To Pardy, With Love
My grandfather, George Alfonso Fraser, who I called Pardy, was 104 years old when he died — and that is a pretty long time to live on this earth. He had many lives, ones he told me about, and others I only just started understanding as I was getting ready to eulogize him.
I know, for instance, that as a young man in St Kitts he gambled for cigarettes which he would then sell, because he didn’t smoke. His preferred weapon was the two-person version of all fours, and well into his nineties he was blasting everyone that dared come into his path into oblivion. What I didn’t know was that he started working as early as thirteen to help take care of his family.
I also didn’t know that as a member of the British Merchant Navy during World War 2, he was a part of a colonial effort to ship food and other supplies to the mother country during desperate times. This job would bring him to Trinidad where he worked at the US Naval base in Chaguaramas. He was offered US residency for his service after the war, but his papers were stolen. He settled in Trinidad, bringing his wife and three children to join him.
As a “small islander” immigrant, he initially had a hard time finding a job, but he eventually started his second career at the General Post Office where he worked for 20 odd years before he retired.
All of this was long before I was born.
My earliest memories of my grandfather are of his stories. I cannot remember these stories, but I do know that I have never heard them from anywhere else, so I am pretty sure he made them up. I remember lying in his bed before bed-time listening to story after story. He would stop and repeat parts I liked, or repeat the same stories over and over just because I asked him to. I’d fall asleep with him and then wake up in my own bed. And when the stories weren’t enough to put me to sleep, he’d hold me in his arms and walk around the house singing to me.
He sang when he was happy. I do too.
He could spin a story about anything. When my brothers and my cousins and I caught him, dentures in hand in the bathroom, he told us he had magic teeth, that’s why he could take them out of his mouth to brush them. If we were really good, we could have magic teeth too — we all wanted magic teeth.
He loved fruit, and he would give us oranges or slices of watermelon to eat, making sure we understood that if we ate the seeds they would grow in our tummies and the vines would come out of our noses and ears — we didn’t eat the seeds.
When we visited during the holidays, he had a repertoire of magic tricks and riddles, and was always happy to entertain his grandkids on demand.
He was a creature of habit, and would get dressed in his shirt jack and going-out shoes to walk down La Puerta Avenue every day to buy his papers. In those days, my grandfather read every newspaper, every single day.
He got the Guardian and Express, and later on, the Newsday every morning. On evenings he would go back out to get the Evening News. He would get the TNT Mirror on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and the Bomb and the Punch on weekends. He read every paper from cover to cover, and would do all the crossword puzzles,with a blue Pilot ballpoint pen.
As an adult, I began working in Port of Spain and I moved to Diego Martin with my grandfather and cousin. On evenings, I would bring the papers home to him, and we would discuss the news of the day. He had an informed opinion on every issue of the day, and could hold his own in any debate. Like every Caribbean man I know, his arguments could be driven home with a deadly sense of humor and incredible wit.
We would have debates about everything, from politics to our national football team, who he never believed would ever make it to the World Cup. In fact, he had a great time telling me why I was wrong to believe in the team he called the “Soca Sorriers.”
Well, the Soca Warriors did eventually make it to the World Cup in Germany, but like them, in these arguments, I scored no goals, had painful losses, and was sometimes lucky enough to get away with a draw. My grandfather had an amazing brain, and he could ground his arguments in historical context — he had lived through things that I had only read about in history books at school.
To this day, I am an avid consumer of the news — I very rarely watch the news on tv, I read as many articles as I can get my eyes on, and I am constantly checking the headlines. It’s a habit ingrained in me, one I learned from my grandfather. I went on to study communications, and in my current job, my mandate is to tell interesting and engaging stories with a point of view, something else influenced by my grandfather.
But his impact on me was even greater than just my career.
When I was a little girl, I watched how my grandfather took care of the people around him. He would make tons of hot, buttered toast and Milo or Ovaltine every single morning for breakfast. And if he and granny weren’t having an argument, he would bring her breakfast to her, toast and a cup of hot tea. On weekends, breakfast was sardine sandwiches, and Sunday lunch was fried chicken. I can still taste the mustard in those sardine sandwiches, and I can see the salty, crispy fried chicken in a glass dish on the counter in the kitchen.
As an adult, when I came home from work, he would start offering me things to eat and drink as soon as I walked through the door. He loved Christmas, loved having snacks and sweets to eat, and drinks in the house to offer to people who came by. We would bake fruitcake together for Christmas, and he’d say, “With my brains, and your brawn, we can accomplish anything.” And then we would argue about cake pans, because he usually wanted to use a disposable cake pan he’d kept from last year’s baking.
In most traditional Caribbean households, you don’t often find men having such a hands on role in the day-to-day running of the home. The man brings home the money, and the woman takes care of the house. It’s just the way things are.
But my grandmother was a seamstress. She sewed, and, at least as far as I could remember, he took care of the home. Even as I child I knew this was a special and unusual thing. So, as a young woman, when I said that I wasn’t interested in getting married but if I met a man half as good as my grandfather I would think about it, this is what I meant.
To make a long story short, I met a guy in Jamaica, and from the beginning we argued about sports and politics. He knows how to make me laugh, and on most weekdays, he makes me breakfast. We also have two little girls who love their great grandfather.
One of the most important things I’ve ever done in my life was come home two years ago, when my dad and uncle thought he was going to leave us.
He had been sick, and while they were taking excellent care of him, they were both worried. So I came home for two weeks. We laughed, we talked, and against daddy’s advice, I brought him pastry from Linda’s bakery. Our neighbor Allister gave me the idea to play him some gospel music, so at night I played him some hymns sung by Elvis Presley on my computer.
I think he was just really happy to see me, and it felt good to be able to do these small things for him. By the end of those two weeks, he’d decided that he wanted to walk again, and came to see me off at the airport. When my girls visited him later on that summer, he was able to push my younger daughter around on his walker.
My children got to spend some time with Pardy over the past two summers, and I’m so grateful that they got to know him. So much of who my grandfather was, is ingrained deeply in me, and I hope to pass the very best parts of him on to them.
Pardy was generous, warm and loving. He had an incredibly sharp mind and a fantastic sense of humor. He was fiercely independent, wanting to do things for himself, and by himself, long after his body would no longer cooperate. He was resilient, body, mind and spirit.
He was my grandfather, and I will always love him.