Book: Autobiography of a little Jamaican Boy, Survival of a Delicate Orchid among Thorny Weeds
Author: Kenneth G. Blake
A review by Dr Glenville Ashby for Jamaica’s Gleaner.
Kenneth Blake is an elder, and a personage deserving of every accolade accorded to him. A treasure trove and reservoir of good counsel, we bask in his wisdom. From a humble beginning in the Caribbean island of Jamaica, Blake, dealt a poor hand in his formative years, emerged as an independent thinker, a family man, a patriot, and a professional in the construction industry.
Autobiography of a little Jamaican Boy, Survival of a Delicate Orchid among Thorny Weeds is well written. A fluid style and even trajectory allow for an easy and lucid delivery. And there are snapshots of creative brilliance.
His return to Jamaica after an eventful stay in England evoked one of the book’s finest literary expressions. Blake writes, “I kept looking out at sea until I observed the island of Jamaica’s shoreline as it appears to be repelling the white waves as they advanced aggressively to reclaim their place on the sandy beach, only to return to sea. I saw tall, slender palm trees as they gracefully bowed in acknowledgement of the dominance of the gentle, warm breeze and the rising sun while the roosting birds sounded their alarm.”
Born prematurely and sickly, Blake’s life hung precariously in the balance. He was diminutive in his formative but soon garnered strength. It was post, war and the Americas, like Europe, struggled to stay afloat.
His mother, with scant help from her estranged husband, buckled under the enormity of raising children.
Blake accepted every challenge before him. He was hamstrung economically and unable to pursue tertiary education. The need to support his mother and his younger siblings was exigent. He responded. He shuffled between dead end jobs, eventually landing a position as a steel maker. His prowess in the field grew and he emerged confident, poised to efficiently complete every assignment.
By the 1950s, Blake, still enamoured with a young woman who had migrated to England, decided to seal his commitment to her through marriage. His move and lengthy stay are well captured. A simple wedding followed by a coltish scene at the reception is amusing.
His steel-making skills are indispensable and he soars professionally.
As a supervisor, he hones his leadership skills. Now a husband and father living the ‘British dream,’ with fathomless ambition, Blake appeared to have cheated Providence. He is realising his every goal: marriage, a home, employment, and educational advancement. But the dictum All good things come to an end” proves true.
Blake is called up to serve in the British Royal Army, a two-year stint that set in motion a number of ill-advised decisions that arguably derailed his marriage, Although he concedes that he learnt invaluable lessons in the military, he is ebullient at the end of his service. “I … learnt three vital lessons: discipline, respect for one’s superior, and the ability to adjust to circumstances over which I had no control.”
Blake’s meteoric rise at Alcoa Alumina Plant when he returned to Jamaica is followed by a swift descent. An architect of ASSET (Association of Supervisors, Engineers, and Technicians) a collective bargaining body – he was marginalised by management and later terminated. His lot rapidly deteriorated. Unemployed for long periods at a time, coupled with weight of a divorce, Blake had exhausted his good fortune.
GUIDING OUR PATHWAY
The scale tilts in his favour with a construction job in a Maroon district. It is there that his spare time was well utilised. He turned his head to the heavens sought redemption through the bible, eventually embracing the doctrines of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Blake doesn’t pen a hagiography. Far from self-serving, he concedes culpability for his indiscretions. He is remorseful for having fathered a child out of wedlock. He writes, ” … the news of infidelity and an illegitimate addition to my children was indeed a test of this island boy’s capacity to recover from painful situations … It is with the deepest remorse that I have included these shameful events of my past. But they have been significant trial-and-error experiences of my 80 adventurous years.”
And later, he errs, again, although he and his new wife had staunchly embraced his new faith. “I slid down the sinful slippery slope for ten years, before I came to my senses. [My wife and I] are determined to continue to remain upright.”
Blake’s faith grew, and confidence that his God is a constant guardian even prompted the last of his many relocations, this time to Ocala, Florida, (to join his daughter) after a series of business miscalculations. “I had become sure that Jehovah was guiding our pathway,” he writes.
The Bible becomes his daily compass. On becoming a septuagenarian, proximity to the Divine supersedes all else. He readily cites Ecclesiastes 2:11, heeding the counsel of King Solomon: “And I, even I, turned to all the works of mine that my hands had done, and towards the hard work that I had worked hard to accomplish, and look! Everything is in vanity and striving after wind, and there is nothing of advantage under the sun.”
Blake is an authentic communicator. His winding journey confirms life’s many cycles that take their toll psychologically, emotionally, and materially. Still, we create our own reality knowingly or unknowingly, for good or bad. Surely, there are times of plenitude and gaiety. But Blake teaches us to be humble and mindful. We must accept and adapt to the vicissitudes of life. We must be deliberate, grounded, and centred to withstand the most severe of maelstroms. And while nothing in life is guaranteed, Blake argues that we find solace in knowing that we lived in accordance to God’s ultimate plan for humanity.
Book: Autobiography of a little Jamaican Boy, Survival of a Delicate Orchid among Thorns
Copyright (c) 2016 Kenneth G. Blake
Publisher: Page Press, New York, NY
Available on Amazon