Fri | Dec 9, 2016

Sandra Potts Has Bitter Sweet Memories

Published:Monday | March 30, 2015 | 12:00 AMDaviot Kelly
Potts said she hopes children can take inspiration from her book, which chronicles her rise from humble beginnings to Wall Street.

Imagine being a carefree child, running around with your nine siblings, and then have your world overturned in an instant.

That's what happened to Sandra Potts (maiden name Berry) when her parents sent her away from the Upper Fair Prospect/Windsor Forest area of Portland she called home. Potts, the sixth of 10 children, was surprised when she was the one 'selected' to live with more well-off relatives in Kingston. She recalled her mother's explanation about why she was chosen.

"She said, 'Of all my children, you are the gift. You are the one with the heart to look back'. I didn't understand that statement," said Potts. "She said she saw in me a kind, caring, loving person." Her mother felt she had to give her the chance because she felt Potts would be the one to 'give back'.

"And that's exactly what happened," Potts said. "Right now, I have taken care of all my brothers and sisters, getting them careers and I have been the one to look back, to give a hand." She has extended that help from her family to her community. After moving away, the only way to reach her parents was by letters. Potts soon realised she found solace in writing generally and penned stories of her life experience.

She has now turned those stories into her first book, Bitter Sweet Memories, essentially a collection of short stories. Officially launched last year in the US (where she migrated in her 20s), Potts has now introduced the book in Jamaica and has secured a deal with Kingston Bookshop to sell the book locally. All proceeds will go to her alma mater Windsor Forest Primary School. Potts has visited the school on different occasions and sees where she can make a difference.

More work to be done

"Someone came and built a library for them, but it's detached from the school, so when it rains the children need a corridor to move from the main building," she said. "But that's not all. They need a canteen, an improved library, computers and I want to pave over a play area. I hope I'll be able to handle that if all goes well." After migrating to the United States as a young woman, Potts worked in the financial sector, even working on Wall Street. Her bigger goal with the book is that the Ministry of Education might use it as a text at the primary level.

"I want to show the children that they can come from these humble beginnings, because I used to sit in those chairs, and look, I made it all the way to Wall Street," she said, "It's an inspirational book."

Potts brought her mother to the US to live with her after the she was diagnosed with cancer and cared for her until she passed away. It was at this point she decided to switch careers and pursue nursing. That event directly led to the book, as, it was while studying that she started putting her stories on computer. A professor actually read the stories and encouraged Potts to transform them into a novel. There were so many to choose from, she had to decide which ones made the cut.

"You have to think about what you're saying in each story and you have to think if you're offending anyone in the story," she said. "So I started weeding out like that. They are great stories to me, but if I think I'm going to be touching on toes, I just leave them out." The stories are chronological, but it doesn't matter if you read them in order; you will be able to relate to something.

The stories range from a friend's struggle with cancer to her time at Wolmer's Girls School. One of the short stories revolves around visiting her dying father. His mind now clouded by dementia, he did not recognise her and chased her away.

"He died, not knowing it was me. That was a pain that I still carry when I read a part of this story," she said. "At his funeral, I couldn't weep for him." Having had medical training since then, she can now understand his situation. "I think writing has healed me in many ways, because when I wrote this story first, I would weep a lot," she said. "But now I can read it, my voice might crack, but I don't cry anymore."

Potts used a self publishing website, CreateSpace, and Amazon to introduce the piece to the world. She revealed there are some stories that have not made it to Bitter Sweet Memories, but she isn't sure about writing a second book although people have been requesting it. She has already written two other books, one of poetry and another focusing on a period when she underwent a massive weight-loss programme. She's not ready to publish those yet.

"It's not about financial gain. It's just my joy and I'm bringing it out to share with people," she said. "I'm going to spend the rest of my life writing. You must go after things you're passionate about."

daviot.kelly@gleanerjm.com