As my parents moved around a few times, I lived on Lynford, on Kempton, and on Richmond Crescent, which came in time between Lynford and Kempton. Richmond Crescent is my street, and I lived there from I was seven to when I left as an adolescent at eighteen. So it is fair to say that my formative years were there.
It was a small street two blocks long, but teeming with life. At the North end was Richmond Park Avenue, and at the Southern end Chisholm Avenue, that had an open air cinema called “Ritz Theatre”. Going South to North I lived on the right just above a corner in the centre, which was the end of the first block. A short walk from that corner took me to another main road called Maxfield Avenue, and just at that intersection was the Grocery owned by Mr. Lue, who sold chocolates and comic books and all other interesting items, among his regular stock of groceries.
When I was just about 10 years old, I passed the common entrance exam to go to high school, at St.George’s College, which was downtown. I would take the bus in front of Mr. Lue’s Grocery with my cousin Mikey, all the way into the city of Kingston; the bus dropped us around four blocks from school and we walked the rest of the way. But we were always looking for a drive: “Bumming a lift” we called it then. Mikey was a great Elvis fan and combed his long hair forward always looking at it in front of his face to see it wobble. I was disgusted at this habit but otherwise we were good friends. He was around four years older than I.
Next-door on my right lived the Markes, and I played over there with their two boys, Peter and Trevor constantly. We used to find old tires and slapping them as we ran, would race up and down the street, tire in front. At the northern end of the street in a house at that end lived two or three crossbred mongrels, “baddawgs” we called them; and they would annoy us by running after us clearly with the intent of biting. We all carried stones to defend ourselves when we passed there.
One day we decided to teach them a lesson. Peter, Trevor, Rueben my brother, Mikey (who lived on a parallel street) and I, carrying a batch of heavy sharp stones, went whistling pass their broken fence in cavalier manner. When they charged barking and growling we hit them with everything we had and kept throwing. When they retreated whimpering we ran after them to their fence throwing stones and reaching our mark. They never bothered us again.
We had a great time playing together, the Markes and my brothers and myself: Playing ball, running races, practicing high jumps and those games that boys love.
We had a large enough front lawn, and on many Sundays, Dad, my Uncle Sam, my eldest brother Johnny, would play cricket with the neighbourhood kids. It was like an invitational: We would start and after a while, Peter and Trevor would drop by, then an older boy from up the street, and in no time a game was in full swing which lasted the good part of a Sunday. I became very adept at changing broken windowpanes.
All the homes on the street looked very similar I recall. Richmond Crescent is in Richmond Park. The homes in the area were like concrete boxes with shingle roofs, and having an open veranda, in which you could sit and watch your neighbourhood and the street. They were mostly on large lots, around quarter acre. Some were modified with roof patios, floral gardens, and extra additions.
Most of my neighbours kept to themselves, but my Dad sometimes chatted with Mr. Markes and Mr. Taylor who lived almost directly opposite our home; sometimes with Mr. Handal who lived in the house on our left. Occasionally, they came over for a drink on Sundays, but they all worked at least six days a week. Mr. Fazullah lived up the street, and he was a widower, often dropping by at dinnertime, much to Mom’s chagrin. He was ever ready for a game of chess, which Dad and I played.
Mr. Handal had three lovely daughters. Rueben and I used to watch them dress through their open window, one they never seemed to close, but they were much older and we were young boys. So it just provoked some amateur voyeurism.
But how can I forget the girl next door? Joan, Mr. Taylor’s daughter, was my brother Johnny’s girl for quite a while. Then Mr. Taylor got sick, and moved away, selling his house; Johnny went to University after that, and I suppose that relationship died a natural death: “Out of sight, out of mind”.
Right after them when I had just about passed thirteen, and my voice was changing, the Stevensons moved in where the Taylor’s had resided. That is, Mrs. Stevenson, and her daughter Donna. Mr. Stevenson had passed on some years before and Mrs. Stevenson was dating someone new. But Donna is the one I wish to talk about.
She was 15: a good year and a half older than me. She was small in stature, with a petite figure and long dark hair, which she swung when she put in a ponytail. They visited us often, especially to see Mom who was an excellent seamstress. They always were cutting and putting clothes together. I would not have been interested, save Donna who was having problems with her Latin homework, complained to my Father; who replied “Rohan is very good at Latin, why don’t you ask him for help?”
And the very same night I was asked and went over to their house to help Donna with her Latin work. I was able to help her though she was a grade ahead of me, and quite sweetly she said: “How can I reward you for saving my homework?” Was it her hair, her flashing eyes, her beautiful face? My mind raced. What could I say? I skimmed the dictionary and pointed to the Latin word, “Osculum”, which meant, a kiss. I guess we both were embarrassed and blushing, and she laughed, saying, “I’ll have to think about it”.
But then I saw her every day after that, and we noticed each other more. Then one afternoon I was home early, from school, and so was she. I phoned, and she asked me over. I went over and said; “I have come to collect, what you promised.” She was about to say that she did not promise anything, when I collected what was owed and more.
She taught me to dance, and that was my pretext, for my numerous visits, until my father shouted at me one day: “No more dancing lessons,” loud enough for the whole street to hear. Then we met in secret, at night at the Ritz cinema. Many nights Dad would be taking his evening walk, and we had to hide. But once, I think he saw us; and I am sure he knew what was happening but never said anything else to me about that relationship.
I almost married that girl, but we moved away, Dad died, and I had to grow up fast. We met once or twice after that, but there was no time, I was very busy. She married and moved away to the U.S., and I never saw her again.
I could say a lot more about that street, tragic, unusual, and funny. How our house caught fire but was saved; how Mr. Lue’s eldest son George was shot and killed in a hold-up; how my youngest brother Joseph caught poliomyelitis, but managed to survive with a shortened foot and a bad limp. I have visited there often but no one that I know lives there anymore, and the street has become very commercial. The homes are rebuilt into offices and garages. But if I look hard enough I will recall the lingering memories; they never die, and come back anew every time I reach into my mind.
Written by Ramesh Sujanani
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