me.

fullsizeoutput_1442

Me (right) being fed by Papa wearing the magic helmet.

Do you remember when my sister snipped off all my curls? I only mention it because the mangy photo above would have been taken not long after that haircut. My unqualified hairdresser of a sister is looking on in the middle, still feeling pretty proud by the look on her face.

Nana actually had two metal covers. We called them helmets because they reminded us of those old war time helmets worn by British soldiers in battle. They were the perfect prop for some of our shenanigans. One was missing the black knob at the top. No one wanted that one. Both were dented from falls as we ran through the house.

img_6113

Two decades later, on a trip home to Barbados, we asked Papa to help feed our first wearing the helmet. For old times sake. He happily obliged and took great delight.

fullsizeoutput_1445

Papa wearing the helmet while feeding our daughter. Barbados. 2000.

Today, I still secretly prefer eating my food all mixed together, preferably in a bowl. Very unladylike but as the saying goes: old habits die hard. There is nothing quite like a one pot meal… chilli, stew, risotto, pilau, soup, porridge are just a few that come to mind. It’s the height of simple comfort. When no one is around, if I make spaghetti, I often attempt to cut up my spaghetti as fine as I can. And yet, I am never able to replicate Papa’s precision, no matter how hard I try. It’s simply what my brain remembers and loves.

*   *   *   *

It should then not come as a surprise that I used Nana and Papa’s chop, mix, and butter routine with our kids. I thought it worked pretty well until our fourth. I wish Nana and Papa were here to feed him a bowl of buttery food but he was born several years after they had both passed. Little did I know that despite my best intentions, including giving him David as his middle name, he would become my Goliath.

The day I let our son wear the helmet,  I unknowingly handed all the power to him. When dinner time rolls around, I am powerless and feel like all my batons have been removed. At six, he is my most determined child to use food as his control mechanism.  What will his brain remember when he grows up? And yes, the cliche is true: the baby of the family always gets away with…

fullsizeoutput_1441

Not forever though. I already see change on the horizon. There may be value in a good old bribe. It works. I can get him to leave just about anywhere with a mere mention of a piece of bubble gum. Just the other day I got him to eat sliced cucumbers by offering him a juice box instead of the water or milk he usually gets. Bribery is my new butter and sugar is the new magic. I know. Not the best choice but for now, it is good enough. Mark my words, this Goliath is going down.

img_6133

The Sisterhood of Nana’s Travelling Sweater

Do you remember the first time you travelled? The people you were with? What you did? This is a story about that. It’s also a story about the power of threes. Three years old, three trips to London, three sisters… and a sweater. 

When I was three, my older sister and I travelled with our parents and Nana and Papa to London, England. I am not sure why and I really don’t remember much because a three year old’s brain is still developing. What I do remember is that three events occurred: one rather insignificant, one mentally damaging and one that I still love and protect to this day.

The first thing I remember is that we stayed in a hotel with a Murphy bed. I had never seen a bed fold up into a wall and completely disappear. All the bedding and everything just vanished. I was totally enamoured, a bit like Charlie Chaplin in the scene where he too encounters one for the first time. In my case, I highly doubt I had a top hat and cigarette and OK, perhaps there was a little less drama. I thought it was the most ingenious thing I had ever seen in my whole short life.

charliechaplinmurphy[Source: DesignSponge.com]

Our parents room was down the hall from Nana and Papa. My sister and I took turns sleeping between either Nana and Papa, or our parents. Oddly enough, I don’t remember my turns sleeping between Mummy and Daddy. That’s because Nana snored. Who could forget? So did Papa but his breathing was always like a whisper in comparison.

 

selfridges-visitors-day-poster[Source: Selfridge’s Edwardian poster]

It was also on this trip that I got lost in the department store, Selfridges. 1975 was a much different world when it came to missing children. Come to think of it, I am not so sure the alert protocol for missing children was the safest back in the 70’s. Thank goodness for the Amber Alerts we have today. Somehow I wandered away from my parents and ended up in the hands of customer service. I think I might have cried but truthfully, I can’t remember such micro details. What I do remember is that the nice lady gave me a sweetie, put me on her lap, and announced over the PA system:

“Would the parents of a little girl, with dark, curly hair, please come to the customer service desk”.

To this day, I have a phobia about getting lost. If I am out with someone, doesn’t matter where, and realize even for a split moment that I am on my own, a mysterious illogical panic consumes me and I franticly start looking around, pacing my head left and right, as if I am a silly chicken trying to cross a busy street. It is only when I find who I am looking for that I feel safe. I guess it is a mental scar I carry with me to this day.

The third memory to come from this trip is that Nana bought herself a black cashmere sweater. I could be wrong but if I had to make an educated guess, I would say she would have bought it either from Selfridges, possibly even on the same day I got lost, or perhaps from Marks & Spencer, her all time favourite store. Even back in the 70’s, cashmere would have been an indulgence. Nana was not one for indulgences. Like her, I myself am not one for labels.

fullsizeoutput_1376

The label in Nana’s black cashmere cardigan. 2016.

