Humans of Riverside: CHARLENE’s Story

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“The recipes I love and make today have been passed down from my granny to my dad and now to me. I will forever be daddy’s little girl and my granny is always on my mind.”

Charlene Forde

Community kitchen user and cooking class teacher at the Ralph Thornton Community Centre in Riverside

Her Story:

I have two first loves, food being one of them. Growing up, I loved being in the kitchen, taking in everything my parents were doing, but mostly getting in the way.

Sunday was my favourite day because there was always a big spread – two or three meat dishes, potato or macaroni salad, baked mac & cheese, some kind of rice dish and, of course, stew peas or beans.

Being OCD, I ate my food in sections. I had the rice and peas first because I couldn’t eat the rice without the gravy. Then it was the potato salad and I always left the meat for last. I still do this – minus the meat now that I’m vegan.

My dad, mom, my older brother and I lived in a small two-bedroom apartment in what is now Little Italy. We were the only black family on our street. My brother Shawn and I shared a bedroom. I remember we had this wooden bunk bed with a ladder. Being the youngest, I was spoiled and used to terrorize my brother by kicking my feet up on the bottom of his mattress through the slats of his bunk. That used to piss him off. But what are little sisters for?

It was always tit for tat with us. I was a germaphobe from early on and he would purposely step on my bed with his dirty socks to get onto the top bunk. Do you know how dirty the socks of 8-year-old boys are? So gross!

My parents were born in the twin islands of Trinidad and Tobago. My dad, Neville, in Tobago and my mom, Yvette, in Trinidad. My dad was one of six children. He migrated to Toronto in the ‘70s, while three of his siblings went to the US and the other two remained in Trinidad.

This brings me to my other first love, my dad. He was a jack of all trades. He was a tailor and an electrician back home and when he made the decision to move to Canada it was tailoring that ultimately got him to stay. He was good at everything, from refurbishing cars to gardening, making clothes and cooking.

My mom was a good cook, but my dad could throw down. I was always peeping in the pot and I was his taste taster. I felt so proud when he would scoop out a spoonful of whatever he was making for me to taste and approve. “Hmmmm, it’s missing a little something.” My dad would laugh and I would giggle. “It’s not missing a t’ing,” he would respond in his strong Trini accent.

At the age of 12, I asked my dad if I could cook my first meal, a Trinidadian national dish called pelau, on my own. Pelau consists of rice, peas and either chicken or beef. He directed me the whole way through. As I took the spoon to give him a taste, he said, “hmmmm, it’s missing something,” and we both laughed. I will forever be daddy’s little girl.

In 2018 we lost the matriarch of our family, my beloved grandmother Eliza Patrick. She was beautiful inside and out. She was funny as hell and was the life of the party, showing off her dance moves. She loved her grandchildren dearly and was a great storyteller who could talk your ears off. When you thought she was done, she would have something more insightful to say. She loved arts and crafts, but more importantly she loved to cook and, boy, could she eat. That’s where I get my gusto for eating.

My dad and my granny had a special bond and he was always ‘my boy’ to her.  Her first love. My fondest memories were around Christmas when my dad would make the yummy treats my grandmother had passed down to him. We devoured the bread, the sweets, black cake, pone and savoury dishes like callaloo, pastels, curries, salt fish. I was always there to help stir or lick the bowl…which little kid doesn’t love that?

I often make the same recipes passed down from my granny to my dad. I modify them for my vegan lifestyle (and business, Melanated Vegan), my granny always on my mind.

Making Space: Art by Bareket Kezwer and Yshmael Cabana accompanying Charlene’s story on the east-facing window at 660 Queen Street East

Making Space: Art by Bareket Kezwer and Yshmael Cabana accompanying Charlene’s story on the east-facing window at 660 Queen Street East

About the Humans of Riverside: Giving Voice and Making Space for BIPOC” Storytelling Series:

The Riverside BIA – located along Toronto’s Queen Street East from the iconic bridge over the Don River to just past De Grassi St – is proud to celebrate diversity and inclusiveness with this story-telling series.

The project launched in summer 2020 as part of the Main Street Art Challenge and collaborated with writer and editor Grace Cameron, artists Bareket Kezwer (@bkez) and Yshmael Cabana (@_yshyshysh) to bring public art and launch this story-telling series in partnership with local businesses in the Riverside BIA. This project is supported by STEPS Initiative (@STEPSInitiative) as part of their Main Street Art Challenge.

The “Humans of Riverside: Giving Voice and Making Space for BIPOC” story-telling project makes physical space in storefront windows for BIPOC artists, and gives voice to stories from local BIPOC community members in Riverside. Each piece of art and each story shared has a bigger meaning that connects to the local business/window and to the BIPOC community member by sharing a link/QR code to their full story online. The Main Street Art Challenge brings this new and ongoing storytelling series to life, and the art produced for the challenge will continue to live virtually beyond the Main Street Art Challenge as part of the ongoing ‘Humans of Riverside‘ storytelling initiative.

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