I would even go in sometimes and swim by myself. I had the confidence, because when I was very small my mother threw me in the ocean and watched without moving as I struggled to survive. She watched as I screamed, yelled, gulped, and flailed in a panic-stricken effort to stay afloat. She watched as I clawed desperately at the water, unable to manage more than a few seconds before starting to sink beneath the surface. She watched as the ocean swallowed me, second by second. Then, mercifully, my father's hands reached under, fished me out, and handed me back up to my mother . . . who threw me back in again, and again and again, until she was convinced that I knew how to swim.
There were snakes on the island, but none poisonous. There were black widow spiders that were poisonous, but I doubt that my parents were fearful I would get killed by any of them. I mean, there were risks and there were hazards, but I could go anywhere, and I had myself as company. I knew from observation that the sapodilla tree produced fruit, plump, grayish brown, soft, juicy, and delectable, at least twice a year, and that's where the wasps' nests were that got me unexpectedly and repeatedly. I learned early that if I got up high in a sapodilla tree, rather than crawling out on limbs to see if the fruit was ripe enough to eat, I could rattle the top branches of the tree and ripe fruit would come loose from the weakened stems and fall to the ground. And then I could come down and pick it up and eat and get my stomach full. I would eat until I got a bellyache, and then I would get more of my mother's bush medicine-god-awful-tasting grass weeds or bitter roots of plants whose names I've never known or chunks of aloe vera I would have to force myself to swallow. And then I was off again looking for cocoa plums. Or standing on the rocks by the sea and fishing with a piece of thread and a straight pin that I'd bent into a hook. I did all those things, and it was fun, because on such an island poverty wasn't the depressing, soul-destroying force that it can be under other conditions.
Copyright Sidney Poitier, 2000. All rights reserved. Published with the permission of the publisher, Harper Collins. No part of this book to be reproduced without the permission of the publisher.
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