by Dr. Lee Duffus
THE DUFFUS FAMILY
We are our ancestors, our mothers and our fathers. We are our children, and their childrens children. We are
a collage of genes, mutated to reflect the human condition. Our family is an extension in time.
We came out of Africa, and England, from places unknown and unknowing, and at times I will never know. We
are a family on the move, changing, growing, adapting; now African, now English, now Jamaican, now American.
The exodus continues, a tiny tributary gaining momentum and definition; reaching, exploring, and moving
inexorably in search of a better tomorrow for ourselves and our families.
Lee R. Duffus, Seminal Influences
The Duffus family roots are long obscured in the mist of time and place. This historical anthology relates only to that branch of the family that lived in Lucky Hill, Saint Mary, Jamaica, and begin sometime in the 1850s. The focus is on the core family, that mid level in the six generations of Duffus that originated in Lucky Hill, a small agricultural community located in the northwestern corner of Saint Mary. St. Mary is one of the fourteen parishes of Jamaica.
Collective family memories are somewhat vague and imprecise. This is not unusual in plantation societies recently emerged from colonial influences. In such environments, the history of the family and community is often oral. Mostly, the extended family is a kaleidoscope of family visits and funerals, gossip and half remembered facts, names and faces, very few captured on aging photographs; all distanced by time, place, and generational dispersion.
I was born at Lucky Hill on May 28. My birth-year was 1938, according to my official birth certificate, or 1939, according to my mother, father, aunts, cousins, brothers, sisters, and everyone else who should know, or who has a vested interest in my being the younger age. I myself prefer the latter year since it makes me one year younger and, as I grow older, this becomes more important to me.
I am the second of seven siblings; five between my father, Lucien, and mother, Poncheta. Papa had two children outside the marriage, Branston, who is called Branny, and Lena, whose pet name is Peggy. Branny, born 1931, is the oldest of the siblings. While growing up in Jamaica, Branny mostly lived with my paternal grandfather and
grandmother. They lived at Elgin Town which is located about a mile from the Lucky Hill triangle. Much later, they moved to a farm at Halifax, about a mile further away from Lucky Hill. Peggy, born 1945, lived with Aunt Bea until her marriage to Johnny Wright in 1991.
According to oral family history, my great grand parents, Thomas and Henrietta Duffus were born at Mount Plenty, in the neighboring parish of aint Ann1, sometime between 1850 and 1860. Mount Plenty is six miles by road from Lucky Hill.
My grandfather, Thomas William Duffus was born in 1881 in Lucky Hill. He was a stern, no nonsense man of about 5 - 5" tall. He had sharp features, and deep-set, penetrating eyes. Physically, he was of slight built, and weighted about 140 pounds. He walked with a slight limp from an early accident. This further accentuated his lack
of physical stature. Like most short men he was very conscious of his height, and easily wounded by jokes about short people. Not surprisingly, he was often provoked into physical confrontation situations by friends who recognized this sensitivity.
Throughout the village, grandfather Duffus was a community leader who was deferentially referred to as "Maas2 Will." People were awed by his zest for living, wisdom and deep compassion. His leadership derived as much from his high intelligence and literacy, ownership of land and success as a farmer, high personal standards, support for the education of his children, compassion and willingness to help others, as from his commanding presence and strong personality. Elders were always calling on him to read and write their letters, and to settle land-related and family disputes.
I do not know when the term Maas originated, but it is Jamaican patois for Mister. Jamaican patois is a rich blend of English, African3, and the many other languages that define Jamaican expression. In any event, within the community, respected male elders, especially members of the "landocracy" of which Mass Will was a member in good standing, were referred to as Maas this, and Maas that. Large land ownership was the measure of wealth and status.
Because of his always fashionable attire, superb dancing and recognized athletic skills, Mass Will was respectfully referred to by friends as a "sport bwoy." Whether on business or pleasure, while other villagers rode bicycles, or simply walked, he often rode a huge, prancing mare. He had style. And he had verve. It is said that during his youth, he never missed a dance or an athletic event that took place in the area. Like most men in the community, he was a "hard drinker" who could hold his "likka." He was always playing practical jokes on his many friends, and had a trenchant humor that often elicited laughter at the expense of his target.
