Horizon at Sandy Point

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Uncle Chang

 Earliest memories of the uncle called Chang are also the memories that I have of my grandfather, my mother's father. On occasion, one of the uncles - Chang, Didd or Whoonie - would walk the four year old me from the shop on Gatacre Street, across the very wide boulevard that is Ariapita Avenue to the grandfather's gingerbread house on French Street.

Uncle Chang (Claude Lynton): 2nd from left at the back. My grandfather (Johnson Assing) in the suit; and grandmother (Ellen) on his right. I believe that's my mother, Yvonne Lang behind my grandfather; Uncle Powkee (Horace, back left), Uncle Hang (Alfred, middle), Uncle Didd (Lambert, far left, front), Uncle Whoonie (Leonard, far right, front). I would speculate that this photo was taken in the late 40s - my grandmother died the year I was born, 1951.
On those occasions, the grandfather's treats were iced gems, tiny biscuits topped with a tinier blue, yellow, green or pink minaret of hard sugar. Those treats were treasures; those days stored in some deep recess of memory come alive when I think of those uncles. They were favourite uncles. Moreover, we always received the best Christmas presents from Uncle Chang. The way my mother explained it did not dim nor tarnish the thought in the least: Uncle Chang was a working man!

That he was a handsome eligible bachelor was also not lost on us, the three sisters, as we grew into our teens. He was Helen's godfather so we knew there was a special relationship there, But at New Year's when the family got together at Aunty Chan's house in Diego Martin, it was Uncle Chang who taught us all to dance, one step, two step, waltz.

When the confirmed bachelor married Molly, the god-daughters - Helen among them - were bridesmaids. My mother was godmother to their first child, Michelle, who as an infant spent time with us on our farm in Santa Cruz.

And then we all grew up. And apart. Uncle Chang's family grew to include Molly's, as each of us in the later generations expanded home circles to include in-laws, some from distant places. More than  40 years have disappeared in a twinkling, punctuated only by family occasions, dinners, weddings, and more recently, funerals.

Here we are, gathered to fill All Saints' Church, to honour the uncle who was husband, father, brother, uncle, and most recently grandfather; an accountant who gave unstintingly of his time and expertise to many. It was no surprise to learn of the high regard in which he was held by friends and colleagues.

Ruben McSween, his lodge brother and friend, remembers "his noble spirit, generous nature, kindness and rare personal attraction." He also remembers his love for Cokes (coca-cola) bringing to mind a story of Uncle Chang travelling - was that with my father and sister, or was it with Aunty Sim? He approached the young cashier, and in a broad Trini accent, said "Gimme a hamburger and cokes." He had to repeat his request many times, and was only understood when he asked, in clipped Americanese, for "a hamburger and a coke."

Uncle Chang was not always a country bookie as this memory suggests. By the time he went to China eight years ago, he was the Emperor, the title given to him by McSween for his guidance on all things Chinese or otherwise.

According to McSween, Claude Lynton Assing was a Freemason for 42 years, developing friendships in Lodge, respected and admired by Freemasons and lodges in many other countries. He founded the China Friendship Society of Trinidad and Tobago, and went to China with the Society's officers who, it should be noted, in their Trinidadianness represented the motley ethnicities that make up this nation. He also travelled extensively through his lodge, in the Caribbean, to Scotland, New York, South America. He liked to travel.

Finally, there was no irony in Bishop Abdulah's homily on love. When all else is gone, this is left: love that is patient, kind, long-suffering, love that conquers death. So even as death washes over us, shakes us alive, leaves us breathless, we hold on to the love.

Uncle Chang has rejoined an extended family circle: parents, brothers and sisters, friends; maybe he already has a seat near the card table, waiting to "sack in sack out" in a Pedro game with Aunty Chan, Aunty Lang (my mother), Uncle Whoonie, Uncle Didd...

Claude and Molly at Orion's and Leah's wedding, 2014