When I was a youngster growing up in West Demerara and going to Saints, we usually headed for the Pomeroon in the August school break. My father, Joseph Francis Martins, had a farm about two miles north of Charity, and we would spend a couple weeks or so there, but it was a grind getting to the place. We would start at daybreak catching the train at the Vreed-en-Hoop stelling. The rail line actually ran right inside the stelling structure, and it would be sitting there hissing steam as we climbed on. From there it was west to Parika and then the long, slow trip across the Essequibo mouth (my mother’s basket of eats would get seriously raided in those four hours) and then, the most taxing segment of all – the dusty ride, packed into this huge creaking wooden bus all the way to Charity. The bus owner, Mr Rahim, known to all as “Cass”, liked to play jokes on passengers. On one trip, when a passenger got off and came to the front to pay his fare, Cass short changed him a jill (two cents), then stretched his hand out the window with the money but drove off slowly; the Indian man set off, trotting behind the bus, covered in red dust, but determined to retrieve his jill. Just a small boy at the time, I remember Cass laughing, with his hand out the window, and telling the passengers, “Yuh see how he cheap?” Between the dust and the heat and the cramped conditions and the frequent stopping for passengers or cargo, that bus ride was sheer tribulation. My mother didn’t complain, but it was agony for a 10-year-old Martins. From Charity, by now getting dark, it was still another two miles of paddling to the Martindale farm.
Pomeroon then was a sparsely populated place. Apart from one family close to us upriver, you were basically on your own. A passing boat was an event; you would run to the riverside and wave. The place was a fruit tree haven, however. My father grew coffee on one bank of the river, where the house was, and coconuts and plantains on the other side. On the coffee side, he also had a range of orange trees (my mother Zepherina would maintain that I grew to be over six feet tall because of all the oranges I ate in the Pomeroon; in those days you didn’t argue with your mother) and in the yard around the house the shaddock trees bearing the biggest shaddocks I had ever seen; they grew in bunches like grapes, with long wooden sticks propping up the limbs from breaking. Tangerine and avocadoes were in abundance, falling and rotting on the ground.
With four sisters, and no playmates, I was always venturing on my own. In the coffee drying area, my father had built a kind of small roof on wheels, that the workers would push over the spread-out beans when rain came. It was covered in zinc, and I would climb to the top of the slope, sit down gingerly, and slide on my backside all the way down. This diversion didn’t last long: I didn’t notice the black stuff on the seat of pants, but my mother spotted it one shot and that was the end of my sliding.
Although I have no memory of this incident, I was told of a time when I was apparently gathering some fruit under a psidium tree, fell into the nearby trench, and was apparently saved from drowning by my father who grabbed me by the hair and pulled me out as I was sinking. However, I vividly remember the mosquitoes; I had never seen such hordes. Anything you did after 6 in the afternoon in the Pomeroon, you did under a net – having dinner, playing cards (card playing was huge), writing a letter, you name it. They were enormous, they descended in numbers, and the mosquito broom meant nothing to them.
I was later to learn of this Pomeroon tradition of people playing guitars and singing to create their own entertainment – David Campbell probably came out of that – but I never saw any of that in the August times I spent at Martindale. I also don’t recall visitors, but it could well have been that I was off under a tree somewhere at the time; even in those early years, my shyness was already there. Occasionally, I would get really excited when the steamer arrived blowing its horn. Causing big excitement, it would tie up alongside the small wharf my father had built, and take on board the coffee, coconuts and plantains for the Produce Depot in Georgetown.
Farming life is known for its traumas and my father had his share. He was wiped out twice by floods with seawater travelling in from the coast, and he kept bouncing back but you could see the strain on him. For us as youngsters, coming to the farm was an adventure, but for my father the work was an endless daily grind. An early memory involves being near him as he was cutting plantains and of me, barefoot, stepping into some red ants. With me yelling in a panic and trying to brush them off, my father just glanced in my direction and said, “Never mind; leave that for Sunday.”
The Pomeroon is a busy place now, with frequent homesteads and powerful outboard motors having become part of the way of life.
The little village I knew as Charity is now a little town, and there are modern houses up and down the river. The house my father built on the riverbank is now a ruin – there is no sign of him or what he tried to achieve with the farm – but a few hundred yards away there is a school, on land he had donated, that bears the Martindale name.
I’ve been working on a poem/song about the Pomeroon for years (not everything you start out to write gets finished) and one verse goes:
And in the Pomeroon, you better not
after six o’clock, mosquito net
even if you feeling for a cigarette
The Pomeroonian people, that’s the
some of them more solid even than
before you ask for help, they already