Grandfather Duffus was an avid churchman and a member of the choir. Like other family members in the area, he attended Goshen Presbyterian Church.
It was not easy living up to Mass Wills formidable reputation or his high expectations. His children, and much later his grandchildren, were always being pointed out and scrutinized. Their public behavior had to be irreproachable. It did not help that Grandfather Duffus always seized the opportunity to publicly applaud their accomplishments.
Within the family, Mass Will was Papa to his children and grandchildren. He was a very physical man who lived an active life until his death in 1957. As an example of his high level of physical activity, in 1954, during his 75th year, while on his way home from visiting friends at Lucky Hill, he tried unsuccessfully to hop unto a moving truck. He fell and broke his hip. Mass Will never quite recovered from that accident and died three years later at age 78.
As a young child growing up in Lucky Hill, my grandfather was a towering ego who seemed bigger than life. I remember more than once standing in awe, looking at and listening to him. How is it possible, I asked myself, that this little man can command such respect? Why is he able to so effortlessly impact his community, while others,
ever some that are more affluent, have such little influence for positive change? Looking back my grandfather was one of my first heros. His life was a seminal influence in my life.
Maas Will had three siblings, Willel, James, and Joe. I do not recall meeting Willel or James, but I met Uncle Joe once when I was a very small child in Lucky Hill.
My paternal grandmother was originally Jane Cross, who along with her siblings, Rebecca, Ethel, Adolphous (Dolphi), Willel, Georgina (Georgi), Sylvester (Uncle Brother), Maud, Miriam and Kate, was born in Lucky Hill. She was born in 1887. When she died in 1956 she was 69 years old. Both her parents, George and Mariam Cross, were from Lucky Hill.
Grandmother Duffus was lovingly known throughout the community as Miss Jane. But to her children, she was Mama, and to her grandchildren, Naani. Even though she was a slightly built woman, (about five feet three inches, with weight of about one hundred and ten pounds) she was widely respected throughout the community. As a measure of the high esteem in which she was held, it is said that when she died, all commercial and other activities paused for an entire day in order to enable the people of the village to attend her funeral. That was the only time in recent memory for such an occurrence.
Between them, Maas Will and Miss Jane had seven children. My father, Lucien (Brother Lou to all his siblings) was the first child. He was born in 1908. Following him, were Beatrice in 1909, Nettle in 1912, Mildred in 1916, Ella in 1918, Edith in 1921, and May in 1924.
Mass Will also had another child, Edgar, born 1907. Edgar who has three children; Keith, Chi-Chi, and Olive, currently live in New York City. Keith also lives in New York. Chi-Chi and his wife Maude reside in Toronto with their three children; Richard, Julie, and Lisa. Olive lives in Edmonton, Canada.
My father Lucien was born at a place called Elgin Town, one mile from Lucky Hill. He was handsome, hardworking and hard playing. At an early age he distinguished himself by becoming the village tailor.
Physically, Papa was 5 - 7" tall, and weighed about 150 pounds. Like Mass Will, he was respected in the village. However, unlike Mass Will who was physical, aggressive and outgoing, Papa was self-effacing, asthmatic from an early age, somewhat sickly, and attracted a different type of attention. Perhaps as a result of this, he tended to be
spared the more physical upbringing of some of his peers.
Throughout his early life in Lucky Hill, people extended a protective umbrella to Papa. This protectiveness also extended to his relationships with young women in the village, many of whom succumbed to his quietly, irresistible charms. Perhaps no one was more protective than his younger sister Beatrice, with whom a special bond existed through- out his life. According to family recollections, Papa neither craved nor attained the public attention achieved by Mass Will, nor was he held in the same high esteem.
Mama was born six years later in 1914, at Rose Street, located slightly more than a mile from both Elgin Town and Lucky Hill. It is said that when she and Papa met, she was slim, about 5 - 6" inches tall, and the prettiest girl in Lucky Hill. Both Mama and Papa attended Goshen Church and were members of the Church choir. They were
married in 1933, and I was born five years later. My siblings from this marriage are Henry (Larry), Keith, Trevor, Delores (Del) were born in 1941, 1943, 1946, and 1948 respectively.
