They think I can’t remember things because I’m getting old and I can’t see so good. I have two cataracts. But I am eighty-four years old this September. A Virgo. And I does read my horoscope book every day as God send. They think I going down. Huh. What they know? I live my four score already and I’m still here. I’m luckier than most. Look how Miss Ivy dead. And Valto too. He thought he would outlive me but God outsmart him. I am still going strong. And I’m not forgetting ONE damn thing.
My birthday is sixth of September 1906. I live a long time, oui. You don’t think so? I am the last of my brothers and sisters. My mother make twelve of us. Poor Vivian, my last sister, died five years ago this month. Twenty-fifth of March 1985. I was over here, but you know what? They didn’t tell me she died until they had put my one last sister in the ground and throw dirt on top of her. You could imagine that? My one last sister. She was two years older than me. We grow up together. Jenna and the rest of them say I wouldn’t be able to take the news. I might have dropped down. You could imagine that? I was so damn vexed with them for keeping that news from me. My one last sister. These young people always think they know best what to do for old people, but I still have a lot of crosses to bear. I could handle death.
If I was home, I would have washed my sister myself and put white powder on her face, and sing Amazing Grace before they put her in the hole. But I’m in this foreign country getting old day by day, and all my life passing me by. Vivian had two thick-thick gold bracelets. You can’t get gold like that these days. Jenna take them. That’s why she didn’t want me to come home for the funeral. She wanted to take my sister’s gold bracelets. But I tell you, one day one day congotay. Those gold bracelets was to go to me. My Tantie Mille gave them to Vivian in 1913, and she told Vivian to pass them on to me. But that thiefing Jenna, she’s my daughter back home, she take them. Corbeaux will pick out her eyes for that.
God forgive me, I shouldn’t curse my daughter. Jenna is a Godsend. She had a bad, bad husband. He give her a lot of children, seven boys and nine girls and I remember all their birthdays. You know how many grandchildren I have? Seventy-eight. Count them. Seventy-eight grandchildren. Fifty of them is girls. And I have forty-nine great grand. All Jenna’s daughters have children. And bad, bad husbands. Poor she. She has her hands full day in and day out since Leroy dead. I’m glad she keep the gold bracelets. Tantie Mille get those gold bracelets from down the Main when Agard come back from working in the oilfields on July seventh, 1913. You can’t get gold like that these days. Better Jenna have them to pawn. She has sixteen children in the house to feed, ten of them my great grand.
All those children breaking down my poor little house. Is my house they’re living in, you know, because they lost theirs years ago. I remember the day. Ninth of June 1962. Leroy gamble the house away. Jenna cried once and she never cry again. She’s strong like me. And she is quiet, God rest the dead. She is Mother Theresa. Everybody comes to her and say, “Miss Jenna, I can’t take care of my child. You could help me?” Jenna taking the child. My poor house is an orphanage. Valto and I pour the first cement for the foundation on May eleventh, 1943. I’m not going to have any house to live in when I go back home. I want to go back home, you know. I don’t want to die in this country. It’s too cold. But what house I will have, eh? Tell me that. Jenna’s taking everybody’s children, and the people don’t give her a cent to mind them. But somehow she does manage. She should have been a nun. She has pictures of the Pope stick up all over my house like wallpaper and I’m Nazarene. She’s high up in the church, you know. They’re always calling on her to go and tend to somebody sick. And she herself have so much troubles, oui.
She had troubles with Leroy when he was alive, and she had troubles when he died. On the day she was burying him, some Indian woman come to the burial ground making a big commess for them to pass her child over Leroy’s grave. The woman say the child belong to Leroy. You could tell me what a young young girl like that was doing with a grown man who had nine children with his wife? Young people too worthless these days, oui. She come making big bacchanal in the cemetery. But look my crosses, nuh. If I was there, I would have hit that woman one slap in her face! But I was up here. It’s a sad sad thing to be living in this foreign country when your family die at home. My whole life passing me by.
All my sons dying out.
Kenneth died last year. Heart attack. He just drop down. He was my oldest son. It’s bad luck for a mother to see her son dead, old people say.
Right after that, Noel die. He was my third son. Laundryman. Cancer. He had nice gold teeth in the front. He died in Tobago. Gary never come back from his sea bath.
And then my darling son, Nate. He was my fourth son. I name him after my brother in Tobago. I make seven boys, you know. Is seven or eight? And seven girl children too. Four of them die before they could get christened. They tell me it was bad luck for me to go, but I went to bury him. And I overhear them shoo-shooing that he died from AIDS.
I ask them why. Why they didn’t tell me? They say they didn’t think I could take it. I couldn’t take it? ME? I who take so much already? I who bring all those children into this world? I who live to see so much beyond my time and more. My back is a cement block.
I went and kissed my son. They tried to hold me back, but I went and kissed my son. And I brush his hair back from his forehead, and I pat his face with white powder, and I sing Amazing Grace, how great though art, to have given me a son like this. They tried to hold me back; to keep me from kissing my own son, but I didn’t let them.
I want to go home. I stay too long up here. Since August seventeenth, 1973. That’s when I first come. Too long now. I tell Jenna, send for me. I don’t want to end my days in this foreign country with all my life passing me by. I tell her to pick out a spot just where they plant the bamboo, near my sons, so when I stretch out my arms, I could hold them.
I hope she remember.
“To Die of Old Age In A Foreign Country“ first appeared in African American Literature: A Brief Introduction and Anthology, ed. by Al Young, HarperCollins College Publishers, 1996, 298–300. It also appeared in In Praise of Island Women & other Crimes, Peepal Tree Press Ltd, 2010, 133–135. It is reprinted with the permission of the author, Brenda Flanagan. © Brenda Flanagan.
As a default, articles in the American Studies Journal come with a CC BY licence to foster reuse and wide dissemination. This issue, however, contains several articles and images that require a less liberal licence. Together with the editors and contributors we have agreed on the exception to publish ASJ 67 without a licence to reuse. You may download and print this issue for your private use. Please cite according to the applicable intellectual property rights legislation. Should you want to reuse or republish parts of ASJ 67, please get in touch with Göttingen University Press to negotiate an individual licence.
Flanagan, Brenda. “To Die of Old Age In A Foreign Country.” American Studies Journal 67 (2019). Web. 28 Mar. 2023. DOI 10.18422/67-03.