Dear readers and tea lovers everywhere,
Welcome to this first posting of a new and regular feature
‘Afternoon tea with …. people of note’
Today we are having tea (virtually!) with Cynthia Reyes, an award-winning author and broadcaster who has just published A Good Home – a memoir of birth and rebirths in Jamaica and Canada. It is a book whose simple style, lyrical prose and defining characters will provide you with hours’ worth of grinning from ear to ear as you recognize events or characters from your own past; with out loud laughter at some of the antics and quirks and also with occasional tears when sadness strikes.
Cynthia has several international broadcasting awards and when not writing, chairs Innoversity, a highly respected not-for-profit organization that she co-founded with her husband in 2000. Cynthia is married to Hamlin Grange and they are the proud parents of two daughters, Nikisha and Lauren.
The pot of Early Grey tea has steeped; Her Ladyship (me!) pours two cups. Before offering a cup to Cynthia, I inquire if would like milk or lemon. Neither. One or two cubes of sugar? One, thank you.
You were born near Mandeville, a city that was known as the most “English” of Jamaican cities. Is this still so?
Yes! Mandeville is a mountain resort in the west-centre of the Island and tends to be much cooler than the other Jamaican cities and we favour hot beverages. Drinking tea is very common and to this day – 51 years after independence – you will find Mandeville families who will stop to have afternoon tea – alone or with guests.
Jamaica is certainly known for its Blue Mountain coffee; is there a comparable tea?
Jamaican-grown peppermint tea is very flavourful; I always ask relatives to bring me some.
Speaking of relatives, your mother, grandmother, great grandmother have lived lives where triumphs over adversity were of near epic proportions. Your story/memoir continues this heritage. What sustains you?
First and foremost the love of family, I would say. Right through the generations, this fundamental love is what created a good home. My family, my siblings, my extended family in the community have provided me with sustenance in the tough times. And then I would say nothing beats a good cup of tea for perspective and for that restorative feeling.
In your book, A Good Home, there’s a very strong thread – almost a cord – connecting the home to the garden. I have the impression a house without a garden is not a good home.
I couldn’t imagine a house without a garden; gardens have been a part of my life for generations. We have the farmer gene in us – we plant – we eat. My husband Hamlin is really the one who is very good at growing vegetables – veritable crops of tomatoes, beans, asparagus, eggplant, garlic, onions and the makings of salads. I tend more to flowers.
Our present home has two ancient apple trees and we take great joy in the harvest – apple pies, apple jelly, apple cakes.
I can see that stove time with Hamlin gives you great pleasure. What are your simplest pleasures?
Sitting at a table – in the kitchen, in the dining room or on the verandah with Hamlin, the girls and the dogs. Whether it’s a meal or a cup of tea, this is what gives me the most pleasure. Before my accident, one of my simplest pleasures was long walks in the woods with Hamlin.
What is your wildest dream?
It’s a big dream but perhaps not so wild! I used to travel to Italy regularly on assignment and my dream is to take extended time off to live in Italy and perhaps do a little writing over there.
Have you booked your air tickets yet?
Not yet! I’m too busy.
You’re passionate about a good home, what else turns your crank?
I would say that perhaps – and this is surely a reflection of my immigrant experience – I am passionate about the contributions new Canadians make to the very fibre of life in Canada. This was the trigger for Hamlin and me to start our consulting firm DiversiPro and the annual Innoversity Creative Summit in Toronto. This summit provides a two-day event in which innovation, creativity and diversity are linked to explore, to inquire and to contribute to the wealth of Canada. We’ve just completed the 2013 Summit and our two daughters were actively involved with the preparation and implementation. I am very passionate about this.
Your biggest thrill?
To see our children doing so well.
What advice would you give a young writer?
Regardless of age, stature, young, old or emerging writer, my advice is to write – writ large – everyday. No matter where, not matter for how long, no matter on what. You never know when a scrap of conversation, a turn of phrase or an observation will flourish and bloom in your imagination.
Another cup of tea Cynthia?
Oh yes please!