By Matthew Woolford
On March 6, 2008, basketball legend, Bill Russell, gave two pieces of advice to a brilliant, intense but often frustrated, Kevin Garnett:
“…you may have to put your arms around a couple guys and take them with you…but you can’t drag them…”
“I don’t think that you will encounter anyone happier than I am… the first thing that I knew as a human being was that my mother and father loved me and that’s what you got to give your kids…and in doing that it would enhance your life so much…that what you’re doing now… it’s a piece of cake.”
(Bill Russell And Kevin Garnett Shared A Special Bond Through Basketball – YouTube)
The only thing that probably makes me and my brothers unique is the ‘fact’ that we have three grandmothers. In 1967, Norma Exeter married my paternal grandfather, Charles ‘John Porter’ Baichoo, in Guyana. During my only visit there, in 1986, a few months after I was born, she put her arms around me, and since then, has never let me go. For every one time she has told me that she loved me, she has demonstrated it either seven times, seventy-seven times or even seventy times seven.
With insights gained as an educator, she has made countless, tailored contributions to my integrated growth as a person, as well as to that of her children and other grandchildren. When I was around seven years old, she started writing me letters, encouraging me to write back to build my vocabulary and powers of articulation. When she visited for the July/August school holidays, there was no such thing as ‘big people’ and ‘little people’ conversations on matters of current affairs. My brothers and I were engaged in discussions about the OJ Simpson Murder Trial and the ins-and-outs of American politics, with the intention that we would become more aware of the world as it unfolded around us. We were encouraged to think outside the box, well ahead into our futures and to never compromise our education. I still remember the day she told me that I was going to get a university education. She was the first person to ever have that life-affirming conversation with me, and while I pretended to not like being told what to do, I was sure glad that she did, because a huge weight was lifted from my shoulders when I knew that someone believed in me.
In 1999, after my first year at St Mary’s College, she invited me to her home in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, where she lived, for an accelerated course in growing up. After a few days with her, I was taken to the bus terminal and placed onto a Greyhound bus for Ottawa, where, after five hours of driving past acres of wheat fields, her sister, Aunt Joycelyn, was waiting for me in the nation’s capital. Being only thirteen and placed into a new environment with new people, and not having a ‘safe’ person to cling to, forced me to adjust the lens through which I saw the world around me and more importantly, how I saw myself. I realised there was a lot more to me than the limitations I had placed on myself and while I did not have all the answers, there was nothing to prevent me from finding out.
By the time I returned to Mississauga, I was more confident in using my initiative. When Granny had to attend the mandatory pre-semester Principal’s Training Conference, she told me how to get to the mall should I choose to venture out. I took up the challenge and walked the 45 minutes to get there. I watched a movie, played miniature golf, and enjoyed the open space that the complex afforded. When the mall closed at 9 pm, I called home, and she came and picked me up. The next day was pretty much the same.
Her mentorship has taught me how to walk to the edge of my mental boundaries and take, still, that all-important next step.
Nowadays, we still discuss family matters and politics, with interjections of how good Giannis Antetokounmpo is at playing basketball and more importantly, what toys and educational tools I should buy for my niece, Amari.
In the words of two of my favourite Reggae artists, Beres Hammond and Buju Banton, from their collaboration, ‘Honeycomb’, I see her “as a Queen and a Lady…No ifs, no buts, no maybe.”
She recently had knee-replacement surgery but has already returned to driving herself around.
On August 27, 2023, with the grace of God, Norma Baichoo shall turn 80.
She continues to walk towards her mental boundaries and take those all-important next steps, still showing us how it’s done!