Saying Thanks and Meaning it

Today, Americans say thanks. And (to borrow a line from John Lennon) you know it ain’t easy. Not for me, anyway. I always feel awkward saying thanks. Am I afraid I’ll sound insincere? Or go over the top like Sally Fields in her embarrassingly memorable Academy Awards speech? Hard to tell. And I should be adept at it by now. After all, like Blanche DuBois in “A Streetcar Named Desire” (and most other people in the civilized world), I have always been dependent on the kindness of strangers. And friends. And family. Especially family.

Who would have dreamed that the 9-and-a-half-pound baby that “Mr. Graham’s little wax doll” produced in Black River, Jamaica on a Friday morning back in March 1934 would be enjoying the sunset of his life from the security of a comfortable home in Florida, watched over and nurtured by my loving wife Sandra, and entertained by the antics of sundry cats?

My kidney specialist, Dr. Ricardo Vilches, advised me recently (while he pored over my hospital records), “Enjoy your life. You’re lucky to be alive!”

No, I won’t go into gory detail. If you’ve been reading my blogs, you probably know about my travails, and as Dr. Vilches (who is quite a philosopher) remarked, “everybody’s gotta go sometime.”

But I will tell you my life story, a snippet of it anyway,  and if you quit reading now, I won’t hold it against you.

It’s been such an unlikely journey.

The way my mother tells it, I was lucky to get born. She was not yet 18 when she married my father – who was in his mid-forties – and moved away from her Aunt Min’s home in Guy’s Hill to room with Miss Nance and Miss Lil (Tomlinson) all the way across the island in Newmarket. She was still growing, she told me many years later, and weighed just over 100 pounds. Her obstetrician, Dr. Johnson, warned her there was no way such a tiny body could produce such a big baby.

But she said she prayed and prayed, and “grew an inch” in the months before I was born. I suppose it was only natural that as soon as she could make it out of bed, she carried me to a nearby church, laid me on the altar and “consecrated me to God.”

(Yes, I know… But how was she to predict how her wayward son would carry on during his wild and woolly youth?)

I was lucky to survive that youth. Ask any of my siblings about my misadventures and their memories will have them (if not you) thrashing about and laughing like hyenas. They have a sadistic sense of humor.

Obviously, I can’t go into detail in a blog, but I’ll share one yarn that your sadistic side might enjoy:

I was working at Tower Isle Hotel (now Couples) on Jamaica’s North Coast when it happened. We employees weren’t supposed to “fraternize” with the Tower Isle guests so we used to go next door to Silver Seas to have a drink after work. One weekend night, I arrived at Silver Seas to find a costume party in progress, and my 18-year-old eyes almost popped out of their sockets when I saw one of the tourist ladies. She was wearing three (four?) breadfruit leaves and not a stitch of clothes!

Naturally, she was surrounded by men. Old men, middle-aged men, young men, and all the stages in-between.

I had spent the previous seven years at an all-boys school, so you can imagine how paralyzed I was by the sight of this goddess. I could not work up the nerve to approach her. But I thought of a way to get her attention.

You see, I had competed in inter-schools sports the year before, and my best event was the long jump. So I waited for the near-naked tourist lady and her retinue to leave the bar, and as they arrived in the hotel lobby, I took off from my table and raced down a long corridor toward them. My plan was to leap into the air when I reached the top of a flight of stairs and fly toward the group. Naturally, the tourist lady would be so impressed by this athletic feat that she would throw here arms around my neck, and the rest would be … (like those intriguing dots in the novels I used to read).

I didn’t see the concrete beam above the flight of stairs.

After I got out of St. Ann’s Bay Hospital, I heard that I had landed on my back in the middle of the lobby with a fountain of blood gushing from my head. Startled, the tourist lady shied away, sliding on the blood and crashing to the floor, busting her head open. I don’t know whether that really happened. I was unconscious at the time – and for the next three days. And I never saw the tourist lady again.

Anyway, that’s just one chapter in a weird and wonderful life that has given me ample reason to be thankful.

So, Happy Thanksgiving, y’all! I am going into my garden now to stand in front of the Madonna my mother gave me before she died, and try to say thanks to the One who made it all possible. I know He will forgive my awkwardness.

(That’s supposed to be Sandra and me in the illustration above – in spirit, anyway.)

Here’s an afterthought:

Click for more on Sally Fields’ speech.