The yard of the house at 1 Scott Bushe St, Corbeau Town, was longish and rather narrow at the sides. It ran along Charles St, from Scott Bushe to Stone St and expanded at the front and back, creating spaces where mothers could plant flowers and little boys could climb trees. My mother was not a really good gardener but loved old maid, of the species named Vinca. She grew them in the front in little bordered plots and kept pots them on the steps that led up from the garden to the gallery. I was not allowed to play there but entertained myself skipping and hopping from stone border to stone border until one day I disturbed one of the stones, fell, injured my ankle and damaged some of the periwinkle. Years later in medical school I learned that a potent anti leukaemic drug, vincristine, was obtained from the crushed leaves of this simple little flower, the rosy periwinkle Catharanthus roseus, and that there were plantations in Nigeria that consisted of thousands of acres of this particular type of old maid.
Old maid was traditionally used in a tea for diabetics but used to cause death earlier than expected because in the “good old days”, as old people are fond of saying, when diabetes blood control was based on urine testing, Vinca used to mask the presence of sugar in the urine causing people to believe their blood sugar was under control. It took many years and many deaths before people with diabetes understood this was really not the smart thing to do.
The side yard was dominated by a sapodilla tree that never seemed to bear fruit and twin chennet trees which sheltered and hid the occupants of the side gallery from the maccos walking on
Charles St or liming in the small park opposite where, every December, fire flies were accustomed to light up the old tree in the early evening dark. The chennet trees were a huge disappointment to us because they never gave us fruit. There were many discussions among the boys who limed in the gallery about what to do with the trees but my uncles, either out of pity or laziness, never cut them down, much to the relief I am sure of Marmaduke the giant lizard who lived at the base of one of them.
Marmaduke was named by one of my uncles and was one of my enemies in the yard. I was deathly afraid of him despite him and me running in opposite direction whenever we bounced up. He either enjoyed eternal life or had many sons because when I returned from foreign in 1977, he or his offspring, were still dominating the yard and me.
My other enemy for some years, until my father converted him into Christmas lunch, was a giant gobbler. He was also an enemy of Marmaduke but did not run from either of us. Like some politicians, he was quite a sight when puffed up. He controlled the back yard which was full of fruit trees, Julie, lime, shaddock and pommecythere. I loved eating pommecythere. He loved eating pommecythere leaves. There were back steps leading down into the back yard. The turkey could not climb the steps so it was my delight to sit down just high enough that he could not get at me and taunt him. Then if Marmaduke appeared he would frantically rush off in great indignation after the lizard and that would give me the opportunity to make a mad dash for the mango tree and enjoy the ripe mango and the view from the top of the tree into Wrightson Road for a couple of hours until it was time to dash back up the stairs. Deadly serious times for a seven year old!
The other thing to do was to simply rush out of the house, down the stairs and make a leap for the pommecythere tree. Once up there I could strip the lower branches of the tree of leaves and feed the turkey. After a while he would fill up and walk haughtily away to his favourite corner and I could climb down in peace with my pommecythere, make sure Marmaduke was not potting around and scramble my way up the stairs to make chow.