The ancient Land Rover banged through another pothole as the rain poured onto the muddy, treacherous road. “We’re almost there,” my husband shouted encouragingly. I nodded, and clutched the door handle even tighter. Our little baby, carsick, had already thrown up twice. Driving from Kingston up 4000 feet into Jamaica’s Blue Mountains, with precipitous drops just steps away, frightened me into speechlessness. When the vehicle’s tires slipped at a hairpin turn, I silently begged God to keep us safe.
At last we crunched up a bumpy driveway to Whitfield Hall, a centuries-old Blue Mountain coffee farm surrounded by giant eucalyptus trees. I unsnapped our child from her car seat and hurried after my husband Zickie. Outside in a covered breezeway under a kerosene lamp, a large Jamaican woman in a red headscarf held out her arms. “Miss Lynette!” Zickie bellowed, his stream of patois making her burst into belly laughs. I shivered with the baby as they embraced. Lynette Harriott was the matriarch who kept my in-laws’ 18th century guesthouse running, just as her mother Cynthia once did. This was the first time I’d met her, on my very first trip to the island.
Finally, she turned to inspect me, the new American wife. Her mahogany-colored eyes moved swiftly from my muddied running shoes to my blond hair. “Laura,” she said formally. I shifted the baby to my hip as I moved in to give Lynette a hug. She responded stiffly. “It’s nice to meet you,” I began, telling her how much I’d heard about her. Lynette ignored this, and reached for our baby.
“Likkle Iris,” she cooed, now smiling again. Other farm workers crowded around to see the baby, the long awaited grandchild of Mr. John and Miss Maureen. “Bright-eyed white lady,” an old man named Vinnie called her. Everyone laughed. I might as well have been invisible.