82 Real St.
82 Real Street, San Juan, Trinidad, West Indies, was my mother's childhood home. It was built around 1937 by my grand-father who was a jack of all trades. My Grand-parents raised seven children in this three bedroom home, but then added on a large one-bedroom apartment at the rear which my Grand-mother rented out after the early death of my grand-father in 1954. It was also "home" to many different extended family members and friends over the years and, if walls could talk, they would have many interesting stories to tell.
My mom is the youngest of the seven children. There were three older boys and one girl, then three younger girls who were referred to as the "second springs." So the kids grew up almost as two separate families once the older ones emigrated to the UK to further their education or find jobs.
At one time, the front of the house, now a bricked-in veranda, was open, facing the street. My mother's family would sit in the rocking chairs, built by my Grandfather, and wave or call out "Morning Uncle!" or "Morning Auntie" to neighbours and vendors passing by. The front gate was always open and many less-fortunate folk often dropped by for a free meal prepared by my Grand-mother or by my Auntie Nellie who lived with the family. No one was ever turned away.
Growing up, my mother had a sort of live in caregiver named Nellie Serrette. I was told that "Auntie Nellie" came to live with my Grand-parents when she was only fifteen years old- around 1935. She helped with the household chores and looked after my aunts and uncles as they were growing up. After the death of my Grandfather, Auntie Nellie ran a Primary school in the yard during the week while my Mom and her sisters were at Elementary School. On evenings or weekends Granny organized free craft, cooking and art classes for both adults and children of the neighbourhood. They even had their own Anthem which they sang at the beginning of each class. These activities helped generate extra income for my widowed Granny who worked at the Water & Sewage Authority as a Stenographer during the week and at the Horse Races on Saturdays. Everyone came to affectionately address my Granny as "Mom's" or "Ma Robbie" and Auntie Nellie became "Miss Nellie." 82 Real Street was always a lively place.
During the holidays, my mom, her sisters and their close friends, would put on concerts for the neighbours. The programme included singing, ballet, skits, fashion shows, poetry recitations and dancing. The living room was so big that they were able to set up a stage at one end, along with chairs or school benches for the audience, including of course, the local parish priest. My Aunties charged a 5cents entrance fee and donated the proceeds to charity.
The month of February up to Ash Wednesday, is a time for endless parties called "fetes" and the popular Carnival season in Trinidad. It was also my Mom's birthday, so Granny always had a huge party for her and invited all the neighbourhood kids. I have seen photos of Mom and my Aunties wearing new "Pedal-pusher" pants, sewn by Granny, surrounded by at leas 50 friends, grinning from ear-to-ear and waving and singing Happy Birthday. Mom distinctly remembers churning delicious home-made ice cream in preparation for these birthday fetes. Auntie Nellie always took the "second springs" to Port-Of-Spain to watch the world renowned Carnival parades and competitions and, often, they would "jump up" with the bands parading down the street.
When my mom was 13 years old, she left Trinidad for Canada to further her education. She was the last of the children to leave Real Street. The house was rented out several times after that but, my Granny spent most of her senior years living there until she passed away in 1998. No.82 was then sold and turned into a Retirement Home for the elderly, so, it continues to this day to be a loving, caring "home" that my Grand-parents built with their very own hands.