Sweet Caroni

 

I’m from the Caribbean, i hinted at that fact sporadically throughout my previous posts, but now it’s time to reveal one glorious aspect of an island childhood in a bit more detail. I grew up in Trinidad and Tobago to be precise. I come from one of the oldest French families on the island and traditionally I’m called a French Creole. My surname is a noble title and such, an obsolete marker of the island’s colonial past and i am a walking, blood and bone remnant of it.

One of my most cherished memories growing up in Trinidad was frequenting my dad’s childhood home in Caroni, a rural county in south Trinidad. Caroni was the center of the sugar industry and my grandfather was in the sugar, as they say. Sugar production in Trinidad was consistent for almost 300 years. It closed it’s doors officially a few years ago, but for a long time our tiny island’s forever-reaching cane fields provided sugar to the world. I was a little girl running in the cane, chewing on the raw roots for the sweet nectar trapped in the fibers. During that time, Grandpa would take my brother and I to see the factory he managed, he promised when we were older he’d take us into the belly of the machine to see the whole process. We never got around to that but i still remember peeking into his office window from outside, tiptoeing in the country dirt. The cane had an amazing quality, tall spires of green covering the landscape. We’d drive through roads bookended by miles of it going to visit my grandparents and frequently see overturned cane trucks, their sweet bounty spilling onto the road. Harvest time was a blazing event, fields bright with flames licking the green leaves soon to be charred stalks full of sweetness. It was sometimes a dangerous practice as many lived alongside the cane, including my family. On one occasion the fire spread and we had to vacate our home, ash sticking to the car window. Luckily, our neighbour’s coconut tree was the only fatality that day.

My grandparent’s home was a typical estate house, a large structure raised up on concrete pillars surrounded by vast expanses of lush flora and fauna. My grandfather was a great conduit of nature, like Papa Bois, (Trinidadian folklore character, meaning keeper of the forest). He grew everything and anything, tending to it gingerly in the hot sun sitting on his old, wooden garden stool. There were fields full of pigeon peas, pineapple, fruit trees, carrots, corn, even grapes at one time. I’d sit on the ground outside playing or follow him around as he worked, sucking on Ixora flowers. But the best part? Feeding the crocs. Captain Hook’s worst nightmare was my fondest memory. A large pond sat in the back-yard full of caimans, every morning Grandpa would throw a plastic bag full of raw chicken into it and we’d watch the water boil in reptilian frenzy. It was really a preventative measure to stop them from foraging onto the property for food but I still considered them pseudo pets, not many kids can qualify wild, cretaceous creatures as first pets. Looking back on that simpler time makes me wish for it now, my grandpa is in the midst of Parkinsons so the days of crouching in the dirt are gone. I know he misses it terribly and I’d give anything for him to experience his truest bliss again. Maybe one day he will on a different plane, avec caimans. My caimans. A childhood full of savage and sweet, toes in the dirt, mouth sticky from coconut juice…I was where the wild things are.

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