Many people have asked me, “Why were you in Trinidad?” In 1961 my father worked for Lock Joint Pipe Company. They manufactured pre-stressed concrete water and sewer pipe. The Trinidad project entailed installation of an island-wide sewage system and was estimated to take two to three years to complete.
For me, life turned magical when we moved to Trinidad. In this tropical island paradise, everything flourished with a brilliance and lushness I had never seen before. It awakened the gardener in me. I inherited my green thumb from my father’s side of the family. My mother is a city gal and, I firmly believe, allergic to dirt. Well, we weren’t all born to work the earth.
My parents rented a home called White Wings on Smart Street in St. Augustine, a sprawling acreage of verdant lawns, vibrant-colored flower beds, and an abundance of fruit and nut trees. Purple and red zinnias lined the semicircular drive, and beds thick with hot pink anthurium lilies choked the bases of the mango trees. Fuchsia bougainvillea vines cloaked garden walls and wound their long, thorny arms through the branches of our citrus trees. Orchids intertwined the limbs of the avocado trees and spilled onto the grape arbors below. And tall hedges of red and white poinsettias sheltered the front patio from a street view.
My father, whose parents raised chickens and turkeys for market during the Great Depression, set to work building a coop to raise chickens for fresh poultry and eggs. On the weekends he fished, and during the week we all tended the half-acre vegetable garden in the back corner of the property. Most of what we ate came from the land—always fresh, wholesome, and organic.
While we lived in Trinidad, we never lacked for fruit, as the property teemed with mangoes plucked right from the branches of eight trees, citrus of all kinds, guavas, coconuts, bananas, Brazil nuts, and almonds. If it didn’t grow in our yard, we could stroll across the street to our neighbor’s house. They were happy to share, and we reciprocated.
I even learned to cook breadfruit. As bland as boiled potatoes, it came alive when you spooned curried chicken alongside the starchy fruit. You just had to get creative.