Gifford Collins

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Two short pieces describing the life of a simple man. Two of a series of such pieces describing the life of the inhabitants of French Harbour, Roatan, Honduras.

Submitted: April 28, 2010

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Submitted: April 28, 2010

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Gifford Collins - I
 
When I heard that Giffy had died - indeed by the time I heard of his death he had long passed away - it was from an afterthought of another’s voice on a subject of which Giffy was but a footnote. The voice was that of a man overseeing the loading, at a small dock up on the Lagoon, of thousands of cases of empty beer and soda glass bottles that were to be shipped back by sea to La Ceiba. In the course of that conversation among adult men, I had made no comment on Giffy as I remembered him, from the time when I was a boy.
 
As I recall, the conversation concerned Brother Seth’s dry dock business down in the town harbour, where so many men from the Collins’ settlement worked. Brother Seth had always found odd jobs for Giffy to do there and in this way Giffy had been able to support himself and his mother.
 
From this man – who was intent on getting the tramp freighter out to sea before sunset – it did emerge from my obscure prodding that Giffy was found dead an early morning, lying bareback on his house floor next to his little dining table. A line of crazy ants was passing to and fro next to his body, with the ants slowly and methodically making off with what they could of a half-filled tin pan of Johnny Cakes that was on the dining table. 
 
The first thing that comes to mind about Giffy, who, when I was a boy, was himself a man well into his forties, was that he loved to march in line with the school children on 15 September, Independence Day for Honduras. He would just slip into the boys’ queue not long after the march had begun, with the starting point for the yearly marches usually down the road at the bridge next to Mr. Homer’s house, atop which sat the movie theatre.
 
Along with all of the school children Giffy would keep the time to the two drums that were being steadily banged upon up front, the same drums my older brothers had banged upon when they had attended my school. One year I was asked to take up one of the drums, but had declined to do so. Another boy took my place, and he co-led the school children with another fellow on the daily afternoon practices leading up to 15 September.
 
At the marches Giffy towered above all except the observant teachers, dispatched from various points on the mainland for tenures of several years, who closely monitored our marching steps from the sidelines. Unlike the sweetly smelling aspects of those professional adults, though, Giffy was known to always be funky; he smelled liked a “rusty macheet”, my mother would say. You could smell him at a distance and, marching near him in the 15 September queues, that much more.
 
When my brothers were in the same grade school years before, there was also a student who was the same height as Giffy. That would have been “Amazon TenGAH”, always marching in the front of the girl’s queue, helping to set the pace and bearing the tall pole with the Honduran flag. She always looked smart in her long white socks and white gloves, set against her jet black skin. Giffy would march along, wearing a pair of navy blue pants with an inch-thick shining white stripe down the length of each leg. No one ever discouraged him from doing so. The colors of his pants and its pattern closely matched the colors and pattern of the Honduran flag, a patriotic gesture that I believe this simple man intended to make.  
 
At times he was called Giff, but rarely Gifford, and if called Gifford, it would have been more likely than not by his hymn-singing and toothless mother. You see stuttering Giffy was a slow fellow. Maybe, but just maybe, that is why he so often smiled, showing his perfectly shaped teeth that were the milk white of an oyster pearl from being brushed all of his life with sugarcane trash.
 
I watched Giffy many a time from our front porch as he walked up the road to his and his mother’s house, which was way up in French Harbour Point, in the Collins’ settlement. At times he would need to meander to avoid the water puddles. His tightly curled hair well into graying, he would be dressed neatly in a poor man’s clothes. White long-sleeved shirt buttoned up to the neck and at the wrists, black dress pants and black dress shoes. Giffy always wore dress shoes.
 
Giffy was also a gentle man. I remember him paddling up the Lagoon to the Collins’ settlement on windless days, his rhythmic paddle strokes and the dory’s bow and stern hardly making a dent in the calm, dark water. The inside of his dorey was always neat and dry: his few pounds of beans and rice, or flour, sugar and coffee, placed in the bow, neatly packaged in brown paper bags and tied off with white sowing thread. All of these goods were sold to and were packaged for him by Old Soul and his wife at their general store next to the canal, its lumber sides painted blue and its zinc roof painted red.
 
 


Gifford Collins - II
 
As I stood on our porch alone, looking at the quiet coral marl street, the smells and the sounds of our dinner cooking were pleasant. My siblings had not made it home yet for midday dinner. Half climbing the rail, I at times balanced on a white Styrofoam ball, the sort used for marking strings of Spanish lobster pots out on the lobster grounds. This one we used for playing football, and over time it had turned to a dull brown with small chunks gouged out of it by rocks on our playing fields. Those fields could have equally been someone’s yard or the same street I was then looking at.
 
There was the sound of waves crashing on the nearby coral reefs and the slapping of the coconut tree limbs in our front yard. A Ching Ching was perched on and clinging to one of those limbs. The winds brushed its feathers and exposed its gray skin in a way that its body seemed to be in miniature the terraces of a skilled mainland farmer.
 
The sleeves of Giffy’s long-sleeved shirt swayed in energetic bursts from the winds as he tarried outside of our picket fence, the sharp tops of the yellow-painted pickets reaching to his broad shoulders. To an objective observer – to a non-Bay Islander – he would seem to be a lost soul standing there. His black face was mixed in with the green, red and pink of my mother’s tall hibiscus plants, bending in the wind, which backstop the fence.
 
A part of all of these sounds, yet finding its way through them, and in the midst of these varied and acute movements, were Giffy’s rhythmic whistles in the direction of our yellow-headed parrot. The parrot inquisitively and sweetly whistled to him in return, in tones that had question marks at their ends, as it clung to its broom stick perch. Its home-made wire cage swayed like the metal pendulum of my mother’s mahogany clock that hung on the living room wall.
 
The mahogany clock was a gift from my father which he had brought down from Bluefields, a city on Nicaragua’s southern Caribbean coast, during the era of President Anastasio Somoza.


© Copyright 2020 Joseph Norman. All rights reserved.

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