My maternal grandmother, Regina Riley, or Miss Gina as everyone called her, was a tall, slim, and strikingly beautiful woman. She was born in 1897, at Rose Street. Her parents were Isaac Riley and Catherine Archer.
Miss Gina had four children. My mother Poncheta, the eldest, was born in 1914. She was followed by Sylvia, born 1921; Beryl, born 1926; and Calvin, born 1928. Like Miss Gina, they were all born at Rose Street.
Throughout her life, Miss Gina was to remain unmarried. Sometime in the 1940s, she moved into our house at Lucky Hill. As was common among families where older and infirm relatives lived with their children till the end of their lives, Miss Gina lived with and nurtured us over 25 years until the end of her life; first at Lucky Hill, and then in Kingston. She died in 1972, at age 75.
I never knew much about my maternal grandfather. His name was Robert Forbes, and he lived in Whitehall, a community about three miles from Lucky Hill. I recall meeting him two or three times when I was very young, and again at his funeral, sometime in the late 1950s. Grandfather Forbes had ten children, Anita, Poncheta (my mother), Ira, Kerrine, David, Ralph, Una, Irving, Mary and Noel. The first three children were out of wedlock, and the last seven were by his wife Ruth. My mother, Poncheta, was the product of an illicit liaison between himself and my grandmother Regina Riley.
Except for Aunt Mildred who died in 1993 and Aunt Bea who died in 1996, my paternal aunts and uncles are all alive. Aunt May lives in New York, but all of her surviving siblings; Aunt Ella, Aunt Edith and Uncle Nettle still reside in Jamaica. On the maternal side, except for Aunt Beryl, my uncles and aunts are still numbered among the
living. Uncle Calvin lives in Canada, and Aunt Sylvia has resided in England since 1958. Mama resides in New York City.
The Duffus family continues to proliferate. I have three children, Christian, Jason, and Rachel, all of whom live in America. Among my siblings, Branny has two children, Diane, who lives in Hartford, Connecticut, and Delroy, who lives in England. Diane has three children and two grandchildren. Larry has five children, Janet, Carol, Wayne, and Bobby and Benny who are twins. Except for Janet, a Sergeant in the US army who lives in Alabama with her two children, Larrys children currently reside in New York City. My brother Keith has two children, Oliver and Roger, both of whom, like Peggys three children, Ricky, Michelle and Wayne, live in Toronto, Canada. Trevor has three children all of whom live in New York, and my baby sister Del has one child, Audrea, who like her mother, live in Jamaica. Among my siblings, Branny is the first to have grandchildren, two, followed by Larry, ten.
Mine, like all children, are anchored to a long line of family, and the Duffus family, like most families, is a collection of people who have, love and care for our families. Like most families, we have quiet successes and failures, and we have our tragedies. Throughout it all, we daily strive to create a better tomorrow for ourselves and our
children. We are our ancestors, our mothers and our fathers. We are our children, and their childrens children. We are a collage of genes, mutated to reflect the human condition. Our family is an extension in time.
1: A Parish is an intermediate unit of government and has its own governing structure. In American equivalency, it would be the County with respect to the State. Unlike the American State, a Jamaican Parish is not sovereign. It has no taxing authority. The Jamaican nation consists of 14 Parishes.
2: Quite likely the term began as an abbreviation for the salutation "Master," the modern form of which is "Mister." As is still the practice in England, as late as the 1960s, in Jamaica the word "Master" was used as a salutation in referring to young "Gentlemen." The similarity of the term "Maas" to "Massa as used in the Southern United States during the times of slavery as salutations of respect and position, suggest that both are
derivatives of Master.
3. Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as an African language. Therefore, using the word in this context express my ignorance of the particular language spoken by my slave ancestors before they were shipped to Jamaica.
Papa loved all of his children, but according to his sense of values you didn't talk about things such as love, you demonstrated it. From him, I learned that you have to look for the message behind the words. Papa used to make us feel valued and important in so many ways. Often he gave us special confectionery treats, and in numerous other ways, paid special attention to us.
