Thursday, January 21, 2010

Back Home Again

By Nicholas Stix

We’re back home, in what used to be civilization, after three weeks in what used to be paradise.

At about7:30 p.m. on December 23, we got a call from one of The Boss’ sisters in Trinidad, that their father had just died. Pa was 84.

It was hell getting a ticket during Christmas season at any price, and we had to fly out of Newark, instead of JFK, our usual point of embarkation. The racist black American female from central casting, working as a TSA security screener, went out of her way to hassle me, lying in insisting that my dry foam spray soap was a “liquid,” and confiscating it. I had carried the same container back and forth to Trinidad repeatedly, without a problem. I told her, “If you’re going to take it, take it, but don’t tell me that it’s ‘a liquid,’” but she insisted on maintaining her lie.

What’s the point in having a little power, if you don’t abuse it to harass white folks?

The earliest tickets we could get were for a Continental redeye leaving at 11:59 p.m. on the 27th, so we landed at Port of Spain just before sunrise on the 28th.

My sisters-in-law had already held four wakes, and held two more, before the funeral on the 30th.

I had planned on helping to bury Pa, as I had my mother-in-law in January, 2006, but that was not to be. On the afternoon before the funeral, one of my sisters-in-law asked me to give a eulogy, as I had in March, 2006 at my brother-in-law Meno’s funeral, and so I spent eight hours working on it that day and night, and the following morning. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I can either write a eulogy or dig a grave, but not both.

Just as at Meno’s funeral, I was preceded by MP Subhas Panday, the brother of former Prime Minister and current opposition leader, Basdeo Panday. (In 1989, Bas Panday founded the Indian United National Congress party, UNC.) As with Meno (known to locals as “Fat Boy”), Subhas spoke extemporaneously.

Panday emphasized both Pa’s generosity and his independence.

Basdeo and Subhas grew up down the road from Pa and Ma, and when Subhas was a young boy, Ma had babysat and bathed him. When we spoke briefly during one of the wakes held for Meno in 2006, Subhas told me that Ma was the prettiest girl in the region. He also said that his brother Bas would have come for Ma’s funeral, but that he had been away on business.

Since Subhas said the same thing at Pa’s funeral, I surmise that it is a boilerplate line of his. But that’s not a knock on him; after all, he showed up for Meno and Pa. Basdeo Panday (here and here), called the “silver fox,” due to his still full mane of white hair into his seventies and legendary cunning, is a jet-setter, with no time for common folk.

I was disappointed that Subhas didn’t remember me from Meno’s funeral, but he is a politician, and is preoccupied these days with his fight against prostate cancer. He repeatedly told people about it, emphasizing that he had not mentioned it publicly, though someone pointed out, out of earshot, that he had. Actually, it was over three years since he’d publicly announced it.

The wrong pundit (Hindu priest) presided over the funeral, the same one who had done Meno’s funeral. Wrong, as in someone who didn’t know Pa from Adam.

The guy was actually better than before. He no longer sounded like he was speaking with marbles in his mouth (while I’ve got a hopefully temporary lisp, due to one tooth that my magic mouth man had pulled, and several others that he’d jackhammered, days before Pa died), and he seemed friendlier, but Pa had his own pundit. The reason this guy did the funeral, was that he is the pundit of one of my sisters-in-law, and she insisted on him, because it permitted her to use Pa’s money, in order to extend her sphere of influence, and keep the pundit in her debt.

(The foregoing digression may appear to be in bad taste, but it actually represents the least of my complaints. The others are unprintable.)

Pa had a wonderful life. He sired nine children, whom he did a fine job raising and nourishing, in part through the many fruit and vegetable trees he planted on his four acre spread, in addition to the ones that were already there. He worked in the oil fields, as a bus mechanic, and as a small businessman, delivering truckloads of gravel to building sites. Although he started out penniless in a backward country, through hard work and intelligent investing, he was able to amass considerable personal wealth, by local standards. And although he had little formal education, he was an autodidact, and was one of the smartest men I ever knew. A mechanical marvel who thought like an engineer, he never quit on life, and as late as November, while The Boss was visiting, had repaired the motor on Ma’s old washing machine. Pa was a very respected man in “the village,” as the neighborhood is called.

Although I was unavailable to dig Pa’s grave, I was able to help shovel the dirt to cover him, once he was in his final resting place. (The family of the deceased is responsible for digging and reburying the grave.) It was in a different cemetery than the one Ma is in, with soft soil that shovels easily. Pa is interred with his father’s family.

Ma is in the cemetery where her sister is buried, though due to a screw-up, they are not together, although Ma is not alone. While digging her grave, we found one “neighbor,” whose “box” jutted into Ma’s grave, and about five feet down, found a body bag full of male bones. The cemetery boss had triple-sold the plot! Apparently, he had also stolen “body bag’s” coffin, probably selling it back to the funeral director.

Digging Ma’s grave was hell, because it was on the peak of a hill, and the soil was solid clay. We had two shovels and two pitchforks that day, and the pitchforks broke through clay better, though not by much.

I secreted the final version of the eulogy for publication in our room, but it disappeared, leaving only the first half of the first draft, on scraps of memo paper in a different part of the room. Should it turn out that The Boss had inadvertently packed the final text, or I am able to reconstruct the lost half from memory, I’ll publish it here.