Sun | Sep 19, 2021

Escapades of a ‘crazy’ family

Published:Sunday | February 21, 2021 | 12:16 AM
Daniel Archer Melville
Daniel Archer Melville
Lost Stitches Front Cover
Lost Stitches Front Cover

Lost Stitches – Daniel Archer Melville with Rachel Manley

Reviewed by Jeffrey Carl Cobham

The book’s full title, Lost Stitches – The Bostitch Legacy and My Crazy Jamaican Family, is something of a giveaway. From the title, we suspect that the teller of the tale is unlikely to provide us with a mere dry-as-dust recounting of facts and dates. The question at the very start of the preface, “so where does one draw the line?” purports to refer only to the difficulty of culling from the vastly varied lives and experiences of a huge and geographically wide-spread family, but the full title already has us surmising that the “drawing of the line” refers also to the possibility, the likelihood even, of author Daniel Archer ‘Danny’ Melville colouring outside the lines of what the family might consider suitable for public consumption.

The Melville story begins in the mists of ancestral Scotland, but from the viewpoint of the author, becomes significant with the genius of his great-grandfather,Thomas Arnold Briggs, inventor, founder of Bostitch, whose achievements paved the path to a life of comparative luxury for his heirs. The author certainly refers matter-of-factly to his own privileged upbringing in Jamaica, conferred not only by the country’s colonial racial pecking order;

“When I was very young, people used to tell me I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth ... Growing up I thought all Jamaican white people had money, played polo, lived in a world of comfort, attended by an underclass of domestics. What I didn’t realise back then was that many of them were not rich; they were at best middle class. But being white, or almost white, they enjoyed the privileges of upper-class colonial society, whereas, wealthy black Jamaicans would struggle to join the club.”

... but also by the benefits inherited from his great-grandfather:

“Dad had inherited his money in the U S and there it remained in the same bank his grandfather used to set up the trust ... Like clockwork every quarter a cheque came in the mail from Rhode Island.”

and later,

“We had all been spoilt from an early age. We wanted for nothing; we had each been given a car when we learned to drive, and a house when we got married.”

The author, as the title indicates, tries to keep us interested in the fortunes and misfortunes of his ‘crazy’ family, Jamaican and otherwise, and indeed, we cannot but be fascinated by the brief sketch of the cousin who

“... went from Jamaica as a young man to colonial British Guiana (present-day Guyana) and ‘married’ two Amerindian women ... created an ancestral line of European and Amerindian ranchers in the vast Rupununi region of Guyana bordering the Brazilian Amazon.”

or by Pamela Melville McGregor the “outside” cousin, product of Major’s infidelity, who is an immediately recognisable character to every Jamaican:

“ ... Pamela took over the conversation immediately. ‘I dream mi bredda ded. Mi tell mama say mi head hurting me where in de dream him was hit in the head. ‘ You bredda dead,’ she say.’ And Pam roared with laughter: ‘Im hit him head and him bleed to death.’”

We are also given a somewhat chilling glimpse into the essence of Janet Melville, the author’s own mother, who, after another son, Chris, had a polo accident, which impaired him mentally, in the words of a friend,

“ wrote Chris off when she was told he would never be the same. Chris was, in her fantasy, going to be a shining success that she could bask in, but that was never going to be, so she just chucked him out of her sphere like a broken unwanted vase. She was always rough with him.”

A whole new book or books lie beneath these vignettes!!

However, despite these lightly limned characters, beckoning with all their promise for deeper exploration, and despite the factual information, sometimes interesting, sometimes not so, which the author and his team have remarkably pulled from the records and from the memories of family and friends, two characters leap from the pages and remain fixed in our consciousness. The first is the Major, Harold Archer Melville, grandfather of the author. The second is the author himself, Daniel Archer Melville.

Next week the reviewer focuses on the two characters whose personae dominate the book.