Blessed evening to all present to celebrate the life of Mr. Milton Leslie Joseph Austin, or as he is fondly called: “Wire”!
A true San Fernandian in every way, he was born to the now deceased Clarissa and Lisle Austin as the firstborn of seven children, on the 28th June, 1941.
Uncle Wire began his family at the age of 23 when he married Joan Passy on 29th November 1964 and would later be a father to his two sons: Hayden and Derrick. Anyone who knew our uncle would undoubtedly know how much he loved and cherished his boys and that Christmas time was particularly hard on him as their absence was felt.
You cannot discuss Southern Steel bands without firstly mentioning Fonclaire (the best band in the Southland) and you cannot discuss Fonclaire without saying the name Wire – at least once. Like bake and shark, like roti and a red Solo, like “Tan Tan and Saga Boy” both names are synonymous with each other. Fonclaire was indeed his third offspring, his legacy. One he helped parent, nurture and groom through good times and some may say: even tumultuous ones.
Everyone knew Uncle Wire was one to speak his mind and if you were fortunate to be in the pan yard, you would have no doubt either experienced first-hand or witnessed someone getting a severe tongue lashing. In other words, if you only stepped to him wrong, embarrassment would have been your portion for the day. He was bold and very outspoken to get what he wanted. I recall my sister Wendy asking Uncle Wire “Why do you want to change your middle name from Lisle to Leslie?” His response, “I doh like the name Lisle, Leslie sounds better”. So, what was the aftermath? Poor Daddy Lisle had to sign an affidavit to have his firstborn son change his name from his own, to a new name he had absolutely no input in. That was Uncle Wire. He marched to the beat of his own drum, or more aptly put, his own Steel Pan.
As his nieces and nephews, we had several memories of Uncle Wire, too many to mention. His nickname for my brother Wade was Tango light, Wendy was skin and bones, Solange was Salee and me, Rita.
Among my older siblings and I, we have three memories which stand out for us:
Memory Number One
Uncle Wire was the South Sales Supervisor for Stag beer, and at Carnival time, he always had coolers full with only Stag. There was a particular incident when a guy was jumping up in the band with a Carib bottle in his hand. Uncle Wire made a B-line to the guy, grabbed the bottle out of his hand, took him to the cooler and gave him a Stag beer. The look on the poor guy’s face said it all. So committed and steadfast his loyalty lay. Do you know what the funny thing after that was? Well let me tell you! A few years after, he became the South Sales Supervisor for CARIB beer. So yuh know what yuh couldn’t be drinking in his band now!!!
Memory Number Two
Everyone knows Carnival Season is his time! He was either behind Tanty or Wendy to sew the sides of the banners or he was looking for my bro Wade for practice.
I remembered looking on at Wade and Solange (who were a few years older than me) practicing in the pan yard. I was drawn to steel pan at the age of 12. I remember asking him to learn, but I got “no! yuh too young”.
Memory Number Three
Even though I got that no at 12 years, soon after, he encouraged me, my siblings and cousins to play pan. I remember one year I was glad that he lived to see that the band was made up with many Austins. That year my uncle Rudin, Wade, Solange, Wesley and myself were in the band.
Eventually when I had my son, he was also encouraged by Uncle Wire to play.
Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, and with it the many limitations, my brother Wade is unable to be physically present. However, I can safely say, he was closest to uncle Wire – and let me tell you why.
Wade’s introduction to playing pan was at 4 years old. Uncle Wire came home and literally put him on two Mackeson boxes to play the four bass. Wade was the youngest player at that time. He wishes me to convey that uncle Wire taught him to be a better person and to believe in himself. Uncle Wire was his idol.
Uncle Wire I know you are looking down at us now. Probably having a hearty laugh, making one of your quick-witted comments, checking to make sure we gave you your signature bald head look…
We will miss your laugh. We will miss seeing you in your white pickup landmarked with that faded Trinidad and Tobago flag, either on the road or parked at the pan yard. We will always love you and you will forever be in our hearts. From your nieces and nephews.