Saturday, 02 February 2013 02:30
By Kwame Nkosi Romeo
During my trip to New York to attend the funeral of my eldest brother Roger Barrymore Romeo aka Tolo, on Wednesday 16th January 2013, I came across a caption 'Anything can Happen'.
I reminisced about that fateful telephone call from my sister Mrs. Donna 'Booboo Che' Ambrose on Thursday, January 10th at 2pm. Everything that could go wrong went wrong anyway. My sister's voice was broken, tension was growing , tears flowed and voice trembled with brittle emotions, death had stolen too close to home:
"Bombshell our brother died" Suddenly emptiness filled my spirit, my usual thought now filled with abstractions, I sat motionless on the steps at Red Rose Restaurant on St, Johns Street, Antigua, head bowed and weeping. I sat there for about 4 hours, the loss of my brother shook me from the crown of my head to the bottom of my feet, a tidal wave of depression swamped the core of my being.How could this be?
I spoke to Tolo the day prior to his death on two occasions, in the morning and soon after returning from Edna Taitt's funeral. He told me he would be sending a condolence card to Edna's family, so I gave him Miriam Richards' address. I told him the funeral was well attended and that I will call him tomorrow, tomorrow never came, he died from complications of diabetes. Incidentally, Tomorrow by the Winans was his favorite song, this was played at the funeral along with Short Shirt's Lamentation.
Who was Tolo? Tolo was born on February 02nd 1953 to Alton and Audrey Romeo in the cultured Ovals community. He was the first of four, three boys and one girl, the father of two, the uncle of seven, the great uncle of three.
Tolo was kind, devoted, fiercely loyal and flawlessly generous, a lover of music, particularly calypso, a good conversationalist. Also an avid movie goer, and a well read person. Tolo, was proud when he read the passage in 'No Easy Push Over' by Keithlyn Smith about our mother's political activism and struggle for women rights. Tolo, was a well-spring of knowledge and experience. He had a great selection of books, from the bible to Obama's life story.
My brother Tolo, had a chart with birth dates of family members and friends, many times we heard Tolo's baritone voice wishing us a Happy Birthday, he never missed, neither did we, we celebrated each others. Myself, my younger brother Trevor 'Chaps' Romeo, and my sister Donna, the last of four. All will miss calling him on February 02nd, 2013. Tolo died twenty three days short of his 60th birthday, with a sense of deep spiritual connection both to God and to the benevolence of so many men and women who came under the radar of his gracious spirit.
Tolo was first diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 1990, and subsequently succumbed to the disease he continually fought for two decades. Prior to my brothers diagnosis I noticed his frequent visit to he bathroom, and constant thirst, this continued for a few days. I echoed my concern, but he dismissed it as an over reaction. This evoked a call to my parents in New York, but Tolo was so persuasive they believed him, they assumed nothing was wrong.
I kept monitoring him, then one day decided to act. It was the first time I ever got physical with my brother, but his health was at stake. He resisted my determination to take him to the doctor. With much muscular persuasion, he and I went to Dr. Phillips' office on Cross Street, a few blocks from where we were living. Dr. Phillips medical check up of Tolo's condition revealed Tolo was type 2 diabetic, the news impacted Tolo's joyful attitude.
I knew Tolo was scared, he was stunned, I saw it in his eyes, the disbelief had gone. I told him not to worry, two days later we travelled to New York and visited a nutritionist who compiled a dietary plan for him. He was relaxed, smiling once more, we were collectively involved. Upon our return to Antigua, all foods were prepared according to his dietary plan, we ate what he ate, encouraged and supported him.
After two months Tolo's impulsive temperament took over, he wanted to eat what was not appropriate. I knew his reaction was counter productive to his health and told him so. There was not much more that could be done, I told my parents Tolo must exercise disciple and responsibility! Tolo's health was the singular problem that kept us distance for several years. I cared for my brother, and never stood idly by if he or any of my siblings were ever threatened. I can vividly remember coming to my brothers rescue on one occasion, and defended him in other instances. But diabetes was a battle he had to be prepared to fight too, slowly he did.
Tolo had a great amount of literature on the subject, but I suspect he never took his condition seriously until he lost one of his foot. The tenacity of my sister saved my brothers life. He had a festering sore from a punctured nail that no one knew about it. She hastily transported him to the hospital, the doctor told her if she had delayed, Tolo would have died.
Nevertheless, when Tolo came to New York in 1990, I sensed he was not doing the right thing, most recently my suspicion was confirmed . According to his journal entry, his eating habit was most carless, a few shots of tequila and several servings of carbohydrates and some shrimps. In other instances Tolo was eating too much pasta, white rice, and other bad food combinations.
My sister practices proper nutrition, eats good and surrounds herself with healthy products. Similarly she cooks the same for Tolo, but Tolo's lack of discipline worked against her method. She always encourages Tolo to go on an alkaline diet, she may have won the battle at home, but outside there was no control.
