When I was about 8 years old, my grandmother told me the real meaning behind the Garden of Eden story.
“Listen, child, “she informed me, “this has nothing to do with any ‘fruit’. This is about sex. When the Bible said ‘the serpent gave Eve the fruit’, that was sex. When Eve gave the fruit to Adam that was sex. They got kicked out of the Garden of Eden because they had sex. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”
Everyone, including us children, called her Miss Bertha, and she was always my second mother. She was a simple country girl who only moved to the city as a young adult, and so still maintained all her habits from her childhood. I’m somewhat built like she was – tall and slim – and spent much of my youth walking behind her trying to catch up with her very long strides.
Miss Bertha had moved in with us to lighten mom’s stress and take care of us after school and during school vacation. My dad was MIA, so it was just my mom, my brother, and me. When mom was too busy (as moms often are) Miss Bertha stepped in to play board games with us: ludo, bingo, monopoly, checkers, or dominoes. She would take us outside to play cricket or baseball. We were never bored when she was around. Every Sunday, she’d take us to youth church, sat and waited for us, and sang and clapped along with the rest of the young ones until the service was over. Then we all walked home.
She wasn’t generally a great cook, but Miss Bertha made the best soups every Saturday for dinner. Beef, chicken, pea, or ham – it always came out just right. It took me years to replicate them and my soups still aren’t as perfect as hers were. If it weren’t for her, I also wouldn’t have known about grating chocolate (balls made from dried cocoa beans) from scratch and boiling it to make tea. Jamaicans call it chocolate tea. I can smell it even now, with a little nutmeg grated on top and the oils slowly separating from the rest of the cocoa as the tea cooled down.
Her stories were the best, but mostly very scary. She told Anansi stories, but she never filled our heads with fairy tales. As Caribbean people, we don’t generally do “happily ever after” stories. My brother and I spent many hours at her knee listening to scary ghost (“duppy”) stories about her brothers walking through graveyards and unwittingly meeting and talking to dead people. Or it would be about my grandfather walking through a graveyard and trying to chat up some young girl, who turned out to be a ghost. Or the dreaded stories about the ‘Rolling Calf’.
“A Rolling Calf come running down the road with fiery eyes and flames coming from its nostrils,” she dramatized, her eyes wide with expression. “You can hear him rattling the heavy chains around his neck. If you’re travelling at night and hear him, you have to get to the next crossroads before him or you’re dead!”
We wouldn’t sleep for days after hearing these stories and we’d see ghosts and evil mythical creatures everywhere after that.
She was the person that made the Jehovah’s Witnesses actually avoid our house. She challenged them with questions they couldn’t answer and they couldn’t match wits with her. They were too young to know the bible as well as she did. She would waylay them at the fence every Sunday morning and I believe they eventually changed their walking route past our house just to avoid her. No “Watchtower” magazines were ever sold on our street.
I miss my grandmother terribly sometimes. Now that I have my own children, I know they’d get a kick — or a jolt — out of being terrified as we were from hearing all these stories. Although I don’t generally believe in the concept of an afterlife, I’d still like to picture Miss Bertha holding an audience captive somewhere and regaling young ones with duppy stories about Rolling Calves.