chapter  1
24 Pages

Early Moments

The West Indian community in New York City was tightly knit along class lines and highly social. The Jamaicans feigned a superiority over the “little islanders”; those from Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Kitts, Trinidad, Tobago, but none of this was taken too seriously. Mr. and Mrs. Samuels would pick up Uncle John and Aunt Alice in the Bronx, and then stop for Mother and Dad on their way down to the Renaissance Ballroom, one of several large dance palaces in the Harlem district. I had only imagined the way it would be from the grown-up’s stories. Now I was really there, in this grand place with its horseshoe balcony ringing the floor below, festooned everywhere with decorations and adorned with beautifully gowned ladies. Before tonight, my brother, Philip, and I had been left at home. We were allowed to stay up just long enough to meet the company; the men in their black derbies, chesterfield overcoats, and white silk fringed scarves, the women in their Persian lamb fur coats recut into the season’s mode and carrying new corday pocketbooks. Invariably the women went into the bedroom and stood before the vanity mirror making last minute adjustments, while the men waited in the living room. The men’s hair was parted directly in the center and combed outwards in little pomaded waves. Each of them wore a small mustache. Philip and I would note just where each man placed his derby and wait with anticipation for the cigars to be lighted and the male stories and laughter to begin. When the men’s attention was engaged, we would surreptitiously exchange the placement of the head wear. Uncle John’s 7 and 3/4 would fall completely over Mr. Samuels’ eyes and Daddy’s size 7 would perch uncomfortably on top of Uncle John’s wide forehead. “Caught us one more time, you devils!” Laughter and goodnight kisses. In the darkness of our bedroom we listened as the happy sounds faded away. Into the night we continued developing a story peopled with fictitious characters and laced with fanciful events and dialogue until sleep overtook imagination.