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Photograph of Ruth Vassal, LSAH customer

Ruth Vassal

I was born in 1932 in Mount Peace, Hanover, which is a Jamaican Parish. It is four miles from the coast with a small community of around six hundred people. Lucea is the main town in Hanover. I come from a big family, twelve sisters and four brothers, four of whom died while young, so I grew up mainly with my sisters. I am the ninth child. The family were very Christian, my father was a local preacher in the Methodist church, and my mother was active in the Sunday school. All the children went to church from an early age and I still go to the Methodist church on City Road.

The house we lived in was very big; the kitchen was raised off the ground. The first floor had six bedrooms and other rooms. Often in the West Indies, children still lived at home when they got married, so we needed plenty of space.

My father was a farmer, of both animals and crops. The older children would help with the farming; I did not like going to the fields though, I preferred to study. My father was happy with me not doing any farming as long as I was studying. I did have to help with the chores though. The housework was done thoroughly every Wednesday and Saturday, we would have to scrub all the floors and polish the whole house. There were no washing machines so to wash our clothes we would go down to the river. School was from nine till four and if it was a school day these things had to be done before going to school, so some days could be very busy.

The school was close by, so I walked. My class was quite big with about forty children. I only stayed at this school for about six months though. When I was seven, my elder sister got married and the best man was a teacher, he told me I should come to his elementary school. However the school was a bit further away so I had to get up earlier and walk further, but on the good side two of my sisters also went, so I wasn't alone. There were no school meals in Maryland but we did have some relatives there, so we would visit them for lunch. We would play team games of volleyball and basketball, and we had an Eisteddfod or festival where we would come together and have competitions. I really enjoyed school and never missed a day.

I have always liked reading, but there were no libraries when I was young, so I had to buy my books. I gave some away to people who couldn't afford books. For pocket money I was very lucky and received 1 penny and 1 farthing to buy sweets and cakes. In the holidays I would stay at home with the family or go visiting, there were lots of family relatives in the area and it was a close knit community.

I would go to church every Sunday and some evenings. There was a regular choir practice along with concerts and I would always be in every production because of my father the minister. On Sundays it would be church in the morning, then dinner, then off to Sunday school in afternoon, and then home again, and after that, back to church in the evening. The only excuse for not attending was if you were sick.

The local market at Lucea sold everything undercover by the sea. It was open every day and you could get fresh fish and groceries. Some of the local ladies went every day and bought fish back to sell locally. Kingfish, Snapper and Goatfish (very expensive) were just some of the different types. My father grew his own fruit and vegetables. He had a few men working for him and would sell the produce at the market to make a living.

I liked religious music, country and folk, and would listen to the local radio. Local people would come and ask us to put the radio on, as not everyone had one. My eldest sister still lives in Jamaica; she is ninety two years old. I came to Birmingham in 1956, and I would like to go back to the Islands to live, but I’m put off by the violence and crime.

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