On closer inspection, I see that the cardigan is made by Pringle. Not to be confused with the chips, I Google it and discover that it is Pringle of Scotland. Their history spans 200 plus years and as I read their story, these words stick with me:

Pringle received its Royal Warrant in 1956 awarded by Her Majesty the Queen. One of the most treasured notes in the brand archives is a note from Clarence House from the Dresser to Her Majesty the Queen Mother simply requesting ‘New Cardigan Please.’

I always thought that Nana had something regal about her. See for yourself.

fullsizeoutput_1385

Nana and Papa in 1969

Nana bought the cardigan as a staple for her travels. Practical. Simple and beautiful. Nana and Papa used to travel quite a bit. Mostly to London and Canada, where she was able to get lots of wear of this beloved sweater. The temperature in Barbados never required the need for such a luxury. That’s because the average year round daytime high of 30°C / 86°F temperature means sweaters are not everyday attire. Queen, or no Queen.

I would travel back to London two more times. The second visit, when I got my ears pierced at the same Selfridges. This time I stuck close to my parents. The last visit was when I turned 13 and my sister and I went with our parents on a trip to Europe. It was on this trip that we were old enough to borrow Nana’s cardigan for the first time. Mum had ordered us only to pack shorts and the one pair of pants for the plane. Europe was sure to be hot in July. That’s what she said. Well Europe ain’t no Barbados. We were so cold that we each lived in our one pair of pants and both begged to take turns wearing the sweater.

Then when my oldest sister left for Toronto to go to art college, naturally she begged Nana to take the cardigan with her. You must understand that Nana did not like to part with her things easily. But for some unknown reason, she agreed. As I joined my sister in Toronto, the sweater became a coveted piece again. We took turns wearing it and loved it so much that one side of the label became unstitched. It’s where you see the safety pin. It’s been there and replaced several times with different sized pins over the last 25 years.

When our younger sister came to Canada to study, she naturally became the next in tow. Not intentionally, mind you. The cardigan travelled to her when I was busy having children in succession. No time for cardigans. Or showers. Or fashion. Life was a blur. Not for my little sister, ten years my junior. It was her turn to get love and wear out of Nana’s sweater. So much so that I forgot she had it.

Then a couple years ago, my little sister and her husband made the decision to return to Barbados. On a visit, I was sitting on her bed while she was going through her closet to decide what she would take back with her. That’s when I noticed it. Sure she would not need this in 30°C? I casually commented on this fact. She said nothing and kept it in her closet.

When the time came for our goodbyes, we did our best to keep the emotions to a minimum in front of our children. I attempted to be the stoic, brave older sister. My sister then casually handed me a gift bag with some tissue paper in it. As I pulled the tissue away, there was Nana’s cardigan.

  *   *   *    *

At the current moment, Nana’s cardigan is carefully folded in tissue paper and stored in a box under our bed. It is not a Murphy bed but I sure do love it and the story behind it. Part of me wants to leave the safety pin, a reminder of its travels. Call it for safety reasons. The other part of me wants to get it repaired because I am sure Nana would have wanted that. I did take the pin out of it after finding out just how expensive a Pringle sweater is.

As I started working on this story, my husband bought me my very own black cashmere cardigan for Christmas. He got it from The Bay. Now I can wear my own cardigan as often as I like and still protect Nana’s legacy. It’s in my nature to be protective. Our two daughters are already nipping at each other’s heels. Like Nana, I don’t like to part with things easily either. When the time is right, maybe I should let my daughters take the new cardigan instead.  Or I could surrender Nana’s cardigan to continue on its travels. I simply have not decided yet.

The Sisterhood by loopylocks

Between my two lovely sisters (neither of whom snore, to the best of my knowledge). Barbados. January 2006. [Photo credit: Andrew Hulsmeier]

The Shoe Chronicles of Tremont

What is it with shoe obsessions? I suspect the seeds get planted from young. And before you realize it, you are spellbound, like Cinderella and her rats.

“Give a girl the right shoes, and she can conquer the world”. – Marilyn Monroe

My sister and I were forbidden from going into the garage at Tremont because Nana made Papa put down rat poison everywhere and did not want us to get leptospirosis. We were constantly warned that if we touched anything with rat wee wee or poo poo, it could be fatal. Naturally, this raised our curiosity. Death by rats. As law abiders with the loving fear of Nana in us, we stayed clear of that old garage. Instead, we chose to recreate our own run-ins with a pair of rats in the house.

fullsizeoutput_1339[Photo credit: Etsy.com. Vintage 80s Benjamin Walk Black Lace Kitten Heels.]

The wood plank flooring at Tremont was a deep, dark stained pine that had become warped from time and wear. Viewed at the right level, say, between three to four feet off the ground, it took on a whole new persona. In our young minds, we decided that rats could quite possibly, most definitely lurk, and hunt for prey. For the starring role, my sister and I would sneak into Nana and Papa’s bedroom and steal Nana’s black lacy kitten heels. These heels Nana wore to many of the parties they attended. But for us, we created our own parties. With a swirl of an invisible wand, those heels magically turned into “the rat shoes”.

