Get to know a rich slice of Caymanian life with our new series written and photographed by John Reno Jackson. This is the second article in the series.
The Tremayne family: kindness and honesty of a bygone era
I watch as the rain come down this morning; early showers drum against the wild sea grape trees. The faint, pitta-patta sound reverberates throughout the low-lying land. Up above, a plume of mist cascades from the bluff’s edge. This landscape is the Brac. And this is how it has been for centuries. A land scarcely touched by the progression of time.
I get my breakfast, a scalding cup of hominy porridge, and head to the location. The rental car chugs along the sleepy roads as I push singing moskas out of my car window; these Bracka mosquitos don’t waste no time. My friend Tremayne Ebanks, a videographer, has volunteered his family to me. Approaching their compound, a series of houses on one sand lot fronting the open ocean, I sense a grand nostalgia.
I remember being seven years old, eating grape nut ice cream, and watching as fireworks went off over the open ocean. Soldier crabs eat lettuce in their mop bucket hotel. My rackety cousins scarf down their corn beef sandwiches and Champs Cola feast. These family properties, so humble in their appearance, hold an inexcusable strength for so many memories of the Caymanian people.
An old gas pump sits dormant next to the home, the remnants of a vintage storefront. This home was not just an abode – it was a community location, a junction for the locals. Sharing with others was a pre-requisite of a bygone era of Caymanian behaviour. One in which each Caymanian played a role in society rather than outright competing. This small island is bound to its past; old buildings and long-closed shops litter the land. There is no need to tear down to rebuild over here. What remains, remains.
I meet with Tremayne; first, he shares his opinions on what it means to be Caymanian. He is from Grand - but his family is from the Brac, although he went to school in the Brac for a few years after Hurricane Ivan. Many people from the big island emigrated to Brac after the storm. A miniature cultural renaissance happened, a flicker of movement returning to this dormant island. Believe it or not, the humble, craggy peninsula was once the cultural focal point of the three. During his stay after the infamous hurricane, traditional heavy food was the norm, typically Cayman-style beef and boiled ground food. As we speak, I question: What does it mean to be a Bracka? This discussion of Grand vs Brackas, is always a dividing debate. But alas, are we not all Caymanians? Tremayne thinks that the Sister Island way of life has a more down-to-earth character and a deeper connection to Cayman’s culture and heritage. It offers an escape from the Frankensteinian “Miami meets Monaco” aesthetic of Grand Cayman. The Brac is a return to the envisioned island way of life.
As we continue, his uncle Daryl explains how this family has functioned in Spot Bay for decades. He tells me about his plans for the day and where he needs to be in a few hours; fishing supplies and lunch. As the matriarch emerges, Annie “Aunt Ann” Walton, a feeling of admiration appears from her family. She greets me kindly, a spirit as elegant as lemongrass blows, her hands weathered yet graceful, laced with stories of a lifetime. She shows me her prized possession, her caboose. Cabooses were typical in Cayman right up to the 1950s and 1960s. They were kept outside, sometimes in a covered outbuilding with a roof, but quite often outside the kitchen. Her caboose is one of the last remaining since the 70s across the three islands, at the minimum, the only one still operational. This process of making meals is being forgotten. Unfortunately, I did not witness the caboose in full effect due to the weather, but seeing it in existence was quite a sight to behold. She invited us inside to peruse the galley kitchen, which was suitable for a small restaurant. It was built into the side of the family home to help with the family’s gas station business. As we spoke, a token was shared, a bottle of handmade coconut oil. Upon reflection, this coconut oil represented more than just a cooking tool; it symbolised openness.
Openness is commonly claimed to be intrinsic to our heritage. This claim begs the question: Have we lost our heritage? Modern Cayman isn’t as open as it was 25 years ago. What remains in the Brac is the closest thing to this sentiment: one of kindness and honesty.
With their hardened yet hospitable swagger, these community members are unique in their deposition. They appear curious about new individuals, perhaps due to the lack of constant immigration. This curiosity speaks about a core component of the human condition; that we are always searching for a connection, which is especially pertinent in a community on the cusp of a complete transfiguration.