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Michael Lance Kersting

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Nostalgia ( A Guyanese Tale )
By Michael Lance Kersting
Saturday, April 30, 2011

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My early years spent in Georgetown, British Guiana in the fifties.

  ( For Amaly, Vanessa, Natasha and Marc )

The grizzled old man, in his ragged clothes, sat on a fibre glass bench on the Seawall . It was a Sunday afternoon and the cool North East trade wind brushed his wrinkled cheeks caressingly as he looked at the people strolling to and fro along the esplanade and his mind flickered back to the fifties his favourite decade and he remembered those days with pleasure.
He then reflected on his boyhood days,
“Yes” he told himself “Those were the golden days.”A tear trickled down his rough grizzled, cheeks at the memory and then he laughed out loud as his mind reflected on his schooldays and an incident with one of his school mates “Dummy” Osborne.
 It was literature session and the subject was Samson. He remembered the teacher, Miss Bartram asking Osborne who was Samson’s wife. One of the fellows next to him whispered “The jawbone of the Ass” and Osborne blurted out. “The Jawbone of an Ass, Miss!” The whole class erupted in great laughter at the outburst even serious Miss Bartram had to smile. In effect, Osborne stood on the back bench for the rest of the session wondering what had happened.
The old man laughed out loud at this memory and a young couple passing by looked at him and said “Another one bite the dust.” meaning another one has gone mad.
He remembered growing up in Waterloo Street in the fifties.  He lived next door to the Astor Cinema which was great fun as a boy. Every morning he was awakened by the sweet sound of the Kiskadee birds whistling joyfully, perched on the electrical wires and often wondered how come they never got shocked. The Blue Sakis and Swallows were visible everywhere flying around all day long and about along with “God Birds” (hummingbirds) feeding on the flowers in the front yard flower garden. Almost every yard had a flower garden in front and fruit trees in the rear then. Georgetown was called “The Garden City “of the Caribbean for its numerous front yard gardens and tree lined streets.
He recalled that on both sides of Waterloo Street where he grew up were fancy Dutch/ Colonial houses, mostly painted in white and Tenement yards with its rows of tenements houses. Most of the tenement yards boasted Stand pipes where the tenants drew their water. There was also outdoor galvanized WC’s and Bathrooms where the women mostly bathe at nights. A cake shop, (Bob’s) was nearby where he could buy cakes and sweet drinks, mostly local Mauby and pine drinks also Flutie and ice blocks. A Chinese restaurant was below his residence on the ground floor and the aroma of Fried rice and Chow Mein from the restaurant’s kitchen often made him feel hungry. He loved Chinese Fried rice and mixed Chow Mein or Low Mein, his favourites .There was also a Garage, (Mitchell’s), next to Bob’s cake shop. Two”dry goods” stores (de Costa and Tai Yong) where you can buy fresh tennis rolls, butter flaps, pan or plait bread, mauby and buns, and peanut butter. He smiled at the times he would ask the shop keeper to slice the tennis rolls with the peanut butter knife. The shopkeeper would smile knowingly , but often obliged .Tai Yong grocery was located at the corner of Waterloo and Murray streets he remembered, There was also the famous “Judge Yard”, home of the Chief Justice, with its Genip and Star apple fruit trees diagonally opposite.
He recalled the Town Council trucks would come and spray the dusty streets. Some of the snacks he enjoyed were Cracker Jack popcorn, bubble gum with photos of film stars in them which he would swap (exchange) if he had doubles with our friends
He remembered in the area was Mount Eagle Parlour at the corner of North Road and Wellington Streets which sold great mauby. There was also a lemonade shop ran by a Portuguese man nearby that sold the lemonade in marble bottles. You had to consume the lemonade on site due to “bottle shortage “and the bottle mouth was often rough due to “overuse”.  Opposite the lemonade shop in Wellington Street was Beharry Drug Store where you can get a “Bilious Wash” if you felt ill. Doc will often tell you to consume it at home for obvious reasons or try not to “cough” if you opt to drink it on the site. ”.
 He smiled at the recollection and turned to the radio shows of that period.
