Tio Abuelo's House on Daisy Avenue
Copyright 2023 by Trisha Simone
Photo courtesy of the author.
didn’t make it to the funeral. I told everyone that I couldn’t
miss more school. The truth is that there was no money. I had used
every cent on my credit cards for the flight home when he was in the
hospital. Last-minute tickets are expensive. I hadn’t
bothered with new clothes and didn’t need a hotel. But all my
shoes were worn out, so I bought black pumps, sneakers, and a pair of
there were the presents. You can’t go home empty-handed if you
live in America. This branch of the family is well-to-do; so, I made
do with a handful of novelties. There were flash drives, gourmet
snacks, and ultraviolet toothbrush cleaners—just enough to pull
shame out of my eyes.
trip was unlike
any other visit. So many things were different. So many things were
wrong. The housekeeper didn’t answer the phone. Tio
Abuelo answered himself, sounding somehow both cheerful and drained.
The melody of his voice rang out in familiar hues. Words danced in a
mélange of British, Jamaican, and Panamanian accents. He said
that he couldn’t pick me up from the airport.
my life, Tio
Abuelo had been the person who greeted me when I landed in the
country. Vacation always began when I stared through the window of
his car. Tense muscles in my back and neck would slacken as I basked
in my surroundings. Gawking at mundane scenes of daily life, I was a
puzzle piece finding its home. Reveling in everything, my senses
tingled. I devoured every vibration, every sigh — all the
sights, scents, and sounds.
there was a vendor selling on the roundabout. This was not allowed,
of course. but the airport exit was a great place to find customers
returning home from somewhere “foreign” where local
delicacies cannot be found. As a child, I applauded the rule-flouting
merchants for their work ethic and brazen disregard for regulations.
participated dutifully in the conversations about my flight and
school, I was captivated by the places and the people I saw along the
route. There was no air conditioning; my window was always open.
Without trying, I smelled salty sea in the humid air. Dancehall
music wafted into the vehicle. Even new songs seemed somehow
at a red light, the air around me absorbed the aromas of whatever was
being sold from the nearest handcart. I eavesdropped on polite
conversations between customers and cook. Despite being New York
born, this local tongue is my native language. It was seldom heard
on American streets.
from the world outside the window like berries from a bush. Devouring
the succulent sights, smells, and sounds, I wrapped myself
in welcome. Just thinking of it takes me there.
about an hour,
we pass out of the lively working-class areas and meander into quiet
suburbs. Colorful houses crowd the foothills below sprawling
mansions perched precariously on cliffs. Eventually the boxy white
car enters Tio Abuelo’s neighborhood. Undulating roads relax
and flatten. The streets are named for flowers, and blooms can be
seen everywhere in bursts of red, white, purple, and pink. These
homes are not mansions, but each one has a wide verandah. I glimpse
trees in the side and back yards.
of my first
childhood memories is of Tio Abuelo carrying me around his backyard,
naming each fruiting tree. In those days, I lived in New York City
in an apartment. I played in the hallway outside our door, or on
sidewalks. The local playground was concrete. Lawns and flowers
existed on television. Tio Abuelo’s backyard, hairy with lush
greenery, was enchanting.
I felt like a
person, like a human that might one day own a
of Earth. We moved around New York; then to Atlanta. Nowhere was
home in the same sense that the Caribbean was home.
connection to this ancestral homeland has always been visceral and
complex. I know that I spent months in Tio Abuelo’s
neighborhood during my infancy, but those memories are out of reach.
I partake in the shared memories of my relatives. I see street names
and landmarks that add texture and context to family stories,
bringing them to life. Living vicariously through others, I partake
in the excitement of Christmas markets, church concerts, and school
mischief. Although I didn’t experience those adventures, the
narratives are part of my family anthology and live along my own
vivid recollections, intertwined.
high school, I
went to study in Philadelphia. During four years of college, I lived
in four different places. Tio Abuelo’s house was the only
geographic constant in my life.
was the anchor
that kept me grounded. No matter where I went, I could always go
home. I could always return to feed from the
milk of that place. Towards the end, the property began to change. Some
of the backyard trees were removed to expand the main living
spaces. The detached maid’s quarters was renovated and rented
to international students attending the nearby university. It was
odd to have strangers living on family property, but the money was
welcome. Retirement was looming. Developers and architects were
story could be added to avoid stealing more land from the shrinking
backyard? There was no need for extra space for Tio Abuelo and his
wife. It was probably for us—the hordes of nieces, nephews and
their children who incessantly poured out of the sky from North
America and the UK.
replacements at work and working on the house, Tio Abuelo missed
annual physical. That was a mistake. The cancer was diagnosed at an
advanced stage. He tried a few procedures and a few medications.
Nothing worked. A mere month after my hospital visit, he was gone. I
didn’t go to the funeral. My uncle comforted me reminding me
of my hospital visits.
“It is more important to visit the sick than to bury the dead. You were
here when he needed you.”
repeat these phrases to myself, like a mantra.
I just lost a beloved family member. I lost the only enduring link to
myself. My clan lost the anchor to our past, and to each other. Without
the gathering place, which was promptly rented, there was no
beckoning, no gravitational pull. Laws of nature were repealed. We
floated off into separate lives, into our own worlds scattered across
of children will never climb those trees in the backyard. My
daughter and nephews will never experience the magical reawakening of
dulled senses during the long drive from the airport. My cousins’
children will never feel the chaotic excitement of fleeing a
snowstorm in a jet, prodded and buoyed by the promise of mangoes at
the end of the journey.
I said goodbye
that last time, but I didn’t realize that I was saying goodbye
to so much. It was obvious that I may not see Tio Abuelo again, but
I had no idea how much else would dissolve. Although I never took
anything about him, or about that place for granted, I didn’t
understand how much there was to cherish. It was difficult to value
my treasure while it was still present.
buildings have now been sold. There is no going home. The last time
that I was on the island, I drove past the house, desperate for a
glimpse, hoping to see myself dangling from the branch of a tree. I
yearned to get out of the taxi and beg the new owners for a tour. But I
restrained myself. It is best to leave memories as they
are—faded, yet perfect. The neighborhood will always be there. I plan
to return one day to explore it on foot. Perhaps holding my
daughter’s hand, I will stroll the tree-lined streets.
citrus-scented air will caress me and comfort my soul, releasing
caged memories of childhood bliss. I will be welcome. No matter
where I go, and how much I lose myself, my core will always be that
house, that backyard and everything they meant to me.
trees, and violets will always know my name.
am a Caribbean American pediatrician living in Arizona with my
husband and son. I have been writing since
of the message
won't know where to send it.)
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