When memory first begins

It starts with recollections of fishing with my older brother, Edward, whom we called Eddie, in the upper East Street canal, opposite to the home where we lived, catching tiny fish called “Selabeh”. At that time I must have been about three years old. There were three older children than I, and I must have been the baby brother of the family.

The eldest child was my brother Jack, then came Edward, followed by a sister, Hay. At that age, my memory only accommodates Eddie, and not the others.., it must have been due to the fact that he took me along on his fishing expeditions that caused the memory registration at that early age. This experience was definitely the earliest in my childhood remembrances.

Then I recall living in a tiny white cottage in Regent Street, quite close to a Police station. It was while living at this Regent Street house that I went to spend a short holiday at my uncle’s place - a little farmstead at Best on the west coast of Demerara, and it was here that I recall seeing Halley’s Comet in 1910, a fiery ball in the sky with a resplendent tail made up of a long line of what looked like stardust.

We later removed to a somewhat larger house in Orange Walk, right close to the Church of Saint Barnabas. While in this home, I experienced my first earthquake. I remember the house shaking, and things falling off shelves, and while I was not scared, it was quite an exciting time for us young children.
Church of Saint Barnabas in Georgetown, Guyana
This is the first time I could remember my sister May, who led me from the house holding my hand. She was a couple of years my senior, and I could not have been more than four years old at that time.

We must have lived in this house for quite a while, as my memory next takes me to a house in Charlotte Street near to its intersection with Bourda Street. It was a very trim white painted house, and this place will always remain indelibly imprinted in my mind. In it I recall the growing members of an increasing family. I remember meeting friends made by my two elder brothers, and I am beginning to see and understand a definite shape of life taking place. Incidentally, this Charlotte Street house which I revisited sixty-two years later, still stands as it was when I lived in it, with but a few minor alterations.

When I was just over six years old, my mother contracted tuberculosis and died. It stands out in my memory how the health authorities came and fumigated the entire house including all beds and linen, but in spite of this, my sister May who was now very close to me, contracted the disease, (no doubt before my mother died) and passed away just a few months later. This was undoubtedly one of the turning points of my life. My father, who possessed some very biblical names - Hanan Anon Edward Gilkes - was mostly in the interior of the country, where he explored for diamonds. He is credited with being the pioneer of the diamond industry of what was then British Guiana - British Guiana, the country in which this autobiography is principally set has since become an independent territory, and has changed its name to Guyana.

At the time of my mother’s death, my father was certainly in his beloved interior, and since travel in those days was both slow and dangerous, he arrived long after she and my sister were buried.

At this point, I ought to say something about my father and mother concerning their respective origins.

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