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THE GRAND OLD MAN FROM GOUYAVE

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THE GRAND OLD MAN FROM GOUYAVE

He was 99 years old the last time I saw him. In my mind, he was already an old man when I was just a boy living in the coastal town called Gouyave. Even his livelihood was based in a distant past. Back then, before the town had electricity, he used to light the gas lamps that graced the dark streets of Gouyave, and ring the Anglican Church bells like music over the town. Lamp poles and church bells that probably existed more than a hundred years before I was born.

About forty years after I left Gouyave, I visited him with my wife and two daughters. He didn’t remember me, but I remembered him. He was a link to memories I treasure more than anything I own today.

I knocked on his door. Without asking who was at his door, he just said, “Come in.” Another reminder of that distant time.

I opened the door and led my family through the narrow doorway.

He lay half-asleep on a small couch in a plain living room just big enough for the four of us standing. He sat up and I shook his hand, surprisingly strong for a man close to a hundred years old.

“I know you,” I said. “But you don’t know me.”

He studied my face for a silent moment. “You’re a Campbell. You can’t hide,” he said. His eyesight, without eyeglasses, was also stronger than his aging stature suggested.

“I am here to thank you,” I said. “For the days you rang the church bell and the nights you lit the lamps for the dark streets.”

His face lit up like a full moon. “You remember that?” he asked with a big smile. “Those were the good old days.”

I remembered those good old days too. The days when we made all our toys: Catapults (sling shots) from guava crooks and bicycle inner tubes, spinning tops from golden apple wood, scooters from old car parts, fishing hooks from needles bent over fire, bamboo kites with mad-bulls and brown paper, with rags for tails.

The days when the height of excitement was jumping out the low window at the temporary school in the Lance fish market to go fishing and swimming. When homework was done under the yellow light of kerosene lamps and candles. When we learned to write by scratching on framed black slates. When erasers were moist lilies. When heavy rain meant racing sticks and coconut boats down flooded drains. When . . .

“Yes,” I agreed with the old man. “Those were the good old days.”

I introduced him to my kids, girls who had grown up in America with Gameboys, CD players, and DVD’s. Children who pitied me because I didn’t watch my first television show until I was eighteen years old.

I wanted them to feel the excitement the old man and I shared for those simple days.

The old man seemed rejuvenated, alive in the memories the visit had re-awakened in him. My visit had done as much for him as it had for me. He smiled a youthful smile as we chatted about those days.

When I wrote the first version of this story in January 2003, I had no idea that it would trigger a move led by the conscientious Arthur Hosten to recognize Mr. Lionel Ferguson for his long years of service to the town of Gouyave.

A year later, Mr. Ferguson was awarded the coveted British Empire Medal (BEM) by Queen Elizabeth II. Gouyave named a street after him, the stadium awarded him his own reserved seat, and the electric company provided him free electricity in return for the many years he provided light to Gouyave’s streets.

For those who remember the lamps swinging over the streets, and the bells ringing over Gouyave, Mr. Ferguson passed away in 2010 at age 104. But before he passed away, he told a friend that the last five years of his life were some of his happiest!

Mr. Ferguson, I can’t wait to turn 99!

Pictures by Mr. Arthur Hosten (www.Gogouyave.com)http://arthost.startlogic.com/mr_ferguson.htm