Jennifer M. Garnatz (nee Daley) was born in Lucea, Hanover, Jamaica, West Indies, on September 23, 1953. In 1958, I was taken to Kingston to live with my single father, an hotelier. (Pls click here for photo of my father). Since he also worked late nights, he immediately placed me in Mrs. Smythe's Boarding School on Roosevelt Avenue. He subsequently constantly put me in boarding schools or in private homes to live.
After winning a scholarship to attend a catholic high school, he naturally placed me under the care of the Sisters of Mercy nuns at the Convent of Mercy Alpha Academy High School on South Camp Road.
Even though the nuns were strict, living at Alpha Boarding School was one of the happiest times of my childhood. They were fair in their treatment (unlike in some of the private homes I lived in). The nuns also placed great emphasis on developing our minds not only intellectually and religiously (lots of school work, lots of praying), but also culturally + socially by allowing us to amuse ourselves during recreation periods by dancing and watching TV briefly after school and for longer periods on weekends; by taking us on picnic excursions to the beaches in the country; to the movies and swimming pools in the city, and occasionally even to dance parties at our neighbouring catholic boy’s school (only the older girls, naturally). We also did “social work” visiting the elderly and helping them in various ways, e.g. renovating their homes.
I cried when the boarding section closed in 1969. I returned home to become a day student. Shortly afterwards, my father again boarded me out with a family and sadness crept in again. They were often unkind.
June 1971, I graduated from Alpha. It meant returning home to live permanently, instead of just on vacations when my grandmother came from the country to ‘chaperone’ me in the house. Out of rebellion against my father for not allowing me to study to become a Spanish teacher (my favourite subject at school), I skipped 6th Form, and the chance of going to university, by refusing to do my A’Levels. My other career options had been personnel management, hotel management, studying international relations to become an ambassador. It had been extremely difficult to concentrate on school work and do my best owing to the fact that I was not allowed any chance to relax. A career in writing I’d planned as a sideline.
He only allowed me to go out on public holidays (10:00 a.m. matinees/concerts). In his over-protectiveness he was afraid of me coming in contact with “the opposite sex” up until then I’d never had a birthday party, never been out on dates, had never even been to a school friend’s party. Having fathered 5 kids with 4 different women, guess he was protecting me from men like himself. He had, in fit of anger, “shipped” my elder brother, Patrick, to Canada in 1969. The two following me lived with their mother, so I only saw them on some vacations; the last one was born 6 years before his death and had been placed to live in the country with my father’s mother. Thus, I grew up learning to accept this imposed solitude: "Burying“ myself in reading and doing creative writing brought me a certain amount of inner peace.
Hoping to quickly gain my independence by earning my own money (stupid of me to have thought so?), I pursued a 1-yr secretarial course at The College of Arts, Science & Technology.
July 1972, I began working as a legal secretary. Unfortunately, he still remained super-strict, saying I had to wait until I was 21, even to go on dates or to parties put on by former school friends. Furthermore, he still imposed a curfew: I had to be home within an hour after work just like during my school days!
The first 20 years of my life, therefore, I grew up with only God to “talk” to when I was home, reading books to keep me company and pursuing my creative writing (which I even had to hide from him). After all, I was writing love songs! I’d already filled a few notebooks with song lyrics. The melodies were stored in my brain.
August 11, 1973, six weeks before my 20th birthday, I received a shocking phone call in the night. The person said my father had just been shot. At first I thought it was someone playing a stupid joke. But, when the man identified himself, I realized it had to be the awful truth. In shock, I rushed out of the house, hailed a passing taxi and went to my father’s business place.
Forcing my way through the police and a crowd of onlookers on the street and inside his bar, I went inside. He was already lying dead behind the counter. I saw his body lying on his stomach in a pool of blood and broken bottles, his hands braced to raise himself up from the ground. He died a fighter. I also saw the bullet-hole in the side of his head. I’ll never forget that sight. I heard he had another gunshot in his stomach. I was like frozen: I couldn’t cry. My mind was racing.
