Fri | Dec 2, 2016

Wish I'd been there

Published:Wednesday | April 15, 2015 | 12:00 AM

My best friends are old people. Not people older than me necessarily. Just old people.

I love nothing more than to sit with veterans and hear them tell a story about some glorious aspect of this country's past, recounting details, name-dropping people and appositely describing the emotions and meaning of a particular occasion. Simply because they were there.

In those moments, I become envious of not having lived through the distinguished eras from the 1940s to the 1970s and for being only a wee lad in the decade of the '80s. So much of what made this country great has passed me by, forcing me to live vicariously through the written accounts of our historians and by the words of those who lived and saw what I now have to make do with getting by second-hand accounts.

By the time I came to know Michael Manley, he had already shot his bolt. The Manley I knew was a shell of a man, his greatness - real or perceived - used up in the '70s, '80s and early '90s. I never got the chance to see what made him into Joshua, never got to experience if there really was anything messianic about him. I have only been able to form an impression of him, albeit a favourable one, through my own reading of his influence, and of course, the stories of those who were old enough to live in Jamaica when he was in full cry as a political leader. I regret not being able to weigh and assess his impact and influence to see if what has been written and said about him is indeed representative of the truth.

My friends almost do my head in when they tell me stories about the time Haile Selassie came here in April 1966. They speak of the fillip the visit gave to the oppressed and ostracised Rastafarian community, who saw Selassie's arrival as a journey to see them personally, intimately, rather than a visit with the Jamaican Government led, at the time by acting Prime Minister Donald Sangster. I would have wanted to see that moment when Selassie appeared on the highest step of the plane and to have the full-body experience of the roar from Rastafari that greeted their first direct sight of the man they acknowledge as the leader of their faith. That's an experience worth paying for!

When 'Big' George Foreman and 'Smokin' Joe Frazier fought inside the National Stadium for the heavyweight championship of the world on January 22, 1973, I wish I was inside the facility, drinking in the anticipation of two of boxing's greatest-ever fighters going toe to toe in my own country. I regret having to make do with stories of how Foreman beat Frazier like my granny used to do to the little rug at the entrance to our house, knocking him down six times in fewer than two rounds before the referee intervened and prevented more of Frazier's face from being shredded by Foreman's gloves.

 

amateurish accounts

 

When the footballing supernova, Pele, came here with the New York Cosmos in 1972, I would have given plenty to sit in the National Stadium and watch him being upstaged by Allan Cole, the man who was so good they nicknamed him 'Skill'. Arguably the greatest footballer ever who has ever played in my country, and all I have are tales from those who watched it and some amateurish accounts written in a few newspaper columns. You see why I grieve?!

I write these regrets because of one man. Obama. Unlike those previous occasions when a bona fide world star came here and I didn't see them, I can recount the experience of being at the airport when the tall, lanky figure of the 44th US president emerged from Air Force One and graced Jamaican soil. Yes, he didn't bring with him the cure for cancer nor the specific words to the magical chant that will make our politicians, the dunce ones, disappear. But Obama's journey and accomplishments accord to him genuine star quality. I saw him twice, from less than 500 yards away on both occasions. And for the experience, I am now someone that some youth will envy in the future.

Selah.

- George Davis is a journalist. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and george.s.davis@hotmail.com.