Two days ago, I got a Facebook friend invitation. I did not recognize the name entirely, although it sounded familiar as I repeated it mentally. The profile picture was of no help because it was too dark. I could not pick out the features. However, I was half-sure who it was. One of my sisters, now living in Canada, had told me just earlier that she had reconnected with a childhood friend of ours. A friend from way back in the day in Jamaica. We lived in Norris, St. Thomas, and this friend was from Gutter Head, an adjoining district up the road from us. On the way to the hills of Windsor Castle on the left at the intersection there, and down to Logwood and Yallahs on the right. However, we all went to the same primary school — all-age at the time — in Easington, the district on the other side of Norris. Right after going over the bridge that spanned Yallahs River.
My sister had told me our friend was now living on the opposite end of the island. So, when I looked at her profile, everything added up, and I accepted the invitation. It was Tippy! Tippy was the nickname everyone we grew up with had for her. Both adults and kids. (And if you are a Jamaican reading this, I do not need to explain its origin. Many of us Jamaicans grew up with nicknames, often descriptive of something unique about us. Some of us even had pet names, in addition to nicknames. Two names plus our “right name”). But that is another story for another time.
Well, what do you know? About minutes after I accepted Tippy’s friend invitation, another invitation popped up. A Facebook Rooms connection invitation. I had never used it before, but I joined, with both audio and video. And there was Tippy! Although many years had passed since I had last seen her, it was her! Now fully recognized. The voice was the same. Same as it was from maybe forty years ago!
It was good to reconnect. We chatted for a while. She told me she was having a great time looking up all her old friends on Facebook and refreshing the link. I do not know if this phenomenon of reconnection has to do with age. Perhaps it does, for I am the same. I have pockets of friends stemming from my life’s adventures. Primary school, high school, university in Jamaica, university in France, universities in America, various jobs in Jamaica, Brussels, London, Nassau, Florida… It always feels good whenever I reconnect and catch up with old friends. We reminisce, we find out what has happened since we were last in touch. It is always a great feeling. Friendships and the rekindling of friendships make the world go ‘round.
But my friends from Norris hold a particular spot in my heart. I hope my other friends I have met and bonded with outside of Norris do not feel slighted. I guess Norris has that position because that neighborhood constitutes my foundation. Relationships fomented during those formative years are what have helped to shape me. Created my foundation. The base on which my entire life has been built. A strong, rural Jamaican upbringing, full of morals, encouragement to do the necessary to succeed. Like studying hard. Respecting our elders. Striving to always have good relationships. Helping each other along the way. Always giving a lending hand to whomever we can. For our parents taught us that no matter how difficult our life was, there would still be someone in greater need, and we should do whatever we could to help them too.
So, the conversation with Tippy and how she talked about reconnection has led me on my own path of reflection. I left Norris for good at the age of twenty. I had finished Sixth Form at Morant Bay High School when I was seventeen years old. I had qualified for university, but my parents did not have the funds to pay my tuition at the time. I managed to get a few odd jobs until I got my first “real” job at the National Library of Jamaica three years after high school. Thanks to a friend who told me he had seen an ad in the Gleaner for a Library Assistant at the National Library of Jamaica and that I should apply for it. Oliver, one of my high school bredrin, big up yourself! Each time I mention it to you, you tell me you do not remember, but I will never forget.
I applied for and got the job. I give gratitude too to my National Library colleagues, who are now my dear friends, as I received a lot of coaching from them. Directly and indirectly, about what to expect and do at university to succeed. Including the bursaries and scholarships I should look out for. On my own, I was a broke country boy who wanted to achieve, so that guidance was useful. I got every single bursary and scholarship I found and applied for. Paulette, Charmaine, Pat, Joy, big up unuself! And my other friends from the library, whom I am still in touch with. Including Donald, who served as a guarantor for my student’s loan! If I had defaulted, you would have had the liability! In the words of Koffee, “gratitude is a must.”
So, back to my friends in Norris. Though I moved away from the district years ago, I feel like I never left, as I visit frequently. I go back to Jamaica every year, sometimes more than once. I always find time to go to St. Thomas to go to Norris. To see family and friends and visit the old folk, my parents’ peers who helped raise me. In Gutter Head, Logwood, Easington, Heartease, and Woodbourne. Albion and Yallahs proper. Sometimes I go as far as Ramble in one direction from Norris and Morant Bay in the other. I go to places like Logwood Piece, where the road ends before reaching the farthest point there. Where I have to park the car and continue on foot through the narrow, foot-beaten pathways and through the brushes to see all and say hello.
Among my Norris friends are the closest ones who supported me during the initial years when I moved to Kingston, attending university as a broke student. During my three years of studies there, I went back to Norris almost every weekend. So frequent were my visits back home that when I skipped a weekend for the first time, my parents told me, when I went home the subsequent weekend, they were about to send a search party to find out what had happened to me! There was no telephone connection at the time, so I had not been able to let them know I would have skipped a weekend. On reflection, I wonder how we managed back in the day without immediate communication! But that is a story for another time, just like the story about nicknames.
One of those closest friends was Tony. We were in the same class in primary school and are still close friends. Along with Fire, who was a year ahead of us in primary school. We three had a tight friendship, lasting until today. We used to run rackets together. We were part of a circle of close friends in Norris, along with guys like Stibble, Salad, Dolla, Collie, and Fuzzy (see what I mean about nicknames?!). Among others. Also, some from Easington, Woodbourne, and Gutter Head. Playing cricket or football (soccer) on the weekend at ball grung in Easington. Cooking cart-wheel dumplings and curried chicken back by Yallahs River on a Saturday. Sitting on the parapet by the bridge beside the church in Norris, or on the groyne (groin here in America) by the Yallahs River opposite the market in Easington Square at night until the wee hours of the morning, listening to Barry G on JBC, or chatting about I-don’t-know-what, but having a super time! These Norris friends were all guys who pitched in their dimes to help me whenever I went home from university on the weekends. They were all working in the country, growing crops or rearing livestock, and doing whatever they could to eke out a living. Self-sufficiency, due to a lack of job opportunities in our neck of the woods.
Life was a struggle, but they had an income. Which I did not at the time. But, though their income was perhaps not enough for themselves and their families, which some of them had already started, they always found extra dollars to share with me. For example, we would go to parties or dance sessions in Yallahs. And knowing I was broke, and wanting me to feel like a man, they would give me my own funds to spend as I saw fit. I had my own money to spend. If I met a girl I fancied and wanted to impress, I could pull out my wallet and buy her a drink or a plate of curried goat. Just like they were able to do. She would not know I was a broke-pocket, which would perhaps thwart my chances with her.
So, Tippy has caused a flood of memories about friends I grew up with to come rushing in. I talk with some of them quite often, and not so often with others. However, for those I don’t speak with that often, it is like we never lost time whenever we do. Thanks to social media, we are able to connect and reconnect or follow each other when we are not able to talk.
Norris, St. Thomas, Jamaica. Still in my blood after all these years of not living there. Still grounded with my friends and life back there.