"Jepheth Clarke"

I didn’t know my grandfather very well. My mother would take me to his house weekly when I was young. He lived in a three family home, on the third floor on Sergeant Street. You could imagine for a six year old, three flights of stairs would satisfy my need for play. “Beat you to the top!” I would scream to my little brother still struggling with his seat belt in the car.

A trail of a Cigarette’s stench would catch my nose as I would race all the way to the third floor. My miniature fists would bang the large door as loud as they could but no one would answer. “Uncle Jeffrey! Open the door!” I felt a smack on my bottom, “Stop yelling Princess, your grandfather is sick!” My brother laughed at my punishment. I whispered to him, “That didn’t even hurt”. I knew she heard me, as she pointed at me with warning. She continued to knock on the door, and with a quick response the door flung open. My uncle greeted us and we would follow him to grandpa’s room, where he laid with tubes sprouting out of his chest.

A year later the visits to his house turned into visits to his hospital room. Though at the time I didn’t know what was wrong with him, I knew that the hospital was for sick people and I hated being there for that reason. As I would enter the bland room, tears would drop from my eyes. My pace was sluggish as I slowly walked toward his bed. The man that I saw on the bed was not my grandpa. He was very frail and thin. The full grey and black beard I once knew was thinned out and short. His face, wrinkled and worn from age, was unrecognizable. He put his weak hand out, reluctantly I took it. He died when I was eight.

Though my mother avoided it since his funeral, one day she finally found the courage to go to his house and clean what she could. My brother and I went with her. We all walked slowly up the steps when we got to the top the door was opened already. Uncle Jeffery sat lonely in the kitchen as he flipped the old photo albums of lost memories. Mommy sat beside him. The house was desolate.

We went to Grandpa’s room. The walls were bare and the dressers were cleared of all his personal possessions. His bed was still made with the plain white sheets. We kicked our shoes off. My brother’s shoe landed under grandpa’s bed. “You better get that shoe, you lose everything, and mommy will be mad when you can’t find it.” He scurried under the bed and came back up with a small wooden box with a gold clasp in the front. “That isn’t your shoe, Papa” I said to him.

Grandpa gave him that nickname. He handed me the box and went back under the bed. The aroma of mint escaped as I unclasped the box and opened it. A card that read A-L-I-E-N

I-D at the top was the first thing I picked up. A youthful man was in the photo on this card .The name read Jepheth Clarke, which was my grandfather’s name. I then pulled out a tiny folded Jamaican flag made of cloth from the box. A grey and white photograph was the next thing I found and in it were two girls and three boys including grandpa. Another picture was also in it, but it was more recent. There were young children and their faces were very familiar to me. It was my mother, Aunty Lisa, Aunty Monica, Uncle Jeffrey and Uncle Manley. All of them stood on white sand with Caribbean beach behind them. A miniature bible was also in this box. As I flipped through the pages a mint leaf, once tucked in the book of Matthew, flew away and drifted on my brother’s back- still hunched with his head under the bed. In the very middle of the bible was another photo of babies, which I recognized as my siblings and I.

A golden heart-shaped locket was hanging from the middle crease of his bible. My grandmother was on the left side and there was grandpa was on the right side. And at the very bottom there was a preserved cigar still sealed in its plastic wrapper. “Found it!” my brother said with his shoe in his hand. “What’s that?” he asked me as he picked up Grandpa’s ID. “I don’t know but I think grandpa was an alien” I said to him. We took the box to my mother and uncle to make some sense of our confusion.

She put me in her lap and Uncle sat my brother into his lap. They began to tell us stories of their past. She explained to me that grandpa was an immigrant and the card was an Id that was given to him once he left Jamaica to come here to United States. Here he met his love Nana, my grandmother and made a family. There were many things that they recognized in the box, like the photo that they had taken at the beach when they were in Kingston, Jamaica and even the picture with grandpa and his siblings. It was good to see them happy at this time of grief. My uncle raised the cigar and said, “Daddy saved a cigar, this is amazing”. My mom replied, “That man never learned, and we told him to stop smoking.” It grew silent. The tea kettle was ringing. Uncle Jeffrey got up to retrieve it and poured it tea into my mom’s cup. She took the cup and smelled the steamed. “Dad sure did love mint tea.” Uncle Jeffrey poured the tea into his mug and said, “Dad loved all of us.”