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OUR JOURNAL

ALPHA FLORIDA CHAPTER HOSTS A NORTHERN NEW YEAR

SOCIAL AND BLOW OUT IN SOUTH FLORIDA, JAMAICAN STYLE!

 

Adrienne (“Addy”) Chin-Ogilvie

January 8, 2010

Predictions of a cold night on Saturday, January 2, 2010, in South Florida were more than accurate.  Our hearts stopped as the temperature gauge gradually fell from the mid-60’s to that of the low 40’s.  It was too late to make alternate plans for “indoors”.   We were shivering in our shoes, literally and figuratively.  It was very “cowl!”  Questions were raised as to the status of the event: “Oonoo still having di ‘ting’ tonight?”

Despite the odds, I drove to Truck Stop with a very disheartened affect.  There were a few customers who were huddled in jackets, long coats, scarves, gloves and tams waiting for take-out meals.  I pondered for a moment and thought to myself:  “But what is this?  How Truck Stop look like Alaska so?”   I further noticed the DJ’s were “warming up.”  My attention was immediately drawn to Sean Paul’s “Temperature” reggae report: “Well woman the way the time cold I wanna be keepin’ you warm, I got the right temperature for shelter you from the storm….”  How coincidental and ironic!

Bring it on Sean Paul, not only for me but for the rest of the world!  I was greeted warmly by the initial handful that showed up, the caterers and DJ’s.  Needless to say, a cold, dreary night with minimal expectations did in fact turn out to be a BLAST!  What a pleasant surprise!  Alpha Florida Chapter has so much to be thankful for!  As the clock ticked, “nuff” people rolled in.  Within no time, word got out: “Dem selling fish tea.  Hurry up before it sell off!”  And the scurrying began for a taste of the “warm blanket” and more.

Majority of our guests came from our own alumnae, family and friends, and various alumni associations.  “School like dirt!”: Cornwall College, Montego Bay High, Mount Alvernia, Calabar, KC, JC, ICHS, XLCR,  Munro, St. Jago High, Camperdown, Meadowbrook, Ardenne, Campion and STGC.  Cornwall College and Mount Alvernia cornered off one section of Truck Stop, while XLCR, Camperdown and Montego Bay High took the center stage.  My mind started to play tricks on me again:  “Weh mi deh now?  Boys’ Champs?” “Girls’ High School Swimming Championships?”  Sounds of voices and laughter penetrated the stillness of the air.  Happiness, warmth and love rejuvenated the Christmas spirit and extended New Year’s celebration

From the “get-go”, Alpha Florida Chapter’s selected DJ’s did not ease up for one minute on the WICKED music.  My usual and designated job, even at other schools’ functions, was to “crank up the dance floor”.   No Problem, Mon!  “Tek Plan B and run wid it!” The heavy duty musical ‘riddims’ of 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s dancehall and soca medley conquered like the “Lions of Judah” from around 12:30 a.m. to closing time, 2:00 am. 

They didn’t just “tear up” Truck Stop.  They shredded it to pieces.  It ultimately became Truck Non-Stop! The house rocked! Everybody was jamming!  A whistle was blowing! And “man a lick shot” with fake vocal sounds! “What yuh just seh? The music sweet and it hold yuh?”  Amen, my Brother, and rightfully so!  What a bitter-sweet ending for all of us.

Our event could not stand alone without its usual loyal patronage and support.  Special thanks to caterer, Chris Alexander, DJ’s Wesley Bonnitto, Mark Swaby, “Prento” Deans and Gary Chin, and ALL who braved the cold to support Alpha Florida Chapter’s New Year Social and Blow Out!  Someone jokingly remarked: “See Santa deh pon di house top!”  Santa or no Santa, we had a great time!  We certainly appreciate your sharing your time with us for a Northern New Year in South Florida, Jamaican Style!  On behalf of the Alpha Florida Chapter, HAPPY NEW YEAR and MANY HAPPY RETURNS!

“STICK, STICK, STICK!!!!”

Adrienne (“Addy”) Chin-Ogilvie

 

As I disembarked on Jamaican soil, I immediately felt the lively spirits and proud aura of our new Olympic heroes and could distinctly envision this very imaginative scenario, “Stick, Stick, Stick! Usain Bolt has just passed the baton to four representatives (Patsy, Jennifer, Carol and Addy) from the Alpha Florida Chapter. Go Alpha Go!!!!”

Driving was a little challenging initially. I had to focus on staying on the left hand side of the road and dodging pot holes, mad men, bikers, dogs, goats and pigs. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to know that I was the “new kid on the block”. I would never admit to being lost, but slightly confused as “Oldzheimers” struggled to take over the wheel.