I grew up that night, partly. God gave me the strength not to break down and cry. There was no elder relative or friend around to take charge or to provide a shoulder for me to lean on. After 20 years of an overly-sheltered life, I was brutally thrown out into the world.
I was suddenly all alone in every sense of the word. (I had never even kissed a guy, though he thought otherwise.) His sudden death meant I had to face the world alone with no one to turn to. After all, apart from going to work, church, and to those 10:00 a.m. matinees on public holidays, I practically lived “under house-arrest” up until his death.
Nevertheless, as naive and immature for my age as I understandably was, I had to immediately take over dealing with the police and his employees that night. Slept in his hotel room that night. Early next morning, delivered the news to my younger siblings and their mother, then drove to the country with one of his friends to break the devastating news to our grandmother and to bring her to Kingston to prepare her to attend the funeral of her beloved son. Two days later met his lawyers to arrange his funeral, etc.
Again, God gave me the strength to return to work within two weeks to face the world without my father.
The tears came sporadically weeks, months and years later, flowing with such intensity rivalled only by my brain simultaneously “shooting out“ heavy poems accompanying them (See for e.g. “Reflections“ on the Poetry page and read “Soliloquy I” in my book. The latter poem deals with his treatment of all his children and, what I feel are, our feelings for him.).
My feelings towards him can be described as love-hate.
Full of Love: because he worked extremely hard, seldom taking vacation. He succeeded in doing his best to give us a good education, decent places to live, lots of sound advice. He was indeed super-strict and abusive, but he had otherwise been a good father wanting only the best for all of his children. He just did not have a good woman around to “soften him up”. He was just too macho and mistrustful to have married the woman we all wanted to become our stepmother. Out of frustration she later migrated.
A bit of Hate: because I got lots of unjustified beatings up until I reached the age of 12 (he stopped only out of fear he could kill or cripple me), lots of unjustified loud-mouthed cursings even though I was extremely obedient up until he died (too great was my fear of him to have done anything “bad behind his back”). There were times I wished he’d beat me instead of cursing: The beatings were horrible, but they stopped after a few minutes; the cursings over the years were extremely embarrassing as they went on for days and all the neighbours could hear.
Today, decades since his death, I am still living by lots of his advices which have opened, and are still opening, many doors for me in all the countries I’ve been to. I shall always be indebted and grateful to him for his good points.
More than 13 poems about him have emerged from my heart. It took me 27 years to perform any of them in public, because I sometimes still break into tears when I envision that night.
To this day, whenever I see a film with someone being shot in the head, the scene of my father’s body in his pool of blood still rushes to the fore of my mind. I have to switch the channel or, if I am in the cinema, I look away from the screen.
December 1979, I migrated to Germany to learn the language with the intention of returning to Jamaica to work in the foreign service or in tourism. I am still residing in Germany, but I do go home regularly on vacation so as not to become a stranger to the land of my birth.
In 1999, I finally decided it was time to actively begin another phase of my life my creative-writing sideline. God blessed me with a few talents. It was time to put one into action. I started participating in poetry slams and various other various literary events. That same year I was invited to represent Hamburg at the National Poetry Slam Team Competition in Weimar.
In April 2001, my first self-published poetry book titled “romanctically erotic, deadly religious” (ISBN- 3-935483-00-7) appeared.
Apart from poetry, I also write plays, short stories, song lyrics and compose music. Have also begun working on a children’s book and various novels. My sources of inspiration come from my vivid imagination, personal experiences and from observation of happenings in the world. Due to my time-consuming office jobs and my great desire to avoid as much stress privately as possible, I’ve never really had the time to complete my other manuscripts. But, I do intend to continue working on them at my own pace.
I am divorced and, up until now, have been financially supporting myself working fulltime as an executive assistant.
I perform poetry in English and in German. It was with great pleasure and honour that I featured/co-featured as well as participated in open mikes and/or poetry slams at the following locations:
Germany (Check out some location addresses at www.slamburg.de):