Papa and his children did not experience the playful relaxation at home that my grand- parents or others of their generation. To me, he seemed to spent very little time at home. Indeed, his was a culture of collegial camaraderie built around alcoholic consumption at the ubiquitous "rum bars." The arrival by one of Papas friends at his tailor shop, or receipt of payment for a completed job was sufficient reason for alcoholic celebration. Work was interrupted for a "drink," and one drink often led to another, and another, and another.
Papa often came from those experiences glassy eyed and ready to sleep. At other times he simply fell asleep on a bench at the back of his shop. Many times as a young child, especially while still living in Lucky Hill, I used to think that Papa was more comfortable drinking rum with his friends than being with his family. I know I will never know the reason for his excessive drinking, but in spite of this, Papa and I had a close relation-s hip. Indeed, it was often acknowledged by people in the village that I was his favorite child.
The highlight of my childhood recollections involve visits to the beach with Papa on Sunday mornings after we moved to Kingston. Often Papa and I would ride the bus to Bournemuth or Sirgany Beach for a Sunday morning bath. I remember him holding me in his arms, while trying to teach me to swim. Also, I still remember the wonderful times when Papa took me to Hope Botanical Gardens in Kingston. This always occurred at the start of the Christmas holidays, or on Jamaicas Independence Day in August of each year.
My earliest and most enduring recollections of Papa was of a man very dedicated to his craft. While growing up in Lucky Hill, he was always at his shop, sewing garments for the men of the village.
Unlike other children at the time, I developed at an early age an understanding of the meaning, joys, frustrations and benefits of entrepreneurship. I also developed a strong confidence in my ability to deal with a variety of peoples and situations. This was to prove extremely useful during my New York years and beyond. Papa was a
critical influence in fostering this development.
After we moved to Kingston in 1948, Papas customers at his tailoring business spanned the entire social class continuum, and they came from all over Jamaica. Especially at Christmas-time, they traveled great distances to have him special-order materials from England, and to order custom made clothing. His greatest pride was that
unlike other children, including my siblings who shied away from this involvement, I was always there, helping him and interacting with these adults. I remember, more than once, avidly observing as Papa carefully measured a customer for a new suit, or watching as he designed the pattern with his tailors chalk, or patiently instructed me
on the fine points of sewing a garment. For me, this exposure and experience were seminal. I absorbed from Papa life long habits of hard work, self-discipline and self -reliance.
Papa, who was asthmatic, died suddenly while I was home for Summer vacation in 1968. At the time of his death, I had just completed my undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. The impact of his sudden death was accentuated both by the timing and the fact that it occurred in my car.
We had just left Aunt Bea's house in my Blue VW Sedan, on our way to paint a house that I owned in Pembroke Hall, a residential community in the capital city, Kingston. My sister Peggy was sitting in the passenger seat holding Aunt Mays daughter, Audrey in her lap. At the time, Audrey was about five years old. Aunt Bea and Papa were seated in the back seat of the car. We were all talking about the job to be done when suddenly Aunt Bea cried, "Stop the car." I glanced quickly at her, then at him. Papa was breathing heavily, gasping for breath, with a strange look on his face. In my life, I had seen many asthma attacks but nothing like this. I quickly pulled over, but even then, I had a strange sickening feeling, a premonition that this was it. Poor Papa was stretched out as far as he could on the back seat. He leaned heavily against Aunt Bea, who was so frightened she could barely move.
Poor Aunt Bea was distraught. My sister, Peggy, began to cry, and Audrey started to scream. I knew Papa wasconscious, because I could hear him respond to Peggys panicked questions, but I could not understand his responses and this frightened me. In rapid succession, I reflected on the fact that there were no doctors in the area, and that the nearest hospital was over four miles away. I never felt so alone and so helpless in my life. I quickly turned the car. With the horn blaring, I drove at top speed, slowing, but not stopping, at stop signs, until we arrived at Kingston Public Hospital.