I am sharing this personal story because Diabetes is a crippling disease. It's one of the leading causes of death not only in Antigua but globally. I am aware of its impact on my family, Tolo is the third family member to succumb to its ravaging strike. My mother and father never had it, my father's mother and sister did, also my Uncle Connie is struggling with it right now. Most recently Tolo's son Omari underwent a pancreas and kidney transplant to counter the onslaught of diabetes, and is now living a much better life. Omari, still has to be continuously careful, keep eating right, proper portion size, and continuously exercise.
The many times I saw my nephew struggle I cried inwardly and just wished I could do more. However, with my brother's passing I am challenged to continue the footprints he left behind. So, I will be setting up a foundation in my brother's name, the launch will take place in New York, at the Eastwood Manor the latter part of 2013.
The foundations objective is to assist, educate, and give moral support to the many people suffering from diabetes, and disability. Many in Antigua and Barbuda will benefit, we will endeavor to supply the basic nutrients whenever possible, along with walkers, wheelchairs, blood testing and blood pressure equipment kits. The foundation will do as much as it can to assist all who we can; and this was Tolo's motto too, he was a generous person.
Tolo was generous to many, as an employee of LIAT  LTD he travelled to Barbados utilizing airline privileges to facilitate U.S. visas for his friends. He never said anything evil or hateful towards anyone, Tolo was a nice guy and a good brother. As I cleared the last book from his numerous selection, I sat on his bed one last time, realizing the many funerals Tolo attended.
I came across a card from Vernie Lake acknowledging Tolo's support on the death of her father, and many others who shared similar sentiments. I saw the last card he wrote, still between a book, the card was addressed to Miriam Richards, a card of condolence on the death of her sister Edna Taitt. Also enclosed was a short note of outpouring sympathy and genuine love, he never got to post it, tomorrow never came. The note was touching, heartfelt and sympathetic, he never ever forgot who his true friends were.
Several years ago Tolo travelled to Orlando, Florida to attend the funeral of his long-standing friend Edwin Martin, who died at 59 years old. In addition Ras Shorty I, listed among Tolo's top 50 calypsonian in the world, also died age 59, the same age as Tolo. True friends, forever lived in Tolo's heart, I reflected on the good times we shared as youths, and Tolo's intervention that saved me.
I remembered the good times we shared, the playful fights, my first day at Miss Ross School, the Foundation Mixed School, and the Antigua Grammar School[AGS]. Tolo prepared me. Tolo told me what to expect and shared his knowledge with me as much as possible. I was always getting into to fights and Tolo knew that. He knew of my first fight with Rowan Scotland in 2B, the many canings I received and the many other fights I got into. Tolo knew I could protect myself, because I always fought a tough fight during the era of our Big Time wrestling, featuring the Deke , Paddy Nicodemus.
We broke wood with karate chops and saw ourselves as powerfully strong. My activity never stayed at home, since at the AGS we had to know how to defend ourselves. Still, too many fights were taking place at AGS , Tolo was concerned, he report me to our dad, I got away from a cuff and a whipping.
A few of my friends, Franklyn 'Defoe' Desiliva, Frankly 'FL' Henry, and Rowan 'The Gargon' Scotland were immediately sent to 4B as punishment, I nearly ended up there too, so I credit Tolo's intervention. I was vexed with Tolo at the time, but eventually saw the reasoning in his judgment, he saved me.
Tolo had confidence in my scholastic ability, but there were some inherent preferences emanating from few form masters, though some of us ranked in the top 10 at the time, there was a level of prejudice against us joining the A ranks. Were we too bad?
I turned to the form master and told him to send me to 3B, most of my friends were there, many of us advanced to 3A soon after. Good friends like Verdon 'Opio' Phillip, Albert 'Pappy' Gordon, Elderfield 'the Beast' Martin, Deburn 'Debunda' Carty, we all made it!
The other instance I recalled was our sojourn to church every Sunday, we knew the Bible, since my father religously sat us around the table for bible study. Many times we found it boring, but it was traditional for us when we were younger to recite passages at least once weekly.
We were regulars at Sunday morning service, but loved Sunday school more, since that was the time along with our cousins we flag-stop by Welly to buy ashum. We shared the collection between God and Welly, half for ashum and the other half for God. There was one time we nearly got caught by Aunt Pearl a family friend, we quickly swallowed the last bit of ashum from the funnel and nearly choked, we all laughed.
There were many colorful remembrance of our childhood, the source of our income growing up was our fruitful ginip tree, none was sweeter, we earned enough money to attend carnival. Our biggest and most loyal customer was 'King Kabouki' mom Anniemae. Tolo, always valued King Kabouki friendship and talent, he was the greatest exponent of limbo, fire eating and fire dancing in Antigua and Barbuda
Today, Norris 'King Kabouki' Este lives in Baltimore, teaching the art of limbo and playing the steel pan.
Tolo had an enduring love in his heart for Olin, Melvin, Angus and Carol, the Mason Family, Ferrances, Elvins, the Derricks, Humphrey, Boris and Christy, were an extension of Tolo's family in the Bronx. Christy, usually pick up Tolo every Saturday, just to relax an enjoy their amicable circle, pointing to Tolo's stationary chair at the head of the table, images of him tapping his foot, enjoying the music he loved.