If Marilyn Monroe was indeed correct about having the right shoes, then I have no doubt that my sister and I conquered the world. Our world. Being three years younger than my sister, it meant she had greater speed and agility in bringing those heels to life. She could shuffle her feet very quickly in a forward, shimmying motion. Even though her feet could only half fill the heels, she always made her way towards me at what felt like lightning speed. It was then up to me to try to get away from being caught by the ‘rats’. Running for dear life was the only escape option. And just what was the only acceptable home base/safe house/finish line? A bed.

There were three beds to choose from in three different parts of our Tremont world. First, there was a twin bed, with a green gabardine floral bedspread in the living room. If you look really closely at the photo I shared in my story about Papa’s Keys, you can just make it out with my sister lying down looking at me. It doubled as a sofa.  Second, was a bed in my uncle’s bedroom. And last, was Nana and Papa’s bed.

The game was perfect in our minds. Nana never allowed shoes on the beds. Or rats. We reckoned they were only allowed in the garage. Each time I escaped the wrath of the rat shoes, my sister would shout out, “My Turn!“.  I would then take the reins and chase my sister in similar but far more clumsy fashion. Through giggling hysterics, I would make a similar demand once home base was reached. “My Turn!

I cannot stress enough the heart palpitations this game created as we ran for our lives. Like two little banshees. Makes me laugh to this day. And no one ever died. I found a photo of another pair as I thought the bird’s eye view was important to emphasize the magnitude of the fear. The only thing really missing, besides Nana’s wear and tear from many a night out on the town, is the little tiny string bows on the fronts. In our minds, they looked exactly like rat tails.

[Photo credit: Adrianna Papell Lois Lace Kitten Heels]

As much as we loved playing this game, our other favourite pastime was to go rifling through Nana’s jewelry closet. She liked to wear the occasional sparkly piece she acquired when her and Papa went out. All her jewels were kept behind lock and key. The key was kept on a plastic rainbow key chain, always hidden in the top drawer of her dresser. Just opening the boxes and holding the odd ring, bracelet or necklace felt like Christmas each time we opened the boxes.

We were also really good at not getting caught. Nana always gave us ample warning. She wore several gold bangles that clinked together whenever she walked. If this tipoff didn’t do the trick, she also wore Dr. Scholls wooden clog sandals during the daytime that were comfy for her bunions. After a night of wearing rat shoes, I suspect they were a welcomed retreat.

drscholls-original-sandal

Even though they had a soft rubber sole, they were quite worn and would make a distinctive wood-on-wood, dull, tapping sound. We could hear their noise with just enough time to put everything back in its place and return the key. We developed almost photographic memories of how each of her jewelry boxes were stacked so that when the clogs and bangles signalled, we could jump into action and quickly hit the reverse button. Never once do I ever remember getting caught cold handed, or questioned about anything being awry. In hindsight, I suspect I missed my calling as a cat burglar.

The last shoe memory from Tremont involves the night Nana and Papa went to The Pepperpot nightclub. As the band’s manager, Papa was normally stationed at the entrance of the club. He made sure all the money was accounted for, the head count was accurate, and any ticket sales that were to be collected at the door, were executed correctly. Naturally, Papa’s long career at Barclays Bank made him a maverick at this role as band manager. Names were recorded in ledger format to ensure that the mailing list was up to date. Nana usually stood not far away and could often be found people watching, socializing with familiar faces, or watching the band while bouncing her head in enjoyment.

On this night, in the rush to get to The Pepperpot to work at the door, Nana dashed into the car, like Cinderella making her hasty exit to the ball in the chariot. As they arrived at the nightclub, Nana noticed something seemed awry. Perhaps it was nothing but she could not help but notice that she was limping. She chalked it up to the rocky, uneven parking lot. It was also dark.

Only when Nana got under the string lights inside, did she look down to realize she had put on two completely different shoes. Different colours. Different heights. It is no wonder something felt funny. Luckily, Nana was wearing a long gown. She sat and tucked in her feet under the chair so no one could see her feet. When the right moment came, which was likely before midnight, she looked at Papa and said: “Herbert, we need to go back home now”. And just like that, she made her exit, like a fractured Cinderella tale, with two mismatched slippers.

*    *    *    *

Because of Nana, I always look down at my feet before I leave my house. A life lesson worth not repeating. I have also never looked at kitten heels in any other way since our childhood. I simply refuse to own a pair. Let’s face it, kittens become cats and cats love rats.

Thanks to the careful unstacking and restacking of Nana’s jewelry boxes, I developed a love of the video game, Tetris. In fact, I pretend to play it daily at the supermarket when I bag my own groceries. Jewelry still fascinates me but not in the way you might think. I don’t have or wear much of it. Truth, just looking in display cabinets makes me feel like a child again and gives me a feeling of joy. I cannot speak for every girl, but I think many little girls growing up in Barbados may have felt this way when they were taken to the three main department stores: Cave Shepherds, Harrisons or Dacostas. For me, being eye level made me feel that I too was like the rubies, sapphires, emeralds and diamonds. Looking at all the pieces made you wish. Wish that you too could one day have something so beautiful.