Going through the gates of Alpha Academy gave me the familiar chills. Luckily, I didn’t have to worry about finding an excuse why assignments were not completed. And, yes, I was heading for the Principal’s Office. On a realistic note, I was there for a weekend partially filled with Alpha activities. We were pleasantly surprised by Mr. Singh’s warm and gracious hospitality as he took the time out of his busy schedule to show us the newly-planted Monkey Tamarind Tree and overall school grounds.

 

Do you remember him?  Grounds caretaker since the 70's

(L-R: Carol and Alfred)

My cameras gave Alpha “a sound beating”. It was no longer “Stick, Stick, Stick”, but “Click, Click, Click!” Lunch at Alpha’s cafeteria hit the right spot – Jerk Chicken, Festival and Rice and Peas. I must confess that a large meal at noon time would not have enhanced learning capabilities. We were further inundated with familiar faces and surroundings of the past. I was frantically drawn back into a child-like state: too excited and enthusiastic to make the next step. I vividly remembered partaking in some form of activity as I tried to calmly walk the grounds.

As the day rolled on, I wondered: “Where is Sister?” From a distance, one could see her alighting from the driver's side of a car to join us. Whispers and hushes permeated the air and all present clearly read my mind: “Wait, Sister B. driving herself?”, “I didn’t know Sister could drive?”, and “Sister isn’t afraid of pot holes?” We were immediately informed that she was leaving within the next hour to “go country!” Surprise, Surprise, Surprise! When I grow up, I want to be like Sister.

  

Girls of the 70's with Sister at The Father Henry Williams Multi-Media Opening Ceremony

(L-R: Marie Dabdoub, Joan Chin, Marcia Hoo, Sister Bernadette, Addy, Jennifer Figueroa, Carlene Aldred and Carol Provost)

 

Plaque placed on door leading to the Multi-Media Center


Words failed to express the breathtaking experience of my participation in the Opening of the Father Henry Williams Multi-Media Center. My mind was racing wildly when I was asked to make an impromptu speech on behalf of the 2007 Summer Reunion Committee and do the honors in the ribbon cutting portion. When I thought the “dirty deeds” were done, I was presented with an award by Mr. Singh for our efforts in its final launching. I was overwhelmed as I reminisced on the days I climbed and stoned Alpha’s mango trees with my shoes. I would not be in the least surprised if my footprints were found on the last limb of the Monkey Tamarind Tree, as it tumbled to its ultimate death. I felt guilty and I openly cried. I had to remind Mr. Reid, former Geography teacher of the 70’s and present Vice Principal, that crying comes with old age. He never thought I had that ability. Despite this, I was again blessed to witness Mr. Singh’s encouraging presentation and another one of Sister Bernadette’s inspirational speeches.

Our invitation to be part of the Prize Giving Ceremony by Mrs. Singh didn’t come as a surprise. She extended exuberant courtesies as we chatted aimlessly over refreshments. The entertainment package was phenomenal! I was delightfully impressed by the high academic standards and achievements upheld by this fine institution. Many awards and scholarships were distributed. I will openly admit: “Alpha, you are the bomb. You rock!”

 

Inside the Chapel

 

Ten o’clock Mass was so refreshing on a Saturday morning. The Chapel remains the same in terms of its architecture and interior design. I have always been fascinated by its unique and antiquated presence. As a youth, I would stand on the second level so that I could wave to everyone below. Blessings from above were without a doubt the most coveted way of introducing new beginnings and forming an allegiance with the local Chapter.

 

Captain Larry


Captain Larry, Patsy’s husband and Alpha’s honorary member, was asked to provide background music for dining and socializing purposes. His choices of Cocoa Tea, Buju Banton/Beres Hammond and Cutty Ranks were indeed perfect for the task at hand. The Alpha girls, as usual, did not hesitate to “shake a leg.” As a RN, my actions were only to demonstrate the body’s involuntary reflexes to any given stimulus. The Alpha Florida Chapter was once again successful in exchanging “batons” with those encountered – “they are now making the final turn, with the baton held tightly, towards the finish line! ”

Spending time with family and friends has always been a treasure. One such special and most memorable occasion was an unannounced visit to Father Williams. We had spoken on the phone prior to my arrival in Jamaica and potential plans for such a visit were discussed. He mentioned that the “girls of the 70’s” were his favorite and he was thankful that we made his life easier as a teacher at Alpha. I then assured him that he played an integral role in our lives as young women growing up, and naming the Multi-Media Center in his honor was a way of showing our appreciation and gratitude for his presence, profound and intellectual knowledge imparted and spiritual/inspirational words of wisdom. Our conversation gleefully led into the past. I was so overjoyed to hear Father’s voice that I couldn’t resist saying: “I love you” before I hung up. The quest to see him personally escalated.

