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A letter to my Grandmother, Rosalind Gabriel

Published: 
Sunday, August 27, 2017
Face of Egypt from Let My People Go, Rosalind Gabriel, Gary Clarke, Kendall de Piza, 1990

DEAR TITA ROS,

It is literally impossible to find the words to tell you how lucky I am to have you as a role model and grandmother, but here is my very feeble attempt to do so.

Not many people can say that they spent most of their childhood in a mas camp, but I can- and because of this, the smell of fabric glue makes me happy in the weirdest way. The camp was (and still is) my favourite place on this planet. Within those walls my young eyes got to witness the most amazing things. Year after year, I watched in complete awe as Fats sewed the garments, Chicky pieced together the backpacks in the back, and you stuck every last sequin with extreme precision and care. Buck and I would laugh outside in the hot sun, while we waited for the costumes to get ready for fitting and you would come down those lovingly worn, old, red stairs- ready to get me into character. It was on O’Connor Street that I learned the definition of ‘playin d mas’. Whether I was taking the Savannah stage as a Gayelle, hummingbird, dove, or even a Chaconia bush- I learned that in order for the costume to truly come alive, you had to bring the life to it.

I always thought of you as a superhero of sorts. Naivety led me to believe that you did magic, and that it was all fun. I laugh now because I understand that what you do is the furthest thing from magic (although you definitely make it look so). You see, the problem with the word ‘magic’, is that it means that there was some sort of otherworldly, supernatural, unexplainable intervention. Everything you did was by your design. It was all calculated. Decades of work done by too many hands to count (including my cumbersome, eager, young hands at times- but you were always patient and encouraging). Thousands of glue-gun burns, and pin pricks. Tired legs, aching backs, calloused hands, and sleepless nights. Literal blood, sweat and tears. This was not magic. This was passion. It was drive, and it was grit. I may no longer believe that you did magic, but I do believe that you do alchemy- a slightly more methodological approach to ‘magic’.

You are one of the best teachers I’ve ever learned anything from. Not only did you teach me everything there was to know about our culture, you taught me the importance of keeping the culture alive. You taught me the importance of integrity and quality within your craft. You are the only history book I ever needed.

I will never tire of watching your face light up as you recount times spent with giants like Wayne Barkley, Minshall, Cito Velasquez, and Stephen Lee Heung. Not only did I learn history from you, but I watched you make it. You taught me that creative work was important, and this is something that has literally changed the course of my life.

I had what you would refer to as a ‘spirit lash’ recently, while writing Drevait, that it was you all along. Watching you all my life has shaped the way that I see the world, and the way that I create my own (without you, Drevait would not exist). Through Drevait, I have met a lot of absolutely brilliant makers and artists, and I’ve realised that I saw the same light in them that I see in you. That same uncontrollable, burning, passion for this culture, and to contributing to something much larger than themselves, no matter the cost. So, don’t worry, Ros. The culture is alive and well- it has not been lost, and there is hope, yet.

Thank you for being the brilliant, bright, person that you are- for living and breathing creativity. For encouraging and inspiring me, and countless others to do so as well. Thank you for the light. I love you endlessly, and I wish I could be home this Sunday to share some fudge with you and Jido, and to hear that scandalous laugh of yours.

Love, Miss Drevait

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