By Bernadette Jeudy
Editor’s Note: Bernadette Jeudy works in the corporate finance industry and is also the founder of CureMind Wellness and Nutrition, a health coach who focuses on the power of positive thinking and healthy eating. Jeudy grew up in Haiti and migrated to New York about 25 years ago where she attended high school, undergraduate and graduate school.
She wrote Tested Innocence, her memoir, to share the paths that she has traveled to help others become their own best friends sooner in their lives, through self-love and acceptance.
The Early Years in Haiti
Barefoot and free of worries, I remember walking on the beach not even feeling the slight discomfort of the hot white sand. In this hidden town of Gommier, built under the legend of Antoine Nan Gommier, southwest of Haiti, I ran, I played, and I ate grilled wild sardines with freshly made soft cassava topped with a delicious slightly spicy sauce from the street vendors. As I saw the other children running away from the waves, I knew it was time to head home. I walked through the unpaved roads surrounded by beautiful majestic trees. I hopped and skipped. Everything was so alive! I had a broad smile as I picked up two ripe avocados under the avocado tree and two mangos from the adjacent tree right before I reached the hill.
As I continued my journey toward home on this beautiful afternoon, my little hands were not strong enough to hold all the avocados, and mangoes that I picked up along the way. Trying to juggle them against the stride of my pace, I lost my balance a few times, and my handful of harvest nearly freed itself from my embrace. Holding two of each of the delicious fruit, I discovered it was a lot to coordinate. Just before I reached home, the light storm washed my little soul with its intensity. These were the days I welcomed the cleanliness of the rain, and I was not afraid to dance under the mixture of rain and cloudy sun. My innocent five-year-old mind didn’t care who was watching. My carefree stroll was interrupted as one of the avocados I gleefully collected fell out of my hands and smashed at my feet. It was time to get home to my Nana.
It must have been four in the afternoon when I nearly reached home. I noticed the sugar cane mill was still running. Two strong men were feeding the mill with sugar canes while the horses slowly moved in a circular motion to keep the loud motor going. Other workers were piling up the waste coming out of the mill into a chariot to perhaps later use for something else. I can’t precisely recall how they transported all the juice from the sugar cane; however, I do remember a large container which boiled more than 120 degrees, with the help of woods and black charcoal. As I gazed from afar, the yellowish hot flames and the greyish smoke of the impressive hot syrup-making machine reminded me that I must get home for supper. I always admired the miracle of boiled sugar cane juice, turning into a thick syrup the next day. My great uncle, Leon, owned that mill, and he was the head of a vast extended family.
As I started running toward home, I briefly noticed Alicia, who was holding a young baby in her arms. Alicia was the former maid and current concubine to my uncle whom we’ll refer to as “Jack.” Concubines were quite common back then and were welcomed to live in the family home alongside the wives. On some rare occasions, the two adversaries laughed and talked together, but most of the time, the sense of disdain they shared between one another could not be mistaken. The worn frown lines of sadness were apparent in their faces, perhaps formed as they dreamt for another life, another world, or maybe, a man of their own.
I admired our small, modest house from a distance. It embodied such character as it stood on many acres of land right next to a tall coconut tree. It appeared to be quite content and thankful for the brief rainfall. The light wind made me appreciate the ripped yellow bananas stacked in between the greenest leaves I’ve ever seen, located right behind the house. I was tempted to grab a banana from the tree but was startled by the unmistakable blare of my Nana’s voice calling me from afar. I froze in place, leaving behind the delicious banana to ripe another day.
As I approached the front porch, I was met with the heavenly smell of steamed fish, usually freshly caught from the nearby deep blue sea. Spinach from the wild garden was definitely on the menu, and my least favorite – boiled yams and plantains – neither of which were too pleasing to the palate. I pouted as I noticed the white residue of the dark charcoal used for our daily cooking. The aroma slowly escaped the grill, as the burnt charcoal engraved a permanent spot on the unfinished floor. It reminded me of the white sand from the beach. I marveled at how charcoal could be so dark yet turn into a sandy white powder.
My Nana, who was no more than five feet tall, loved me. She raised me until I was the age of five, along with my brothers and sister. Nana had the prettiest brown eyes and soft black hair with a few strands of grey. Her fine lines were gentle and added character to her light brown skin, which appeared to be darker due to the unforgiving 85-degree Haitian sunshine. My Nana was a quiet woman, she never raised her voice, and I never heard her laugh out loud, but she was one of the greatest storytellers around. Every night from what I remember, she would gather all her grandchildren on the big open porch. There we sat attentively, under the star-filled Caribbean sky listening to stories only worthy of a legend. At times she would sing during her stories, to better invoke the essence of her tale and allowed our imagination to travel through time.
Nana was not a woman of many words, except during storytelling time under the bright illuminated stars of Gommier.