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My Beautiful Son

I knew that I had to grow up fast and promised Lucia’s father that I would support our baby.
Author Conaway
Jac Conaway
St. Lucia 1961-1963

I lived in a one-room shack with an outdoor kitchen in the village of Desruisseaux. I had found an enjoyable life as an agricultural extension specialist. My main job was to take care of Heifer International’s baby pigs and chickens until I trained my neighbors to raise them and then to develop business plans for these “start-ups.”

I liked my new social life too—drinking beer and rum with friends, dating girls, and learning to swear in the local patois. I felt I had become part of Desruisseaux. 

I eventually met a pretty teacher at a school dance. The teacher wanted nothing to do with me but her older sister, Lucia, was different. Lucia was very interested.

I was still naive about girls and the island’s dating culture was not what I expected. Lucia lived an hour’s walk away in Belle Vue. There were no telephones, movie houses, bowling alleys or teen centers. The only party activity was the rare school dance. But in the evening there were the nighttime breezes rustling the banana leaves. So when we met we walked and talked and found quiet places to explore each other’s bodies as youngsters often do.

Eventually, Lucia and I drifted apart. Some months later I learned Lucia was pregnant and I was going to become a father. I was stunned. I knew that I had to grow up fast. I consulted the school’s headmaster, Dupre, who was a good friend of mine. He suggested that I speak with Lucia’s father. I did and promised him that I would support our baby.

Our beautiful son was born in April of 1963. A priest blessed him and we named him Andrew Mallory Conaway. Dupre was godfather and he picked Drew’s middle name. We celebrated with a barbecued goat, beer, and rum. We stuffed ourselves with the rice, plantain, and sweet cakes prepared by Lucia and her mother. 

Drew Conway at age 4

When I finished two years as a Peace Corps volunteer, I left to train new volunteers in Maine. That fall, I started graduate school at the University of California. I sent holiday gifts and whatever money I could to Lucia and Drew; then I returned to St. Lucia four years later to straighten things out with my young family. I brought Lucia and Drew back to Washington, D.C., where I had a new job at NASA.

Drew started school and adjusted easily but Lucia had a harder time, in part because I was more interested in being a father than a husband.  It was too big a jump without a decent support system and I didn’t provide that. After a year, Lucia left me and Drew without warning. Eventually, she returned home to St. Lucia and we re-established communication so she could know a bit about our life and we a bit about hers.

After Lucia left, Drew and I managed to pull together. I eventually met and married my wife, Barbara, whom I met at work. A short time later, we quit our jobs, drove south in our Volkswagen bus, and home schooled Drew along the way. A year later, we had a daughter and eventually returned to the Washington, D.C. area.

When Drew was 16, I sent him to St. Lucia to see his mother for the first time in twelve years.  He came home full of the excitement of meeting so many brothers and sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles and making friends there. 

When Drew was 25, Lucia’s son Markie called to tell us that Lucia had died. It happened so quickly.  Drew flew immediately from Denver.  His sister had flown back home the next morning and we left the next day for St. Lucia.  It was so different to make those arrangements. The travel agent knew where St. Lucia was this time but wanted to give us a vacation package with a hotel and rental car. Was this really St. Lucia? I almost felt as if I were going to a strange new land. We landed at almost the identical spot where I had first set foot on St. Lucia at Vigie airport 28 years earlier. This time there was no band.     

It was hot and not very clean and very crowded and noisy. There were the smells and noise and Patois and vendors and heat and humidity and dirt. I felt at home. His mother’s siblings had all made good in one way or another. They came from England and Scotland and Brooklyn and St. Croix and also just from Belle Vue. We reconnected and it felt very good. I felt at home.

Within this expanded environment, Drew grew up with the instincts of a wanderer. As an adult, Drew has become a citizen of the world. He married a Dutch woman, settled in Holland and works as an IT specialist.

I think often about when Drew and I attended Lucia’s funeral. I feel like a St. Lucian in some ways I cannot now put into words. The ties are there in the heart, and in the reflexes, and in the blood line. 

Jac in St. Lucia
Drew Conway at age 4
Drew Conway at age 4
Drew as an adult, 2014
Drew as an adult, 2014