 Household broadcasting names at that time were: Jack Cashmere, Olga Lopes Seales, Ulric Gouveia,Rafiq Khan, B.L. Crombie, Lilian Fraser, Pat Cameron, Ayube Hamid, Gerard De Freitas, Eleanor
D'Aguiar, Sarah Lou Carter and BL Crombie.
 He also remember the melodic piano playing of Randolph Profitt on Friday nights, and Harry Mayers
 Militia Band on Monday nights, sponsored by Bookers Crown Rum.
    At 5.45 p.m.on Sundays we listened to the cowboy tunes of Hank Williams and the Drifting Cowboys
, Hank Snow and the Rainbow Ranch Boys, and the Sons of the Pioneers
 Comedians Sam Chase and Jack Melo provided comedy on both radio and stage, while Bill Rogers
sang his shantos . His masterpiece.”The Weed Song”explained the efficiency of bush remedies to the
delight of all. There was also Indian Song Time hosted by Ayube Hamid, heard in the evenings, with the
signature tune, the hauntingly beautiful Sahani Raat, sung by Mohammed Raffi from the movie Dulcari.
He recalled his boyhood days, the Masonic Lodge at the corner of Wellington and Church Streets opposite the Globe cinema on the North where we boys were forbidden to trespass on the threat of being “Sacrifice” by the members. Another threat was not to swim in the St.George’s trench because there was a “Fair-maid” who would” pull you down”.
The main “swimming hole” was the condemned Waterworks site at the corner of Camp and Church streets opposite the Ursaline Convent. The Police car PA540 would make period raids. But the boys took turns as lookouts to check. When caught, which was rare, they would be taken to the police station and lectured on the virtue of education, our parents would be contacted and we would go home to a good cut-ass to reinforce the point.
There was also a huge sewage pipe that ran across the trench near Wellington Street and the boys would make bets to see who would not ‘fall in”. He recalled fishing for Sherriga crabs in the trench and set car tyres to catch them along with patwa fish which the boys would do a “fish fry” if they had a good catch.
    Another boyhood pastime he recalled with joy was “raiding” the fruit trees in season that he enjoyed with his friends. Favoured fruits when in season were the mangoes: Green mango, ripe mango, Buxton Spice, Fu-fu mango, and Long mango. Guavas (White Lady), Banana, Papaw, Jamoon, Fat Pork, Genip, Papaw, Somotu, Sapadilla, The boys would then bag the fruits and tried to sell it off at either at theStabroek Market (Water Street) or Bourda Market ( Regent and Orange Walk.) for a “freck”for “Matinee bills”. Another pastime was jumping onto the back of the dray carts which could be potentially dangerous if one fell, but it was “Fun”. The driver cussing would chase the boys off sometimes flicking his whip.
    The old man dipped into his coat pocket and dug out a half filled bottle of rum, he unscrewed the cork and took a long swig. He felt great as the hot liquid burned its way down his throat. His old eyes blurred as he let out a long sigh, recapped the bottle and replaced it into the pocket. He leaned back on the bench and began his journey to another time and he felt great at the memory . Ah yes ! the Comics.
He saw himself at twelve years old. He was in the gallery of his home reading a Batman comic book. He was an avid reader of comics though his parents instilled in him the value of a good education and to concentrate on his studies but during the August holiday season he was allowed to read them .
Some of the comics he recalled having read were a variety of both British and American comics of all genres that flooded the country during the fifties
Some of the comics he remembered during the mid fifties were the “Kiddies” comics which were mostly Walter Disney’s productions such as Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, Dumbo, Tweety and Sylvester, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, Casper the Ghost, Bugs Bunny,etc and sometimes he would draw the characters. He had a flair for drawing,
Apart from the kiddies comics were the Westerns- Roy Rogers followed by Gene Autry, Red Ryder, the Lone Ranger, Tomahawk, Straight Arrow and Hopalong Cassidy. The cheaper black and white ones were also westerns. -- Kit Carson, Buck Jones, Allan “Rocky” Lane ,Wild Bill Elliot ,Lash La Rue, Tom Mix, Monty Hale, Bob Steele ,The Cisco Kid and Tim Holt also the Rip Kirby series of which he had the whole series also  Black Shirt Detective series which were in black and white print selling at a shilling apiece and he had lots of fun colouring them.
