Unlike most others whom I have penned a piece or two on, Dr. Cecil Cyrus is one I knew nothing of other than he has been SVG’s most illustrious surgeon all my conscious life. He earned his place among the affluent, a circle closed to me, so we aren’t fraternal; neither did we ever “exchanged words.” I saw him in the flesh once. He spoke 6 words to me; and I, 1 in between his 6. This was at the launching of one of his books, to which Parnell Campbell Q.C. and MC of the event had invited me. When I saw his autobiography, “A dream come true,” I knew I had to read it. My dreams seem illusions to be pursued but never attained. He realized his! How?
The story commences at his birth place, 1930s Layou. From beginning, his simple yet trenchant language and plain honesty captured me. He reveals a past perfumed with innocence; a rainbow-plus beautiful village universe happy in its natural, spiritual and cultural bounty; filled with neighbourhood love and “old-fashion respect,” and enumerable other golden nuggets. This in spite being stunted by British colonialism; terrorized by ignorance; and still genuflecting to whites! Here the story relives an SVG where his mother picks cotton on white people’s estate; where the forest is a public and totally free pharmacy as bush medicine “cures” most illnesses; where being aged is synonymous with being wise; and when one still takes boats to travel to Kingstown. True!!
Using his pen like a surgeon’s scalpel Cyrus cuts through the years showing the historical, cultural, societal and familial foundation of his life success. I found myself in the middle of his Layou: swimming at Jackson Bay; spinning wooden tops with the boys; pulling seine with the men; playing cricket; having a mango fest and then hating the “wash out” that was a must before returning to school after the holidays.
His pen, sometimes a surgical needle occasionally threaded with the quality suture of a bygone Vincy vernacular, stitches together the simple pleasures of the people, their villager’s care and concern for each other, and the bonds stretching way beyond the nuclear family. One sees this beautiful tapestry of the soul of his Layou, where cupidity is completely alien. So here come the village men taking another who has yaws by surprise to the sea and giving him a good scrubbing to help him heal. And, there are the extended Cyrus and Ambrose families where Gaga and Aunty Helen also mothered him even though Dorothy brought him into this world.
This wholesome life, negating the present-day-imported material-based concept of poverty, was lived every day. From “pap” and kallaloo soup to mountain cooks and village fetes gave deep satisfaction. Yes, Dr. Cyrus is 80 plus, yet this picture from a child’s mind, voice and heart rings true. This was an imperfect perfect world, if only because everything and everyone were real. Naivete, illiteracy, honesty, love, beauty, and need for each other were everywhere.
His existence in paradise came to an end when he left this easy-flowing Layou tributary to join the vigorous current of the great metropolis (the measure of a “country boy”) Kingstown, to prepare for entry into the Boys Grammar School. And although the years that follow sometimes brought some touching disappointments, Kingstown furnished great joys as between Skipper, i.e. his father, – who made sure that he was never in want-; the boys at the tailor shop (where his Grammar School credentials made him all but a Socratic Einstein); his friends at BGS; and his idol, headmaster Lopey, famously called “The Don;” Cecil thrived.
At BGS he was exposed to the best education the country offered rubbing shoulders with the likes of George “Black Magic” Phillips; Dougal “Boogs” Byron-Cox, and Ellsworth “Muz” Keane, his best friend. He lived a full life playing sports with passion; eyeing the GHS students next door; studying purposefully; and had the admiration of The Don! In the latter years he engaged in a friendly academic duel with Reginal Cox for the lone Island Scholarship. Winning would present the key to making his dream a butterfly. But Cox would not be denied.
Yet still, within a matter of two years Cyrus was off to Queen’s University Belfast. I endured with him the cold, the difference in culture and people and other difficulties, knowing, this was our only way! Here a determined-more-than-ever Cyrus, prepared for his date with destiny, ever conscious he must make the Skipper proud. I shivered like him as we felt the icy chills in our souls, born of the loneliness that comes with being away from everything we knew; we faced prejudice periodically; and had to find our way in an unknown world. Yes, I relived some of my lighter Moscow trials through his Belfast tale.
He met beautiful and kind people and travelled around western Europe. And, while he chose love over his vow of never marrying a white woman; nothing was allowed to challenge his laser-like focus, untiring labour, unbent will and determination, and supreme commitment to succeed. Ultimately, the prescription was filled and administered with surgical precision, releasing the butterfly. He returned triumphant!
Oh, yes, the singular conversion mentioned at the beginning. Here it is verbatim:
“What is your name?” he looked up for a fleeting second, seeing a figure; not me.
He glanced at a lady I presumed his daughter who noddingly assured I had paid.
“Thank you,” he said not looking up. His signing continued.
Thanks to that purchase I will continue the pursuit knowing that the treasure is in me! The treasure is me! Hope you know the treasure you must live, for that’s its real value!