Father was quite surprised to see me standing at his door. Needless to say, his cricket match was abruptly interrupted. He looks great!!!!! “Addy, I want you to answer this question. How come you have computer center in my name and I don’t even have a cell phone? My computer is between my ears”, he jokingly remarked. I am still amazed at Father’s wit and sharp sense of humor. We laughed heartily. Before leaving, I promised to be in touch: “Please do that. I need some mentoring too!”

Spending time with Father and building a friendship straightened me out academically. My name was no longer a permanent fixture in the detention book. In exchange, I happily settled for “off the books” detentions, roughly twice a week and maybe more, where I spent invaluable time with Father and Mr. Walker, the former grounds’ caretaker. The only major criterion was doing what I still know best - “chatting up a storm.” One of my classmates made a comment which I overheard, “Addy is the only person that Father loves in this entire school. Every opportunity she gets, she is over there.” Being a feisty teenager, I told her: “Oh no. You got your facts mixed up. It is the other way around.”

Upon my return home, one of my friends asked: “What do you get out of charity work?” His question came at the most opportune time. Charity work has taught me a Christian way of living. I made invaluable friendships and formed sisterhood/brotherhood bonds with other alumni and those around me. I learned to give of myself freely and unconditionally, no matter how small, and appreciate the value of a simple smile or thank you. It is the “fine prints” in life that count and happiness through laughter and love are paramount. These are the ways that I have chosen to pass the "baton". Yes, my dear friend, “Stick, Stick, Stick! The Alpha Florida Chapter has now triumphantly returned the baton to Mr. Bolt for safekeeping. Stay tuned, Jamaica! We will be back in full force for another gold-finish performance. ”

 

 

 

Walking Where I Used To Run

...a pilgrimage of the heart

There is an old Cuban ballad, Cuando Salí de Cuba, a poignant reminiscence about having to leave one’s homeland and loved ones, and what that can do to a person. In part, it goes like this:

 

 Nunca podré morirme; mi corazón no lo tengo aquí

Alguien me está esperando, me está aguardando que vuelva allí

Cuando salí de Cuba, dejé mi vida, dejé mi amor,

           Cuando salí de Cuba, dejé enterrado mi corazón
 

Roughly translated, with substitutions, the lyrics turn out thus:

I'll never be able to die; my heart—it is not here

It is waiting for me, telling me to come back there

When I left Jamaica, I left my life, I left my love
When I left Jamaica, I left my heart buried there


By most accounts, my soul is still buried there too.

 

As the jet circled low over the azure coastline on its descent into Kingston, my buried corazón began to be exhumed, and after its long hibernation, began again to feel the warmth of light of day. Almost at once it became a little easier to exhale.

 

Twenty-nine years earlier, my mother, sister and I had emigrated to Miami. Before this C.M.A.A. visit, my only trip back had been in 1995.  I had gone to spend Christmas with my father, only to unexpectedly find him dying of cancer.  What was supposed to be a delightful visit, in short order deteriorated into a hellish nightmare involving a screeching, barreling drive through Kingston to an emergency room, midnight hospital visits, one early morning phone call and a funeral --some vacation.  Mere exhaling became a luxury. Since that trip, just in time to catch Daddy falling, I had not been back.

 

Fast-forward to 2008.  Members of the C.M.A.A. South Florida crew were convening to open the brand new Father Henry Williams Multi-Media Centre.  In addition, we would meet the current principal, faculty, staff and students, attend Prize-Giving, award the inaugural Sister Mary Bernadette Little, R.S.M. Scholarship, collaborate with the Jamaica Chapter and of course, tour the school.  While I debated with myself about airline tickets not being in the budget and not having a definite place to stay, something inside me felt that I just had to be there.

 

I had not set foot on the grounds of Alpha since finishing sixth form in 1978—thirty years ago to date, and  longed to see my school.  What did it look like after three decades?  Were any of the landmarks I knew still there?