The old man gave a loud sneeze and cursed it. “Rass! another cold coming on “He wiped his nose on his sleeve then he looked up in the sky and saw a couple of swallows teasing a Chicken Hawk, swooping down on him. Then he drifted back to his memories
“Huh! Where was I?”He thought,”Ah ,yes, the comics” he said aloud.
 There were also the “Super heroes” comics including Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Human Torch, Sub- Mariner, Green Lantern, Hawkman, Flash, Captain Marvel, The Marvel Family, Flash Gordon, Captain America , Buck Rogers, The Mighty Atom, Blue Beetle, The Green Hornet, Mandrake The Magician, Terry and The Pirates, Plastic Man, and Torak, Son of Stone.
Then came the forbidden horror EC horror comics-, Tales from the Tomb, Vault Of Horror, Tales From the Crypt, Vault Of Terror which the children were forbidden to read for its lurid content and “Poor English” If caught with one ,the children would receive a “tanning” of their lives, so they avoided them like the Plague. However you sneak a read for a penny at the book stands in the market.
The old man smiled at the memory and shifted in his seat.
Some of the “Jungle” comics he remembered were Jungle Jim, Tarzan, Sheena of the Jungle and The Phantom.
The “War” comics he recalled were Sgt. Rock, G.I Combat, Our fighting Forces,l American Men of War, The Unknown Soldier, Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos ,Fighting Army, Blackhawk and Fighting’ Marine . Sometimes he would go to the Carnegie Public Library(Church and Main Streets) and borrow books such as the “Hardy Boys” and “Biggles” series. He never lost the joy and pleasure of reading. As he grew older he was encouraged by both parents and teachers to read the Illustrated Classics featuring all the Classics stories in comic form.
He remembered the music scene of the fifties. The most popular Calypsonians in the Fifties were
The Mighty Sparrow, ( Jean and Dinah), Lord Kitchener,( Cricket, Lovely Cricket ) Lord Melody,(
 Mama Look A Booboo ) ,King Cobra (Oh My Darling Carmelita ) Small Island Pride, Lord Canary,
 ( Injection ) King Fighter, (Oh My Dear ) Lord Coffee, and Panther. And there used to be a lot of
vaudeville shows at the Astor with the singers, comedy, dances and other entertainment like “Gallon”
the”Eat man”, eating a big round basket of tennis rolls and washed it down with a small bucket of
Then there was the “soft” drinks
He remembered that Banks DIH opened 1955 with Public Shares and their local brewed beer – BANKS, Thanks, swamped the Market. Popular pop drinks incl Pepsi – Coke – Red Spot  Vimto, Portello and Juicee. Mauby – Ginger Beer, Sorrel – Fly, and Sleepy Tonic the home brew. Pac Pac – cut and load bush rum, was the speakeasy brew.  
The old man’s mind wandered again as he watched three fishing trawlers coming into Port
with the day’s catch. He recalled he used to work on a trawler back in the old days. He was
young and strong then and the work was hard but he loved it ,especially when there was a big catch.
Cakes :
He was a great cake lover and his mind faded back to Bob’s cake shop in Waterloo Street next to Mitchell’s Garage. The cakes that he enjoyed as a youth were quite a variety like White eye, Coconut biscuits, Pone, Sweet biscuit, Coconut buns, Sugar buns, Black cake, Salara, Squar cake, Pine tarts, Conkey, Sweet bread, Chinee cake and “Bull Stones” These cakes would be “wash down” with “Sweet” drinks namely with Pine drink or Mauby. On hot days there were Flutie, Custard Blocks, and Shave Ice to be had.
 The old man sighed yes most of them are closed now but he had enjoyed visiting them especially at Christmas time when his parents would take him shopping.
