When I was a child, along with my brothers and sisters I would spend a portion of the summer vacation with my mother’s older sister. My aunt lived in the country, in a large sprawling house surrounded by fruit trees under which chickens would forage loudly for food. It was probably the sight of one of these hens being killed for the Sunday meal that may have influenced my teenage decision to stop eating meat altogether.
I had a ton of cousins in the country, some my age, others younger and older. My mother and her sister were fertile women. Because we were from the city, our arrival would be greeted as something very special, not just by my country cousins but also by the children of the village. My siblings and I were keenly aware of our special status and would lord it over the country bumpkins. They in turn would perform special treats for us and would often do our chores. I remember one cousin making me mashed potatoes thick with cream and butter almost every day for a month because I loved it so. My grandmother would later suck her teeth in irritation and wonder why her older daughter had allowed me to get so fat.
One summer, after I had obtained the highest score at school in the end-of-term exams, my aunt observed that I was not sleeping with a pillow. She asked me why, and I told her that I just did not enjoy sleeping with my head up high. I preferred to lay flat. The truth is, I had never enjoyed sleeping with a pillow, and that year I had finally built up enough self-confidence to abandon a sleeping style that left me feeling unrested in the morning or with a sore neck.
My aunt remarked that that probably explained why I was so bright and had done so well on my exams. It was probably because the blood circulated freely in my brain while I slept, she noted in an awestruck tone that suggested that she really should have thought of this before. As a result, she took away every last pillow from my cousins’ beds and forced them to allow the blood to circulate in their brains for the rest of that vacation.
Needless to say, I immediately became persona non grata. My cousins were justifiably annoyed. At the same time, they believed that their mother might be right and that sleeping without pillows would magically transform them into exam-passing intellects. As a result, they alternated between rejecting me outright and regarding me with awe. I coped by sucking up to my aunt who taught me to cook just in case my big brain eventually interfered with my ability to find a husband.
I thought of that summer as I listened to comments by Bob Costas on NBC, the day after Usain Bolt broke the record for the 100-meter dash. Costas has performed the role of lead anchor for NBC, but on all events Caribbean, he has often been accompanied by Ato Boldon. Unfortunately we rarely get to see Boldon and his sexy lips. Ato’s voice often performs backdrop against Bob Costas' face which resolutely refuses to age along with his hair that resolutely refuses to change color, even as his Hispanic name resolutely refuses to distract from his whiteness. But I digress.
After Usain won the 100 meters dash, a proud Ato Boldon could not restrain his excitement. Bob Costas played it cooler as he found himself forced to comment on successes not related to Michael Phelps that were amazingly still occurring in Beijing.
Of course, because Usain is not American, I was not privileged to see his race live. I accept that NBC has paid dearly for their gamble on Phelps and that a non-American breaking world records is just not going to be their main story. So I was grateful that I got to see this race at all.
After the race was over and the excitable Boldon had been dispatched, Costas reported on an interview with Usain Bolt’s father. We were not privileged to see this interview – after all Papa Bolt was no Mama Phelps. So we had to take Costas’ word for it. He informed us that Bolt’s father had apparently credited his son’s amazing success to his having been raised on a diet of the special type of yellow yam grown in northern Jamaica.
Here we go, I thought. The price of yam is about to go up in Jamaica.
After Usain smashed Michael Johnson’s record in the 200 meters, I seriously contemplated finding a way to buy stock in a Jamaican yam farm. As other Jamaican athletes have continued to be inspired by their countryman’s success, I have alternated between jumping with joy while secretly wondering how I could capitalize on the pending explosion of the cost of yam on that island.
But my enthusism is checked by the story of how my cousins got their pillows back. It had everything to do with abysmally failing their Xmas exams. The blood circulating through their collective brains had not made a bit of difference. So maybe the cost of yam will not go up in Jamaica after all.