During a recent, and long-lingering traffic jam I had plenty of time to reflect. We have enjoyed our time in Trinidad, but I felt a sense of regret that we had not reached out to people much beyond the boatyard. We’ve had plenty of enjoyable conversations with local people, but we had never been inside a home in Trinidad.
Not content to linger on this depressing thought, I asked my taxi driver why people were just sitting in traffic. Why didn’t they take the back roads? Why weren’t people driving down the narrow lanes to get around the accident ahead?
The driver said, “In Trinidad, you cannot drive into someone else’s neighbourhood. They have to know you.” He paused for a minute.
“You know, they might be selling something and they don’t want people driving through. They would see an outsider as a threat.”
I was amazed, “Even during the day?” I asked. “Day or night,” he responded.
So, you can imagine my surprise and trepidation when standing under our boat, I received a Christmas invite for our entire family of six to attend Christmas dinner at a home in Diego Martin, Trinidad.
How this group came to be under our boat is another story. Patricia Preddie extended the invitation. She was surrounded by her son, Ricky, and his family. They had recently flown in from Montreal, Canada.
They were a family of four, so I knew that their house was already busy. I felt that the polite thing to do was to refuse the invitation. But, my husband saw that Mrs. Preddie’s door was firmly open. In short order, we accepted her invitation and began swapping phone numbers.
Mrs. Preddie and her husband, Freddy live on Covigne Street in Diego Martin. I have heard of Diego Martin because buses go there, and sometimes people get shot there as well.
You know, people seem to get shot in Trinidad a bit more than in Ottawa. But, the secret, at least for tourists, is to stay on the main roads, and to pay attention to people and your surroundings. Be home before dark. Don’t dabble with folks who carry weapons or drugs.
So the plan was to go to the Preddie’s house on Covigne Road for Christmas. The Preddies live in a green house, behind a gate near some large water towers on their street. The Preddies own six small, excitable dogs.
On the night we visited, Covigne Road was alive with young people playing soccer, and hanging out in groups. I was aware that my family was entering “someone else’s neighborhood” but the Preddie’s house was close at hand, and after a few calls we found their house. We received a very warm welcome.
Mr. Preddie seized my hands to greet me and said “Let me welcome you to my home in my way,” and he touched his heart with one hand. He told us that he wanted us to feel comfortable in his home, and that it was a gift for his family, as well, that we could spend Christmas with them.
He gave us a tour of his home. Every corner of the house bore a strong sense of family. A glass table told a story. It held photos and commemorative plates to mark the Preddie’s 40th wedding anniversary. I was tempted to ask how long they had been married now, but, in their house, it felt like time didn’t matter.
The Preddie’s love for each other, their family, their dogs, their home and even their guests went much deeper than a series of days, put together as years. Their house, and stories spoke to a lifetime of sacrifice, successes, joys and sorrows.
Mr. Preddie stopped my nine-year old in his tracks when he told him that he had lost his mother before he was two years old. And, he had lost his father before he was seven years old. He encouraged my son to give me a hug, which he did with gusto. Mr. Preddie’s story was about being grateful for what we have now. The story and it’s message was important to Mr. Preddie.
As Mr. Preddie spoke, my husband made room for him to sit with us on the living room couch. “Don’t crowd the lady,” said Mr. Preddie, gesturing to my husband to give me more room. “I am happy to sit here on the carpet.”
Looking around the room I noticed that someone else was happily sitting on the carpet. This would have been a rare occurrence at our house in Canada. A guest on the floor might have flagged the ‘need’ to buy more chairs.
I thanked Mr. Preddie for making room for us in his home, especially as they had family visiting and it was Christmas. “I will always have room,” he said. “And, if people want to spend the night we will always make room. The furniture can go outside and we can sleep out here he said,” motioning to the living room carpet.
Where I come from, “having room” is based on the number of beds, factoring in privacy, and sleeping habits such as snoring. My children may or may not be placed with other people’s children, depending on the time of night and parental energy levels.
Shortly after we arrived, a series of short, sharp explosions rang out outside. I winced and laughed nervously. “What was that?” I asked in the most casual tone I could muster.