Popular Businesses
His mother would often take him and his siblings “Window shopping” especially at Christmas time when all of the stores would be dressed up for the holidays were : Bookers – DM Fernandes - Sandbach Parker – Fogarty’s – Bettencourt – Weiting & Richter - there were also several thriving family enterprises including D. M. Fernandes, John Fernandes Shipping – Kirpalani’s – Acme Photo Studio– Hacks - Kawall – Saraka – Searchlight – Singer -  J P Santos

and Company Ltd .- Psaila Bros – A H & L Kissoon Furniture Store– Behary’s e Drugstore – Bata– C. A. Phillips - Gajraj – Thani’s and Khouri’s
Christmas was his favourite holiday and he would forward to it with the Ice Apples, Grapes, Almond Nuts, Walnuts and presents. Most homes, even the poorest, would have a Christmas tree with cotton wool on the branches to represent “snow” The tree would be ringed with blinking “Fairy lights and “Angel’s hair”. Presents would then be placed beneath the tree. He would be looking forward to a caps gun or pop gun; the girls were given Dolls to play with.
On Christmas Eve there would be a lot of baking and preparation for Christmas day’s family lunch and the sharing of presents. The food served were Garlic pork, pepperpot, black eye cook up rice, Baked or Roast Chicken, Black cake and there would also be the traditional drinks--- Sorrel , Ginger beer and Mauby. In addition, there were the street tramps with the steel bands tramping through the streets of the city. “Mother Sally” stick dancing along with the Masquerade Band.
On Easter Monday, families would go to the sea wall to fly their kites. He remembered he had a “Box” Kite which he flew with pleasure but fliers had to beware because some fliers would tie razor blades on the tail of the kite to cut away other kites but that was the chance one had to take. Later in the evening there would be a contest to see who had the Largest and the smallest kites. It was all fun.
Steel bands
The popular steel bands were Quo Vadis, Marabuntas Texakana and Invaders with the Santapee. Masquerade Bands where energetic dancers would “flounced” in the street to the upbeat music of the flutes and samba drums and the mad bull-cow rushing the onlookers who would toss coins on the ground, the dancer would then do a flounce and stoop to pick up the coins then moved on down the street He would join his favourite steel band, join the following crowd behind the band and tramp through the streets of the city.
All this festivities made Christmas memorable and tears came to his eyes at the memory. He brushed them off with his coat sleeve and took another swig at the bottle.
Big Bands
The big bands he remembered at the time were Tom Charles Syncopators, Al Seales’ Washboard and Nello’s New Luckies.  
Street Characters
 He remembered the fun he had as a boy teasing the Town’s “characters” and laughed out loud at the pranks played on them but as they say “Boys will be boys”. In those days they were (Mongoose, Pussy in the moonlight, Direct the traffic, Law and order, Bertie Vaughn, Cato, Dog rice, and Walker The British who always held a stone in his hand)
 Mongoose was a beggar who was always asking for a “penny” and would “curse “you if you refuse. Sometimes the boys would put their hands in their pockets as if if to give him a handout then turn and walk away. He would then start swearing.
Direct the traffic would at a whim go at an intersection and started directing the traffic until a policeman would come and remove him
Law and Order walked around the city with a cart having an effigy of a man dangling from a noose, he would then say. “You’ve been found guilty!” he would then whip the effigy.
Cato was a cart man who spoke with a drawlthe boys would then imitate him and he would sometime chase them.
 Dog Rice was a watchman who was always sleeping on the job, the boys would sometimes frighten him by pulling his beard then run away. He would curse to the high heavens swearing at them.
Pussy in the Moonlight sold sweepstake tickets and would always walk with a stick threatening to “beat” anyone who molested him.
Bertie Vaughn was an ex school teacher who had a”nervous breakdown” and never fully recovered. He was known to be an excellent mathematician and sometimes people would go to him with their math problems. In one of his crazy moods he threw his bicycle into the Demerara River.
“Boys will be boys”
    As a boy he also liked watching the M&TC men “tarring” the road ,the Steam Roller crushing the stones on the road and the smell of Tar . Another pastime was playing with the tadpoles in the gutter. There was also “wood gun” wars challenging various streets in the neighbourhood. “Buckbeads” were used as bullets. At Christmas some boys would use our staple guns to burst balloons in the neighbourhood “boys would be boys” and it was fun. Another trick was to tie a string around a wallet and set it on the road while hiding in the dark alleyway. As soon as a passerby try to pick it up the pranksters would then pull the string wallet away leaving the passerby cursing. The pranksters would get a good laugh out of that prank!