Where exactly was the new McCauley Hall?  I remember Mrs. Ingram chasing behind her Morris Minor as it slowly rolled down the incline, past Sacred Heart House and into the side of the old McCauley Hall.  I wanted to stand at the spot where our majestic 200-odd year-old Monkey Tamarind tree once stood, and pay my respects to its memory.  Was the field beside the tennis courts where we used to go to play rounders and escape Mr. DuMont’s caustic remarks about our abysmal backhand technique (while he sat knitting under the Monkey Tamarind tree)still there?  Ah, the Monkey Tamarind and its concrete bleachers.  So much interesting discourse had taken place under its confidential canopy.  If only that tree could have talked! And that bit of plaster of Paris that I had lobbed into the science lab entryway’s ceiling in first form (and had gotten caught by then head girl Pauline Chen)--was it still stuck there?  Was my appendix that I had donated to the Biology Lab after Dr. Feanny removed it in 1974 still in the lab’s collection?  What about the Cookery Lab where Mrs. Price had scathingly informed us that “You throw solid and you pour liquid” after overhearing some grammatically- challenged unfortunate instructing a fellow classmate to “t’row” a little more almond essence into the cake batter?

 

I wanted to see the first form block where my Alpha journey had begun and stand under the Second Form Block’s balcony where second formers had serenaded Miss Warren’s wig as she had walked by.  I didn’t need to see Mrs. Blondell-Francis’ office again, though (once was enough).  Maybe we could take a dip in the pool and take pictures of our chapter president Patsy Lee and vice-president Jennifer Figueroa finally getting to swim in it after having “sold tons of chocolates” and participated in myriad building funds for its construction but had never actually gotten to dive in.  I wanted to stand in front of my 5th form classroom and look down the verandah, where in a fit of overwhelming relief and exuberance inspired by Mr. Cambridge, I had pitched my textbook along its length on the last day of “O”- Levels in June, 1976.  My classrooms.  Christ the King Chapel.  The sports field.  The netball court.  The music rooms.  The caretaker’s cottage where the Walkers used to live … the mango trees! --  So many memories, so many experiences.  They all rushed back in a torrent.  Like the line from that Cuban ballad, I so wanted to walk where I used to run.

 

As the plane made its approach to Norman Manley International, Addy Chin-Ogilvie, my travel companion, was still making good time in the ‘land of Nod’.  We had turned in at 1:30 a.m. and gotten a scant three hours of sleep, in order to make the 7:45 Friday morning flight out of Fort Lauderdale.  I was too excited to do more than cat-nap. She, on the other hand, had been out like a light almost since the moment we boarded. I swear-- that child can sleep through anything.

 

We disembarked, did the customs thing, picked up Addy’s rental and headed out on Palisadoes Road. I absorbed everything.  The airport was different than my abiding Palisadoes Airport memories, which included a waving gallery and closely resembled the one in the James Bond movie Dr. No”.  Driving on the left did not feel strange, although oddly, sitting in the passenger seat on the left was.  Likewise, the lunatic driving (no, not Addy’s) tended to keep one on one’s toes.  It was a cross between Russian roulette and a demolition derby--not to mention the livestock and the Bellevue welcoming committee…  I saw the seaside vegetation like we studied in 6th form, the places my family and I used to go night fishing on Palisadoes Road, Kingston Harbour and the Caribbean Sea, the Harbour View round-about, the Cement Factory, Windward Road --MOUNTAINS!!!   (Florida is so flat…)

 

We took the route through downtown, Cross Roads, Half Way Tree and Constant Spring, uptown to Addy’s digs with her friends.  We cooled off, called family, friends and my hotel.  Then freshened up, foreign-exchanged, gassed up and ready to roll—Multi-Media Center plaque securely in hand-- we took the reverse route to Tom Redcam, picked up South Camp Road and proceeded on to Number 26.  Turning through the gates and up the sweeping drive, the first sight of Sacred Heart House was like coming home (goose bumps!).  We checked in with security and pulled up beside Christ the King Chapel.

 

So it was, on Friday, October 24, 2008 at 11:30 a.m. Kingston time, after 30 years, I once again set foot on Alpha soil, to walk where I used to run. Thus began my pilgrimage of the heart.

 

We found Patsy and met Rheta Chen (Sister Marie’s sister), who was with her.  We then went to meet Mr. Singh, whose office is in the Convent (the first floor has been converted into the campus office).  We then went to the Media Centre.  Plaque firmly in hand, Addy strode along, determined. “ If I have to nail it to the door myself, I’m ready!”  You’d better believe that she was, too. Patsy had arranged for a Jamaican hammer and nails—and you know how durable those are....