I still remember the trip to Kingston Public Hospital as the longest four miles I have ever driven. Even now as I reflect on the ride, it seemed to have occurred at slow motion. As I drove, I reflected on all the things I should have told my father and now never would. I could not remember ever telling him how much I loved him. How much I had hoped to share with him during my vacation. Throughout the ride, I was assailed by a nagging feeling of guilt. My father was dying, and it was all my fault. All I could remember was being annoyed at him because I had to spend my precious vacation painting the house, when he had promised to have it done prior to my arrival in Jamaica. I cried uncontrollably, oblivious to the others in the automobile, who like me, were grief stricken by this solemn family tragedy, this final experience.
Papa was pronounced dead by the Emergency Room physician on arrival at the Out-Patient Ward of Kingston Public Hospital. Looking back, what followed next was comedic, and very Jamaican. The doctor insisted on first examining Papas body, inside the automobile. Having pronounced him dead, he decided that since death did not
occur in the hospital or at home, the proper procedure was to report the death to Hannah Town Police Station, before transporting the body to the morgue, located fifty feet away. On arriving at Hannah Town Police station, half mile from the hospital, the Officer-In-Charge informed me that Station had no jurisdiction in the matter. He
directed me to the Denham Town Police Station. Three hours after first arriving at KPH, I was directed by an irate Inspector of Police to return Papas body to the hospital morgue.
I remember Aunt Bea, Peggy, and me, standing in the hospital parking lot, and again in the Police Station, crying uncontrollably. We were distraught by the terrible tragedy and the indignity of having to transport Papas body all over the city to satisfy the bureaucratic foul-up.
The years since Papas passing have provided ample opportunities to contemplate what he meant to me and the family, and to reflect on the direct and indirect ways in which he influenced my life. He was my first role model, the formative influence in my early life. Prior to his death, I had attended numerous funerals for family members, including those of my grandfather Mass Will, and Grandmothers Miss Jane and Miss Gina. None of these impacted me quite as much as Papas passing.
As a "Merchant Tailor" - a master tailor who was also an importer of raw materials, Papa was held in the highest esteem within the community. But within the family he was loved and respected. He, his sister and my Aunt Edith - who briefly taught at a public school before entering nursing school, were numbered among the few professionals in the village of Lucky Hill. I remember more than once hearing my grandfather publicly pontificate about "Edith the Teacher" and "Lucien the Tailor." All of us basked in the esteem and shared the pride.
I know that Papa always looked forward to the pleasures of being grandfather to my children. Yet, that was not to be. Christian, my eldest child, was born in 1972, four years after Papas death. His brother Jason came into the world three years later. Of my three children, only my daughter Rachel was born in America. She is a Tennessesean, from Knoxville, and was born in 1980. Christian and Jason were born in Kingston, Jamaica, during the period 1971-78 when I returned to "serve" the people of my homeland. Papa loved his family dearly and was proud of their accomplishments. That is a value that we both shared.
There is of course another lesson I learned from both Papa, and to some extent, Mass Will. This had to do with parenting and ownership of real estate. After relocating from Lucky Hill to Kingston in 1968 we lived in a succession of rented rooms. Except at the homes of relatives, there was never a sense of ownership. I rationalized that the instability at home equated directly to the fact that unlike my friends, we did not own our own home, and was angry at my father who I blamed for this situation. Years later, after I learned that Maas Will had sold the Lucky Hill property, and that we would no longer be able to spend summer holidays there, I felt betrayed. Apparently, after the death of Miss Jane, he had money problems. He was too proud to share this with anyone, and borrowed against the property. He finally had to sell it. We did not find out about the sale until after his death.
I used to hate moving days. On those occasions I often sought every opportunity to stay away during the packing and move. Often, with the implicit support of Papa, I would stay with Aunt Bea whose house was always alive with the sounds of gaiety. Aunt Bea understood very clearly the psychic impact of those moves. She was
always glad to see me. I used to promise myself that when I grew up and had children, they would never be subjected to traumatic household relocation such as I have had to endure. So far, I have been able to follow through on this promise. Until they become adults and establish their own households, my children will always have a "place" that will be home to them.
