March 18, 2005
A heart-breaking story of a childhood stolen

Grub Cooper

Continued from Last Week

The first part of a series written by Desmond Allen, first published in The Observer, Jamaica, last Christmas.

On a bus to nowhere

At about 6:00 pm that day, the landlady’s daughter, Miss Tiny came to them and said her mother had instructed her to put them on a bus. She was obviously upset and did not want to do it, but said she had to follow the dictates of her mother. As far as Grub could recall, their own mother did nothing to stop it. {{more}}“Miss Tiny took us and put us on a ‘Western Flyer’ bus. It was going to Kingston but we did not know where we were going. When the conductor asked for our fare, we told him we did not have any money and he said ‘Is awright, don’t worry’.”

Nightfall had descended and when the bus reached Greenwich Town, the conductor deposited the boys on the street and drove off. They had not eaten all day and were starving. Alone in the dark, they began to walk…to no where in particular. They did not know when they would see their mother or siblings again or what would happen to them.

This was 1955. As they walked slowly, aimlessly along the slum community, having no clue as to where they were or where they were going, a Good Samaritan saw them. The man had noticed the two small boys wandering the streets in the night and figured something was wrong. He walked up to them and asked where they were going. When he heard their story, he asked if they were hungry and bought them something to eat. Then he took them to the nearby Greenwich Town police station.

Mother could not be found

At the station, the cops on duty signed them in and put them on a long bench in the guardroom. Tired, they fell asleep immediately on the hard bench. Next morning they were given breakfast of corn-bread and a cup of bush tea – the same breakfast given to the inmates in the police lock-up. Later, two cops who Grub remembers only as Louis, the driver and Basille, his female partner, began a fruitless search for their mother. When they could not find her, they took Grub and Conroy, first to the Alpha Boys Home, then to Tredegar Park Boys Home and finally to Maxfield Park Children’s Home. Grub believes they were refused because of their sight impairment. The homes were not adequately equipped. Neither were they juvenile delinquents fit for approved schools. They were taken back to the Greenwich Town police station to spend another night, while the officers figured out what to do with them the next day.

Next morning, the cops took them to Half-Way-Tree police station. This night they slept on a trunk with documents in a front room. They got up early and later were taken to the juvenile court on the same premises. The presiding judge, Mr Justice Nash listened keenly to their story. Inside his heart was breaking for them. Poor little things, he muttered to himself. What could he do to help them? He did not want them to sleep another night on the hard surfaces. He racked his brain and came up with an idea. He’d send them to the Rio Cobre Approved School where they would be safe.

At the Rio Cobre institution two or three days after, principal Titus accepted Grub and Conroy and separated them from the general population of boys, many of whom were known to be violent. He tried to get them into a primary school in Spanish Town, but again the sight problems defeated that attempt. They spent a total of four months at Rio Cobre.

Miss Tiny comes calling

Miss Tiny had been having sleepless nights ever since she put the boys on that bus to Kingston. She often wondered what had happened to them and her conscience pricked her violently. She knew her mother was wrong to put out the boys and worse putting them on a bus, in a sense, banishing them to nowhere. This night as she thought about them, the tears began to flow and she could not stop them. Sleep did not come until near dawn and when she finally dozed off, it was only to awake shortly after. But during the sleepless hours, she had come up with a plan. She would track down the boys. Wherever they were, she would find them, she vowed silently.

Grub and Conroy did not know whether to be happy or sad when they saw that the lady who had come to see them at Rio Cobre was Miss Tiny. She expressed her regret at what had happened to them and her joy at seeing them again. On a subsequent visit, she brought her brother, Gilbert Rhodes who was also very displeased with the way his mother had treated the boys. Their own mother (Stephens) never came and Grub says it might be that she did not know where to find them. In their little hearts, they decided to forgive Miss Tiny.

New life and hope with

the Salvation Army

One day, they were taken back to the juvenile court where the judge this time recommended that they be taken to the Salvation Army Institute for the Blind which was then at 191/2 (nineteen and a half) Slipe Road in Kingston. Grub recalls that a white gentleman came for them and took them to the Institute. There they were put in a dormitory with 12 or so other blind or partially blind children. The place was clean and meals were certain. In fact, life here was as normal as it could be in the circumstances. “We began to realise how miserable our life was before,” grub can now laugh. The manager of the Institute, Captain Bernard Wilks had a son Grub’s age and he ended up getting toys for the first time.

That night Grub did not fall asleep easily. So much had changed so suddenly. His mind drifted back to Linstead where he had seen his life change from one of affluence to desperate poverty, after his mother stormed out of the home. He recalled that one of the last scenes he had witnessed and which would remain with him was a nasty fight between his mother and father in the street. That was the day she walked out. His history of his father was sketchy, but he had learnt that after losing his wealth, he had ended up in jail. He still yearned to see his mother and other siblings again.

Grub looked across the room at his older brother, Conroy and saw that the scowl he had been wearing on his face these last few days had given way to a slight smile. That told him that Conroy too had sensed the change. As sleep finally overcame him, Grub somehow knew that tomorrow a new dawn would rise and he would awake to new hope, a new beginning. What he did not know was that the new life he had been given would eventually lead to spectacular fame, if not fortune.

Next week: Out of adversity, a musical genius is born