My brother's other passion were the movies. From an early age we enjoy watching ZAL-TV, programs from Bonazana , Rawhide, Tightrope, Jericho, and Mission Impossible, also going to the Deluxe cinema with our friends,Taiwo, Gene, Opio, Mervyn,.
I remembered when Deluxe was burnt down, we still gathered there, even though the roof was off, money was collected, the camera was rolling.`Only when it was time to rebuild was the area completely closed off. Deluxe had closed but a Palestinian merchant 'Miami' opened a cinema, small area, with radio speakers on the shelves; following the movie was difficult, but fun.
Next, Ishmael, close to Robinsons Gas Station on De Souza road opened a movie cinema. Tolo and I stopped there. The accommodation was ancient, the area was dingy, our seats were rough wood on concrete blocks, any shaking all fall down....bragahdam. Everyone waited on Deluxe cinema to re-open, we were tired with mediocre theatre.
We all waited, we read it in the Antigua star, the futuristic movie house that was coming, and the water fountain as part of its feature. As youths we couldn't wait to spurt the water in our mouths. On opening day, we looked for the water fountain none was there. We were disappointed, we went to our seats amidst all the hammering, last minute adjustments, we couldn't wait for " Figtree" to roll the projector to start the movie. As soon as he did there was a chorus of applause. Many times we attended with our friends, Opio, Taiwo, Gene, Mervyn, it was all fun.
Subsequently we saw one of our own in a movie produced by Mayfield in 1978, titled 'Midtown Robbers' starring Mervyn Deke Richards. We watched an applauded. The screening was at our residence in Ovals. The movie amused Tolo, a movie star emerged amongst us. Was Hollywood next?
Mervyn starred in his first full length production 'Sweetest Mango', Tolo viewed the video at his apartment in New york, approving Dekes acting skill. He smiled laughed aloud, and shouted Deeeeek, echoing all the way from the Bronx to Ovals. Tolo enjoyed watching Eddie Murphy and Denzil Washington, two of his favorites.
I came across some humorous scribbling, insightful thoughts, sentimental letters and helpful notes. There was one humours incident i recalled, Tolo never forgot. One day we passed by 'Punce' to purchase some sugar cake, she looked out, dreary eyed, head covered, holding her jaw "Me nar grind nutten teday, me jawbone ah hat me, ah yuh hafu cum bak tahmarra"
Finally, I cleaned out my brothers apartment, I recall the last time I was there, we were eating some veggie meal, Angus, Tolo and myself. We watched some of Tolo's favorite calypso video, featuring Sparrow, Tolo's favorite artist. Tolo was playing, singing, jamming from Short Shirt to Swallow, Obsti to Latumba, Smarty Junior to to Zacari, Laviscount to Burning Flames.
Tolo listed his top 100 calypsonian, his notes and calypso memories insightful, his musical acumen extensive, his love of calypso never faded. He was true to the art form, and treasured our cultural icons Short Shirt, Swallow, Obstinate, Marcus Christopher Shelly Tobitt, the greatest calypso writer of all times. And Tolo celebrated when Chaps moved to New York. To him it was an independent move and a great move for Chaps too.
The greatest moment for my brother 'Chaps' was to live and work in New York. He left Antigua in 1975. Three years later my parents got their green-card and left for New York, followed by Tolo in 1990. Tolo left a lost link, and never really closed that gap, and that was his greatest short coming.
Tolo had a fractured relationship with his son and daughter, Omari and Reah. At the graveside his son Omari expounded on the rift of his absent father, while at the same time tempering his emotional message with an undertone of love and forgiveness. Omari wished for a more trustful relationship with his dad, a message filled with heartfelt emotions and weeping tears. His message was genuine, and his words of forgiveness given wings, a final epitaph to my brothers departure, my brother Tolo was forgiven, Rest in Peace Tolo.
My brother Tolo, was in deep thought, about how to redeem his soul. I have no doubt Tolo meant good, that he wanted to change, to mend the many broken hearts, and dry the weeping tears. As I read through the many journals, I viewed a man who was searching, a father who wanted to resolve past wrongs, a brother who wanted to have peace of mind, and not to be tormented by past errors.
Tolo has departed, but he has left me a spiritual crumb, filled with the essence of life, powerful feelings that emanated from the Bible, about sin and his desire to turn over a new leaf. I sensed Tolo truly wanted to change, I am a sinner, all of us are. I knew Tolo, I lived with him for more 35 years, he was never out of my thoughts, even though he lived in the U.S.A. I knew the Lord came into his heart, and forgave him for his sins. Tolo reflected about the Bible, and the many times we sat around the table for bible study, it was never too far from his mind. What did he hope for tomorrow, a change of life; a new beginning. The following words were penned by him prior to his death:
"Dear Lord I know, that I am a sinner, and I have a desire to turn away from my sin and to turn my life over to you. I ask for your forgiveness and for you to come into my heart and into my life to be my personal lord and Savior. Thank you for saving me. In Jesus name, Amen."
If this reflects the condition of his soul, thank God, may his soul rest in peace. But, as for me and my family Tolo's spirit lives on.
My brother Tolo, Rest In Peace.
We all love you
Kwame Nkosi Romeo