Who is Tanty?

Blogtober 2021 Short Story Entry 11

My introduction to Muriel Belton began on a dark road, in a car, being offered a slice of thick homemade bread, and what I would understand as wild meat. Her concern being the long flight and most certainly a lack of food, so what child didn’t want a wild meat sandwich? I was that child, who was this woman who rode in darkness with bread and meat in her bag, why was it in waxed paper, and I’m not certain, but I was convinced wild meat wasn’t chicken or beef. I had heard the stories about the woman who raised my mother, vivid tales of the beauty of Trinidad, and this village my mother cherished as her birth home. Those tales couldn’t prepare me for what I was about to experience, the old woman with bread in her bag, my grandmother’s big sister, I would come to call Tanty. 

Tanty was tall, clay colored red skin without a wrinkle or blemish, and strong. She  had been the same age her entire life as far as I was concerned.  I don’t recall hearing her laugh out loud, but she did smile and the tone of her voice was always singing with kindness even when she was upset. What I remember most was her walk, upright, with a slight sway, cutlass in hand, tall boots or slippers, her movements graceful, yet filled with purpose. 

Tanty could manage the hell out of a cardboard box on her head. She always wore 4 plaits, and a scarf to cover them. I recall something that seemed small, round and flat that sat on her crown right before she hoisted that cardboard box full of goods on her head. I prayed, “please don’t let that box fall”, enjoying my salt prune, licking the red off my lightly stained fingers, because I will have to drop this prune and help Tanty. Everything purchased in the parlor was wrapped in brown paper or in these mini plastic bags and the ground provisions (yams, cassava, green bananas) were not bagged at all. Tanty didn’t joke about her goods, I just didn’t understand why she only bought so little food at one time. These people in Trinidad didn’t want anything to do with a grocery,  hell, if I had known Tanty’s secret then, I would hate them now as well.  No living food ever grew in a grocery store. 

Tanty only bought goods that she didn’t grow on her land or vegetables that were out of season. Meats that were not roaming the yard and fresh fish were purchased on market Sunday. I loved parlor trips and market days. My brother wasn’t interested in going, he had a growing obsession for catching lizards and birds, my cousins were too small, so Nyri languished in the extra attention from Tanty on these trips. Never disappointed, I was always allowed to buy a sweetie, some red mango or my absolute favorite, salt prunes. Who knew that a lack of American candies would be a blessing, Trinidad had the best snacks, and somehow, I was always allowed a few to enjoy. I knew Tanty thought my rambunctiousness was humorous, she just didn’t allow it to show, because that was the way. Elders never encouraged that spark that might lead to slight disrespect, but they enjoyed a child with an inquisitive mind who tried to embrace her culture and all the activities of life on an island with excitement and wonder!

I had never seen a woman like Tanty, she carried buckets of water on her head, assisted cows give birth, cut grass with a machete, and could kill, pluck, season and cook a chicken in 90 minutes. Every vegetable was harvested with her hands, and she dried coffee and cocoa that was brewed with the cocks early morning crow, and the setting sun in the evenings. Eggs were always fresh from her temperamental hens, it seems they didn’t like to be touched by the grubby little hands of children because I always received a peck when I tried to assist. Those same hands, kneaded dough to make bread, and fried bakes that were soft and fluffy. Tanty simply did it all and cared for everyone, especially her grandchildren who lived close and visited often. Her neighbors daily call in passing, and the beep beep of a taxi driver hailing a good evening, Tanty was well known and loved.

I was enamored by her strength, yet her ability to be gentle and kind. I longed to ask about her life as a child, but I was just beginning to understand my place as a California born girl, enjoying the adventures of life under the blazing sun of the Caribbean. 

Much love from the brown girl, sharing short stories for Blogtober! Keep writing, even if no one is reading ❤️

Nyri~The Unnerved Traveler

4 thoughts on “Who is Tanty?”

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