Wednesday, February 18, 2015

First Word: Tessa Too-Kong: Glue

I was a child of seven when my mother launched into furniture-making in nineteen sixty-four. One of the giant samaan trees on Vlissingen Road opposite the Botanical Gardens collapsed after the long rainy season, lying indecently sprawled, roots grasping at air and its huge waterlogged corpse sloping down to the canal. 
            Samaan trees have provided shade along the canals and avenues of Georgetown for over two centuries, their wide symmetrical crowns laden with crimson flowers an integral part of the landscape. This particular one used to stand dappled with small boys who had scrambled up the hundred-foot trunk to nestle inside its extensive canopy, their small brown legs dangling like strange elongated fruit as they watched cricket on Bourda green. 
            My mother, having got the necessary permits, took a dray-cart man and her faithful yard boy Benny and got to work. The Mahaica sawmill man provided two men who travelled the forty-kilometre distance to Georgetown with their double-handed saw. They sawed the thick trunk by hand in a see-saw motion into about half-a-dozen neat slices, circular to oval in form following the silhouette of the bark, and ranging from the largest at a little over a metre in diameter to the smallest, half-a-metre wide. An old, retired joiner who lived opposite on the village green in Cove and John in front of the cricket ground, and who had built the railway carriages and highly-polished display cases for the museum, agreed to sand and hand-polish the slices into tabletops.  These she proceeded to have made into tables, with iron feet for the heavier or guava-tree legs for the smaller. Finally, she did thirty-seven in all, from five different trees fallen in front of the Parade ground and the then Minister of Agriculture’s official residence which later became Guyana House. 
            The tables festooned our living room, bedrooms and galleries, polished and glazed and glued so that the rough bark, radial patterns, whorls and mosaics could be displayed. They ended up in all corners of the world, given away to friends who liked them. She seems to have only one left, a giant slab that lives in the drawing room. I must ask her to whom she intends to give it, although the mind baulks at how to get it to Chile. I remember glue, but it was probably polish that stuck to my fingers when I surreptitiously caressed the luminous surface to trace the years of rain and drought during which the mellow samaan tree had overlooked the cricket grounds, the old man of the city who would have gone forgotten had it not been for my mother.

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