How great thou art

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By Tony Deyal

Jane Austen and her books, Anne Frank with her diary, Maya Angelou the poet who fought for civil rights, Elizabeth “The Virgin Queen” of England, and Marie Curie, the first female to win a Nobel prize, are among the greatest women of all time. However, here in the Caribbean, in Trinidad of all places, we have the “gratest” woman of them all who deserves our praise and recognition, not just in the media but also in the churches and synagogues with the song, “How grate thou art! How great thou art.”

The words “great” and “grate” are “homophones”. They sound the same but have different meanings. “Great” as an adjective means “much more than average or ordinary in size, extent, volume, value or importance”. As a noun, “grate” means a “fireplace” or a “framework of crossed bars.” As a verb it means to “grind, scrape or irritate”. The Definitive Professional Writer’s Guide gave an example of the usage of the two words: “I toasted the grated cheese besides the great grate on the great fire that was in the great hall at my great-grandfather’s mansion.”

In terms of greatness, Shakespeare is our best guide. He writes in the play “Twelfth Night”, “Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them.” But what about grateness? How does that work? More important how can the two homonyms join together in a homo-hymn?

The answer lies in an article posted by journalist Shane Superville on Wednesday, February 9, 2022, in the Trinidad “Newsday” paper. The headline immediately caught my attention: “Mayaro woman, 71, beats bandit with cheese grater”. The story was incredibly simple but, at the same time, simply incredible. In Radix Village in Mayaro, a seaside town on the south-east or Atlantic coast of Trinidad, the 71-year-old woman was in her kitchen preparing dinner when she saw a man in her house holding a cutlass. For those of us who grew up with stories about the real Pirates of the Caribbean like Jean Lafitte, Sir Henry Morgan, Blackbeard and Calico Jack, and long before one of the most famous of the lot, John Ward, became Jack Sparrow, the cutlass was the pirates’ weapon of choice.

A cutlass is the ultimate bladed weapon associated with pirates because as a shorter sword, made of forged steel, it was better suited to fighting on deck or in the closed quarters of a ship. It was clear that the man, although armed with a cutlass, was definitely not a pirate but may have been a radio newscaster. In the jargon of the Trinidad police, the man “announced” a robbery. Clearly. he must have been a loudspeaker. None of the jargon of the old highwaymen like “Your money or your life”, “Stand and deliver” or, as I was told by bandits when I was held at gunpoint, “Give me the effing money otherwise we will kill your mother so-and-so (or its equivalent in Trini dialect).”

It reminds me of one of my colleagues who wanted a job at a radio station and as a test they gave him the death announcement to read. He started well with the first line, “We have been asked to announce the death…” It is when he reached the last line that he died. The announcements all ended the same way with the same words, “Friends and relations are kindly asked to accept these intimations.” Unfortunately for him, seeing that all the announcers knew the words, they used an abbreviation which, my colleague saw, had no idea what it was, and so in his best English accent and voice ended with “FARAKATATI”.

What happened in this Mayaro matter was that while the man was announcing, the woman was screaming for help but at the same time she took action. According to the article, “As the bandit grabbed her, the woman began beating the man with a nearby cheese grater.” Despite this happening in the day and not a twelfth night, the lady was obviously born great. She must have been very grateful to have the greater so close at hand because she made certain that the bandit had “grateness” thrust upon him so frequently and with such ferocity that, according to the police, “The bandit ran away with the cutlass”. What he thought would be a great day for him turned out to be a grate day instead.

Regardless of where he was struck, or whatever part of his anatomy was being attacked, the bandit got such a “cut-ass” (as Trinis would call it) that he cut his losses and fled the scene in terror. In fact, it is like Stevie Wonder’s response when he got a cheese grater for his birthday. He said it was the most violent book he ever read. When the police eventually caught up with him the 39-year-old man was hiding in a shack. In other words, after grater problems the man had even greater problems.

I was more struck than the bandit. Here is a woman of 71, by herself in her home, who grabs a grater, defeats a bandit who was armed with a cutlass, chases him out of her house and then calls the police. I wondered where she fitted in history and taking up my copy of “What’s In An Age?”, I found out that among the “famous” people of that age, French designer, Coco Chanel, introduced the “Chanel” suit; Nelson Mandela was released from prison in South Africa; Winston Churchill coined the term “Iron Curtain”; Buckminster Fuller built his largest geodesic dome; and Katsusuke Yanagisawa, a retired Japanese schoolteacher became the oldest person to climb Mt. Everest.

However, none of them, at that age, was attacked by a man with a cutlass and beat the heck out of him with a grater to the extent that he ran away. What she did is what, I am sure, all of us would consider true heroism, not just a response to fear or desperation but one of sheer guts and determination.

I would be an ingrate if I did not say how grateful I am to that lady and would be even more ungrateful if I did not feature her full story and recommend her, not just for a national award, but for global recognition. Many of us, facing a man with a cutlass, would disintegrate. Because of the inability of the police to deal with the criminals and the increasing number of murders, many people in Trinidad and other Caribbean countries have started to migrate. However, in this lady we have a hero and a lesson. Even if she does not want her name used, her story is an inspiration to the rest of us and a lesson for our children.

The police and the media ended the article with, “The woman was taken to the hospital, but officers said she only received a scratch on her left arm.” I believe we should start from scratch, find the lady and celebrate her courage and determination. In countries where the police are relatively useless and our media not just one-sided but near-sighted, we have a genuine heroine with a message for all.

*Tony Deyal was last seen saying that the Mayaro lady should have replaced Donald Trump as President of the United States. She would have made America grate again.

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