After Papas death, Mama never remarried. She continued to live first at Lyndhurst Road in Kingston, then at Carawina Avenue in Pembroke Hall with my little sister Del and her daughter Andrea. Shortly after moving to Carawina Avenue, and in the true tradition of Jamaican families, my brother Larrys twin boys, Bobby and Benny
came to live with her. She nurtured them for eighteen years, from their second year of life until they joined their father in New York in 1984.
The Moving Family Center
The expression Family Center, refers to a place, or location around which the critical mass of the family coalesce as it migrates through time, from location to location. This should not be confused with the expression Center of the Family, which refer to a person, or family unit, which captures the collective heart of the family, and exert
informal leadership in holding the family together.
From 1900 until roughly 1955, the Duffus Family Center was located in Lucky Hill, in the Parish of St. Mary, Jamaica. Thereafter, it migrated to Kingston, Jamaica, and eventually to its diffused location, throughout North America
Center of the Family incumbency is not based on age, wealth or education. Rather, it derives from a combination of force of personality, intellect, commitment to, and a clearly communicated sense of recognition of the importance of family connectivity. The Center of the Family is friend, mentor and confidant. His or her home is a place where family members go for comfort and support, and becomes a central gathering place for family members in times of upheaval, hardship, and during seminal events such as deaths, births, fellowship of family.
In the early years, before her death, my grandmother, Miss Jane was universally regarded as the Center of the Family. Lucky Hill was also the Family Center. After her death, the role as Center of the Family was quietly assumed by her daughter and my Aunt, Beatrice Duffus.
As the Duffus Family Center shifted from Lucky Hill to Kingston, and again from Kingston to America, each family member had a responsibility to help create opportunities for themselves and to support each other. Opportunity and responsibility. In our family we have learned that both go together. You cannot have one without the other.
Sometime in the mid to late 1940's, the Duffus family commenced its move from the Lucky Hill area. Uncle Nettle had already moved to Guys Hill, another part of the Parish of Saint Mary. He still lives there today. By the 1950's, only Maas Will and Grandmother Jane (Naani) remained in Lucky Hill. Naani passed away in 1956 and Maas Will one year later. All of their lives had been lived in the Lucky Hill area.
Following the exodus of the Duffus family to Kingston, Aunt Bea became the Center of the Family. She had a remarkable ability to make one feel at home in her house. Often this involved a focus on soothing the hunger within us. Her first words when one arrived at her home were invariably; Have you eaten? Are you hungry? To the many family and non-family members whose lives she touched, her home was a happy, supportive and
peaceful place, where children came, stayed, and played. Aunt Bea continued to be the center of the Duffus family in Jamaica until her death in 1996 at age 87.
Among Mama and Papas children, only Larry and I made the move to Kingston in 1949 with our parents. Keith arrived about three years later, in December, 1952, having stayed behind in Lucky Hill with my grandmother, Miss Gina until the family was settled. Branny, who had always lived with Maas Will and Miss Jane, remained in Lucky Hill. Trevor lived with Aunt Beryl in Dressikie, a community about 8 miles from Lucky Hill, and Peggy had always lived with Aunt Bea in Kingston. Del, the youngest child was born in Kingston. Thus, the extended family reached out and provided assistance, nurturing, and caring for my siblings, at a time when my parents lacked the
resources to secure a better life for all of us.
In every family, someone emerges at critical and transitional times to be the Center of the Family. Interestingly, despite being held in high esteem, Papa was never the center of the Duffus family. For example, his home was never the place where family members came for solace and support. Nevertheless, his death hastened the exodus of Duffus from Jamaica. Since with his passing, Mama eventually moved to America, and my siblings and I, and the remainder of our generation, gradually drifted away from Jamaica. Eventually, we were to find a new center in America.
During the critical time of exodus, from the early to late 1960s when the family movement to North America commenced, I was the first family member to arrive in North America. My home became the North American Family Center, and I was the defacto Center of the Family. During the following years, I became transitional
host to various other family members.
Following my departure from New York City in 1968, the Center of the Family shifted to Aunt May who arrived in New York City in 1964, and is still a resident of that City. Today, family members who come to New York invariable call upon Aunt May, whose home continues to be the gathering place for family as well as the transitional home for those relocating from Jamaica and elsewhere.
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