I never knew my maternal grandfather, Therald Jonas. He died in 1949, well before my birth. He was an alcoholic and alcoholism led to his death. I have always felt a strange closeness to him. More than just blood or DNA, but a feeling he is trying to reach out to me. Perhaps it’s because I have struggled with sobriety most of my adult life. I’m struggling today as I write this post.
Jonas was born 1903 in Kingston Jamaica. He spent his entire life in Kingston. He was a barber by trade and had fathered children by at least two different women. One of those women was my grandmother Lurlene. My mother, Barbara, was born in 1932. Her memories of her father, Jonas, are very painful. She feared him, especially when he had been drinking. He was abusive. Fortunately, my grandmother shielded her from much of his abuse. He died alone, in the restroom of a bar at the age of 46.
I sometimes wonder what it would be like to meet for coffee and just talk. I’d have so many questions to ask. Here is one such imagined encounter. Me, as my 65-year-old self. Jonas, visiting from the afterlife. We meet in a café in his old Kingston neighborhood.
“Grandfather, it is so incredibly amazing to see you. You are just like I imagined. I have so much to ask you but don’t know where to start?”
“Good to see you too, my son, I’ve had my eye on you for a long time and there is so much to tell you”
“Well, you left this earth at such a young age, do you have any regrets?”
“Sure I do, but it is not that simple. I had dreams, just like you. I wanted an education. I wanted to prosper. I wanted to have a family and be a father to my children. But life got in the way. We were poor and poor at the worst time. The Great Depression of 1929 hit the island of Jamaica hard. I was a young man of 26 and opportunities were scare. The stress was incredible and life was tough. For many of us, white rum was our escape from reality”
“Yes, I know about the white rum. My daddy, his daddy, and his daddy’s daddy grew up with it in Jamaica.”
“Yes, I know you know. In a way its part of your heritage. But it has been the downfall of many a dream, including mine. I knew your father’s grandfather. He was a policeman in Kingston. I used to see him drinking the white rum too.”
“But why didn’t you stop drinking, even when the doctors told you you had developed tuberculosis and would die if you didn’t stop.”
“Same reason you haven’t stopped my son. You’ve been at it a lot longer than me, and to be honest I’m surprised it hasn’t killed you by now.”
“Yes, I’m surprised too, but look at all I’ve accomplished in the last 50 years despite all the alcohol and drugs. I also now have two beautiful teenage daughters in my life.”
“So, you think that’s it, you’ve made it, your work is done?”
“I think I have led a good life and been a good provider, father, brother and son to my family.”
“I thought that too up until the time I was coughing up blood in that bar in 1949. I had a good business as a barber in Kingston, had many children to my name, and everyone respected Jonas. But that was the white rum talking. In reality I wasn’t a good partner to the women in my life, nor a good father to the children I brought into the world. Do I have regrets, yes I have one regret. I regret ever taking that first sip of white rum. Ask yourself, would you be a better person without the alcohol? Would you be more present for the ones you love and that love you?”
“Yes, I know that I would be a better person, a better father, a better friend.”
“Sobriety might also help you find your gift, your purpose. I know you have been searching this past year. You lost your job. The world is in the middle of a serious pandemic. There’s racial unrest, and you’ve lost a couple of close friends. You’re searching for answers, as many are right now. I’m glad to see that you have taken up writing.”
“Why is that?”
“You might find the answers you are looking for in your writing. You might find your purpose. You might find your reality. You might also find sobriety. I will be here for you. All you have to do is say my name and I will answer you.”
“I will do that grandfather, thank you.”