Memoir

B.C. (Before Candice)

3 min read

My parents emigrated from Trinidad and Tobago to the United States in 1968, sight unseen, based on all the glorious rumors they had heard about “The Land of Opportunity.” They came with their West Indian values, strong work ethic and dreams of a better life for their five children and my paternal grandmother.  My mother won a lottery to be a live-in maid in the home of a wealthy family in Central Pennsylvania while my father found a job as a machinist in New York.  My parents saw each other only on weekends and scraped together all of their hard-earned, literally, pennies to save enough money in order to bring their children to the United States.  My eldest sister was 18 when she arrived and started working immediately to help support the family.  Within six months they had saved enough money to bring over the other four children and my father’s mother.

My parents and siblings experienced many firsts together in the US – snow and coldness – both literally and figuratively, for they came from a tropical country very close to the equator so they had never previously felt temperatures below 80°F.  West Indian culture, like that of South American countries and pretty much that of any country besides the United States and a few European countries, tend to be collective in nature so people live in communities and help to support one another.  They were not quite prepared for the coldness of the climate or for the coldness of the people.

My family experienced both new and old-but-intensified forms of ignorance such as xenophobia and racism in their newly adopted country but they persevered and stuck to their values of openness and community and eventually opened the eyes and minds of those around them. Our house was a haven for all types of people; everyone was welcome and well-fed.  There was always plenty of home-made food, laughter, music and love to go around if not a lot of money.  By American standards we may not have had much [1] but we were always in abundance as whatever we had was more than enough.

I was born 10 years after my next closest sibling and only a year and a half after my family had emigrated from Trinidad. Statistically, my conception and birth were “against the odds.”  My mother’s pregnancy came as a shock to all, including and especially to herself, because she was menopausal.  Additionally, I was born frank breech and the prevailing belief is that breech births have a higher mortality rate.[2]  As I grew so did my seeming ability to fit into the statistical exception bucket: I was potty-trained before the age of one and did not speak a word until the age of four.  When I did eventually find my voice, my American/”Yankee” accent was different than the melodic accents of my parents and siblings.  And the hue of my skin, made a deeper chocolate daily by my love of the outdoors, was markedly darker than that of everyone else in my family.[3]

My conception, birth and differences were never secrets and as only people who love you unconditionally can do, my family created nicknames and jokes about my creation and existence which continue to this day. About the unplanned nature of my conception: The accident, the oops.  About my breech birth: You were born telling the world to kiss your ass.  About my inability to speak: We think we preferred you mute because once you started talking you never shut up. About my skin tone: Blackie.

The last one is simply a statement of relativity – I was/am darker than everyone else in the family. It is, as all the nicknames are, a term of endearment and there is no offense meant and none taken.  This type of joke is very much in-line with the West Indian way of saying things as they are and thereby removing room for speculation, interpretation and application of negative connotation.  For example, if someone is an amputee with a prosthetic leg, he might be called “Peg Leg.” Or someone with one eye could affectionately be named “Patch.”  No malice and no judgment are applied – it simply is what it is.  What these jokes are not though is that they are not aligned with the American concept of political correctness.  This difference in humor and perspective will prove to be just one of many cultural differences that provided a childhood rife with hilarious Larry David-esque, cringe-worthy situation comedy moments and, served as the foundation for an upbringing rich in diversity.

The significance of many of my childhood experiences are just becoming clear to me as I recount them, to the best of my memory’s abilities, in my memoirs. The one thing I can say that my childhood contained definitively and abundantly is love. I now understand that the act of giving love and receiving love looks and feels like different things to different people at different times however truly unconditional love defies definition although I still attempt to do so both in life and in my writing.

Here is one such attempt: Unconditional love is like gravity.  I know gravity is real although I cannot see it because I do not float up and away into the atmosphere even despite wind, rain and storms.  I also know that the love I share with my family and friends is real because it is there despite our ever-changing environments and the shifting patterns of our personal developments.

 

[1] My daughter insisted that I include this anecdote in order to exemplify how poor we were:  One day when I was about 7 or 8 my mother stopped at a McDonald’s drive-thru.  I had a friend with me, she was more of an acquaintance really, and she ordered a Big Mac.  I was mortified because that was considered a splurge; we could only afford the occasional hamburger or cheeseburger.

[2]I was born ass first, doubled in two and my mother delivered me vaginally with no meds.  The controversy surrounding breech births and C-sections is a completely unrelated yet utterly fascinating topic that I highly recommend you research if you are considering pregnancy.  Note:  If you are already pregnant, DO NOT read any of it because it will totally freak you out!  Here are a couple links to get you started:

Article Slate
The Royal College of Midwives 

[3] The theme of not fitting within the norm is one that will continue throughout my adolescence and adulthood.  It will see me excel in some areas and struggle in others, all without explanation.  The subsequent confusion and desire to understand will have me seek psychiatric attention at different points in my life and receive diagnoses for Depression, Anxiety, Attention Deficit Disorder and Asperger’s…the details of which are recounted in future chapters. 

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    Who Am I? – Candice Yarde
    June 2, 2019 at 3:59 am

    […] I generously shared with those in my life. I was not only living the “American Dream”, as a child of West Indian immigrants – I was the “American Dream.” I was the image that is sold to the world of all the things that you can have and can be if […]

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