The Preddie family explained it was the sound of bamboo. In Trinidad, some people fill bamboo with explosives to celebrate. The loud banging sounds that I could hear was the sound of the bamboo cracking.
The Preddies have quite a large house and a big yard. Their yard comfortably entertained their six small dogs along with my four children. The Preddie’s house is shuttered at night, but air circulates through decorative bricks towards their ceilings. The air comes straight in – bringing a warm breeze to fill this welcoming house.
The bamboo sounds continued, and the conversation didn’t stop. Soon, it was dinner time. The six little dogs were put out of sight. And, we sat down to dinner outside at a long table under a garage awning. Behind me there was a cherry tree, and across the street I could see another tree bearing green fruit of some sort.
Mr. Preddie said grace, which was briefly interrupted by one of my children who had lost all sense of the quietude of their surroundings. Mr. Preddie continued.
There were 15 people around the table and those who didn’t fit at the table sat along a wall on a garden bench. The dinner included the extended Preddie family, our family and two neighbours from up the street.
Our Christmas dinner included corn soufflé, home-made biscuits, turkey, ham with pineapple, gravy, mashed potatoes and a colourful rice dish. Dessert was an amazing assortment of cakes, homemade cookies brought from Canada, and Lindt chocolates.
Lindt chocolates taste much different in Trinidad. Due to the heat, there is no soft center. Instead, the liquid center is fantastic, and Karen enjoyed the chocolates very much.
“Let them be children,” Mr. Preddie said when I began to ask Karen to slow down with her chocolate consumption.
He told me the story of his own children. He and Mrs. Preddie have six grown children. They are originally from Guyana where Mr. Preddie had a well-paying job. When the family left Guyana they were unable to bring their money with them so Mr. Preddie began from scratch in Trinidad, working as a janitor. He applied for every position that became available and Mr. Preddie soon moved up the ranks.
He built the very house that we were visiting. His son’s helped him with building. But, even though he enjoyed their help, Mr. Preddie saw opportunity for two of his young sons in Canada. He borrowed some money and bought them two one-way plane tickets. Three weeks later his sons began a new life in Canada, staying with relatives. Mr. Preddie said that “even though it pained his heart to see them go” he felt that it was important to educate his children. An education would allow his children to support their own families one day.
Sitting across the table from me was Ricky Preddie. He was one of the brothers that was sent to Canada all those years ago. At seventeen, and having graduated from the Trinidad school system, Ricky completed a year of highschool in Canada. He furthered his education and began his own story.
Ricky is married and has three older children. Ricky works as a database administrator, and talks passionately about the power of patterns within data. Ricky has no trace of a Trini accent, but he still enjoys Smalto, which is a non-alcoholic, malt beverage. It smells like diluted molasses. Karen likes it. We were grateful to meet Ricky, his family and his son, Kevin’s, girlfriend.
I gravitated to talk to Kevin. Kevin is an outspoken and passionate man who studies English literature with a minor in history at a university in Montreal. He wants to be a teacher, possibly for the military. He spoke about Irish history, and mentioned something called the “Celtic Tiger”. I must look this up. Kevin’s girlfriend studies sociology.
Despite the physical distance between the Preddie family, Ricky lights up when he talks about his parents. It sounds like the older Preddies keep a busy schedule when they visit North America and are in high demand to stay with relatives, including Ricky. “Sometimes they stay for a week,” he says. “I wish they could stay longer”.
For us, the night ended much too soon. We could have easily talked and stayed overnight on the carpet. Before we left, the youngest Preddies began to sing. Their mother said, “they never stop”. The Preddie’s children are wonderful singers. I’ll include a video of them singing in a separate blog post. Technical difficulties prevent me from uploading the video tonight.
On the drive home, I asked our taxi driver about the practice of sitting on the floor. She was not surprised at all. “We come from very humble beginnings,” she said. “When we came here we didn’t have nothing.”
I went home that night feeling like I had been privy to something magical. Here was a family who always makes room, and their love had built something wonderful.
All the best for a wonderful New Year!