Barbara Nelson reviews Velma Pollard’s Considering Woman 1 & 2 (first published in 1989), highlighting her “awesome talent as a writer and chronicler of Jamaican lives.” Published by Peepal Tree Press, the book is a collection of short stories, fables, and memoirs.
Velma Pollard is Jamaican and won her first prize for a poem when she was seven years old. She is now retired from the University of the West Indies where she was, at one time, dean of the Faculty of Education.
In ‘Cages’, the author looks at three women; Joan, Jean and Joy, all in different ‘cages’. Joan finds herself “staring, contemplating a huge, brooding, oversized bird (her husband Hugh) caught in a cage.” But Joan herself is also in a cage – the small one she settles into each night as she gathers the blanket about her and listens to her husband snore.
Jean, the second of the three women, decides to flee her cage, much to the consternation of her husband. But for her, leaving the marriage made her feel light rather like a bird, suddenly without a cage. In the third cage is “light-skinned” Joy, kept by a married man, Hugh, him with the shy half-smile, who protects and takes care of her like Grandma did. Grandma protected Joy’s slightness with her age and authority, without reproach, scolding her with obvious love. The door to Joy’s cage is, however, open and “perhaps when the door is open you can’t really feel the caginess of the cage”.
In ‘Tales of Mothering’, the third section of Considering Woman 2, the author deals with ‘My Sisters’, ‘My Mother’ and ‘Gran …’ ‘My Mother’ is particularly poignant. The storyteller recalls that as a child, she would accompany her grandmother, Gran, on the first or second Saturday of each month to the bank at Anne’s Ridge. There they collected money that her mother had sent from America. The ritual was always followed by Gran’s monthly lecture on ingratitude. Her mother was expected home for a vacation every year but she never made it. “But she always sent, as if to represent her, a large round box that people insisted on calling a barrel,” the storyteller recalls. “Nothing smells exactly like my mother’s boxes. It was a smell compounded from sweat and mustiness and black poverty inheriting white cast-offs.” Her mother left Jamaica when she was six or seven years old. When she was in third form her mother did come home – in a coffin.
Her mother’s funeral was a spectacle – a gaudy and peculiar affair on a hot Sunday afternoon at the Baptist church. Gran cried great sobs but the child could not weep then. But she did weep for her mother many years later when, as a grown woman, she visited the USA and saw her in the tired faces of the working women and “in all those heads hiding their age and gentleness beneath the black, curly wigs.”
The stories in ‘Bitter Tales’ are set in the past and include ‘Ruthless at Noon’, the story of the choirmaster who rapes his young maid servant; ‘Orinthia is that you?’, an account of an abandoned woman who eventually finds happiness and security; and ‘Gran’nanny’, the slave who chose not to have any “malata pickney” for the Bakra who “would hold her down anytime him feel like.”
‘Better Tales’ are five heartwarming and uplifting stories. One relates the rescue of a baby abandoned in a pit latrine and another tells how a child is given away by a mother because of poverty and lovingly nurtured by a caring family.
For full review, see http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20110306/arts/arts4.html