 

The entire school was a-buzz with preparations for Prize Giving, the Media Center opening, our visit or some activity.  McCauley Hall and the Media center were being readied; refreshments were being prepared.  Everywhere we went students stopped to talk or greeted us with a bright “hello” and a smile.  Final rehearsals were in full swing.  Mrs. Velia Espeut, the Campus Minister, took us to the dance studio where students were rehearsing for that evening.  As we approached, familiar strains wafted out to greet us.  The music was... well-- have you viewed the website slide show?  The song that accompanies the presentation is You Raise Me Up by Josh Groban.  The words are:

“When I am down and oh, my soul so weary;
When troubles come and my heart burdened be
Then I am still and wait here in the silence,
Until you come and sit awhile with me

You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains;
You raise me up, to walk on stormy seas
I am strong when I am on your shoulders
You raise me up to more than I can be…

The realization that this was the same exact song to which these girls were performing was one of those “Kismet” moments.  A harmonic chord was struck; a circle was completed.  It seemed to underscore that what we were doing, albeit in our own small way, by supporting our alma mater, was the right thing.  This could be no coincidence that the same exact piece of music that Alpha ‘Old Girls’ in Florida had used to accompany a reminiscing slide show was the same one that current Alpha girls in Jamaica were using to accompany their performance.  That evening, when the students danced onstage in McCauley Hall, I was one huge shiver.

I can’t begin tell you how many times I was almost caught at this favourite Alpha pastime. Yes, Sister Bernadette, I confess that I was indeed one of those who was, in your classic and inimitable words: “mesmerized by the mango trees”. But it was not that I was enraptured by mangoes—I’m not.  You see, it was the physics of the thing. At what velocity would a tennis ball liberate the fruit from the tree...? At least I wasn’t climbing the trees like some people. (...Addy...! ;-)

One of the most motivating things of all occurred that Saturday afternoon.  It was simple and understated, without fanfare, but for me, it packed a terrific punch.  It had been a most rewarding day: attending Mass, talking and planning with the ladies of the Jamaica Chapter, hearing the scholarship recipients, Mrs. Espeut and the Guidance Counselor, Ms. Christie, speak.  A few of us were sitting on the front steps of Sacred Heart House, talking, reminiscing, taking photos.  A car headed out down the drive and I heard Patsy Lee call out to the retreating vehicle: “Bye Sister B.!”  I looked wistfully at the departing car.  I had not had much opportunity to sit with Sister Bernadette; she had been surrounded every time by her loving “children” and I had been focused on photographing the event.  I looked at the retreating car for two heads—that of Sister and that of a driver.  But, lo and behold, there was only ONE head.  Sister Bernadette had driven herself  through the precarious and hazardous mayhem that is Kingston traffic and was now driving home.  I later learned that she had also driven herself to a meeting in the country and back the day before in order to make the Multi-Media Centre’s opening.  And this phenomenal person had been my headmistress.  It made me reflect on my own life and doings thus far.  What had I accomplished in my life?  Was I maximizing my potential?  What was my excuse?  Once again Sister Bernadette had managed to inspire and motivate without uttering a word (how does she do that?).

 You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains;
You raise me up, to walk on stormy seas
I am strong when I am on your shoulders
You raise me up to more than I can be…

 In her web log entry, Addy Chin-Ogilvie pegs it with exquisite aptness.  To quote her humbling words:

“When I grow up, I want to be just like Sister Bernadette”.

Amen, Addy.

Sister Bernadette, our teachers and Alpha have given us so much of themselves.  In many ways, even after all these years, their lessons still make impact on our day-to-day lives.  These people made us strong women—movers and shakers, lions.  Who am I?  I am many things.  Who am I?  I am an Alpha Girl.

 

The weekend was a rousing, inspiring hit, with expectations exceeded on all fronts: the welcome of Principal Singh, the Faculty, Staff, and Students; meeting with our fellow alumnae of the Jamaica Chapter; the events; the Mass.  The Place.  We were welcomed, appreciated and felt positive vibes that we felt back.  I had also gotten to see sights long unvisited and some new sights, too.  On Saturday night, along with Patsy and Addy, I finished up a most sublime weekend with a night filled with laughter and labrish into the wee hours, under the stars with cool and balmy mountain breezes, at a real old-time crab feast at Angie Magee’s (Hue, ‘77) family’s home.

 

All too soon it was Sunday morning and Addy was at the hotel to pick me up and take me to the airport.  I went through customs and boarded my flight with heavy feet.  As the jet pointed its nose skyward towards Miami, I looked through the cabin porthole at my fast-receding, little-but-tallawah birthright.  I had gotten to exhale deeply and take a long and healthful walk where I used to run.  Nostalgia overwhelmed and I teared up.  The closing words from Khalil Gibran’s work, The Prophet, which we had read back in 601, came to me:

 

“A little while, a moment of rest upon the wind

And another woman shall bear me...

 

 Soon Come

 -C.A. Provost-October, 2008

 

 


 

 
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son,
 that whoever believeth in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
John 3:16


 

 


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