The old man took another swig from the bottle and give aloud sigh as the liquor hit his empty stomach then his mind turned to the cinemas of his youth.
He recollect that the first movie he ever saw ever saw was “Cyrano de Bergerac” with Jose’ Ferrar at the Astor cinema next door in 1950 when the family came back to Georgetown from Pickersgill on the Pomeroon River, He was amazed and fascinated at the sight and he became a cinema fan from then on .
 He read somewhere that the first cinema in BG was the Gaiety Cinema that was built in the 1920’s which stood by the Brickdam Roman Catholic Presbytery in Georgetown, and showed Charlie Chaplin-type silent movies. After the Gaiety burnt down around 1926, other cinemas followed, such as the Metro on Middle Street in Georgetown, which became the Empire; the London on Camp Street, which became the Plaza; and the Astor on Church and Waterloo Streets, which opened around 1940 with the movie “Golden Boy “with William Holden and Barbara Stanwyck.
The Cinemas in Georgetown then were  Astor (Waterloo and Church Streets) Metropole (Robb and Wellington Streets), Strand De Luxe ( Charlotte and Wellington Streets ), Olympic (Lombard Street), Rio (Albouys Street ), Plaza, ( Camp Street ) Empire (Middle Street), Rialto(Vlissengen Road),and Globe ( Church and Waterloo Streets ). There was also Hollywood  (Alexander and Thomas Streets in Kitty. He went to them all and his favourite was Astor Next door to his home.
The Cinemas provided temporary relief from the stresses of everyday living in both Town and Country and were divided up into three sections namely Pit, House, and Balcony. Each show was given advanced billing through posters, flyers, and billboards stuck everywhere around town and
country, on fences, lamp posts, walls, shops, outside the cinema and inside the lobby. Pamphlets depicting upcoming shows were also thrown from passing cars that advertised the events from loudspeakers strapped to the roofs of the cars. These pamphlets which often had a purple or
reddish tinge became treasured items for school children who would risk life and limb by rushing to the advertising cars or trucks to grab them. Pamphlets were often traded to enhance one's collection or win favours. The seating section of the cinema were distinctly divided. Closest to the screen with rows of hard wooden benches was the lowly Pit, where the effort of looking upwards at the screen for several hours gave one a permanent stiff neck! There was a gentle slope of the Pit toward the next section, House, which was separated from the Pit by a low partition wall, a barrier that came in handy on many an occasion when the Pit was disturbed like a nest of ants. The back of Pit, which sometimes ran under the overhang of House, was a favourite section for those patrons who had more than movies on their minds. House usually had individual but
connected wooden seats in rows, seats that flipped up or down. Right above House were the elitist sections of the Box, with soft, private seats and behind Box was Balcony, a favourite place for couples dating who wanted to smooch a bit in the dark. These divisions in the cinema roughly represented the different strata existing in aColonial
Society at that time. He remembered that prior to the main features a short was shown of the Queen sitting side saddle on a horse saluting the troops as the “God save the Queen” Anthem played in the background then there was a cartoon and coming attractions..
The Astor Cinema opened in 1940 with William Holden and Barbara Stanwyck in "Golden Boy". It is located on the corner of Church Street and Waterloo Street and is one of Georgetown's major cinemas. The building is a wood construction. Vaudeville shows were presented with some of the world's top performers making their early appearances at the Astor. They included the Mighty Sparrow, Madame O'Lindy, Lord Kitchener, Small Island Pride, Lord Melody and a host of other Calypsonians who were popular at the time.
It was getting dark so the old man got up and made his way East along the seawall and stepped down at the Kitty Pumping Station at the juncture of Kitty Public Road and Vlissengen Road and there he wound his way through the narrow streets of Georgetown to his home at the “Palms” in Brickdam feeling refreshed both in mind and body
The End
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