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From Harvey River Bby Lorna Goodison

from-harvey-river-bby-lorna-goodisonIf you are looking for a book about a place with an exotic culture, a more interesting history than you might expect, and the tale of a large and loving family all woven together in a colourful tapestry of story, From Harvey River is the book to read. Written by Lorna Goodison, who was born in Kingston, Jamaica and now divides her time between teaching positions at universities in Toronto and Michigan, this book will take you on a journey to another culture. Lorna Goodison is well known as a poet and storyteller, and will now earn a reputation as a superb writer of biography. This book is “a memoir of my mother and her people” and it is the history of the Goodison family and their ancestors.

Lorna Goodison’s great-grandfathers were Irish and English men who arrived in Jamaica, fell in love with the country – and with the black Jamaican women who became their wives. William Harvey was the author’s English great-grandfather, the man who founded the village of Harvey River and the patriarch of the rapidly expanding Harvey family. William Harvey and his wife Frances had six children. Their son, David married the only child of the Irishman, George O’Brian Wilson, his daughter Margaret. David and Margaret had eight children, of whom, Lorna Goodison’s mother, Doris was one.

Doris was one of five girls in the family who were collectively known, far and wide, as the “fabulous Harvey Girls”. The Harvey girls were beautiful and talented.

Theirs was an affluent and influential family; the girls were well-groomed and well-educated, and watched over diligently by their parents. They were expected to make good marriages when the time came and to behave until that time. The description of the life of Doris as a child and young woman in Harvey River amid this large and loving family is delightful.

It is wonderful that she shared it with her daughter so that she, in turn, could share it with her readers. Life in Harvey River was somewhat isolated, but the people had not only their own culture, but the culture of a place they called “home,” England – a place that most had never known but spoke of as home none the less. The language of this book is as rich and lush as of the land and the culture.

Doris becomes the “main character” of this book, as it is her story that her daughter, Lorna Goodison tells. Doris married Marcus Goodison, a love match and also considered to be a good marriage. Marcus was a driver and then a garage owner. The couple quickly began a family, lived in a home of their own and expected to thrive.

Life was good until the late 1930s when gasoline and car parts became so scarce that the garage business failed. The family was forced to leave the home they loved and move to Kingston in order for Marcus to find work.

The hard times began. Doris found it very difficult to live in rented quarters, with a shared kitchen and bathroom, but she had no choice. She attempted to maintain her dignity when all she could feel was shame. Lorna was born in Kingston and lived with her eight siblings through these difficult years. Some of Lorna’s favorite memories include summers spent with cousins back at the family home in Harvey River - another world to this city girl.

Doris, who was an excellent seamstress, from a family where all of the girls designed and made their own exquisite clothes from fine fabric, began to make clothes for the ladies in her neighbourhood, and eventually was able to help to support her family as Marcus struggled to make a living in Kingston. Doris lives by the motto “there but for the grace of God, go I”, as she welcomes the needy to her table, generous always to friends, family, and strangers.

This is such a good book because it is above all the story of a family, who, in spite of difficulties and hardships, looked to the family for support. Even the family members who became estranged at some times in their lives, and others who left Jamaica for Montreal, had strong ties with Harvey River and remained part of the family.

From Harvey River was a delight to read, and a pleasure to share.

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