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My Early Life On St. Kitts and NevisAn autobiography of the first 22 years
By Clement Bouncin Williams
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2012 Clement Bouncin Williams
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Chapter OneMy Maiden Journey to Nevis
My earliest recollection of my life is based on a visit of my Uncle Allan and his wife Sarah to St. Kitts and Nevis in 1953. I remember that I was taken with my mother and father, Uncle Allan and his wife to Nevis. We left St. Kitts on the big boat called "Vagabond".
As I walked onto the pier I was horrified by the fact that I was actually walking over water, because then, the pier was made of wooden planks placed crossways with spaces wide enough that I could see the wave movement of the sea beneath me. I stepped every step that I made in such a manner that my feet would never miss one of the planks, with the fear that if I miss-stepped; I would fall through and end up in the sea. My parents both laughed at me and held my hands in a manner to assure me that I would not fall through those small spaces. My parents walked with such confidence, it made me feel safe.
We got to the boat, my father was the first to get on and he spoke to a tall dark man who was one of the crew of the boat. Uncle Allan then lifted me over the plank at the edge of the pier and handed me to the safe hands of my father, and then Uncle Allan helped aunt Sarah on and then my mother and he then skillfully skipped onto the boat with ultimate ease. Later he boasted that he had not lost the skill he had acquired in his teenage years as a boy often sailing to St. Kitts with coconuts. Other persons came onto the boat and at the same time the crew was also loading on cargo of rice, flour, cornmeal and other food stuff. All was set for the sailing, passengers were already seated and the sail was hoisted by winches that were nothing but block and tackle pulleys. We sailed out of the Basseterre Harbour mid-afternoon in brilliant sunshine. It was a calm day and we sailed off with great ease. Outside the pier I noticed the boat was going towards the Fort Point, towards the West, and not directly to Nevis that was to the south. I remember asking Uncle Allan why we were going to the Fort and not to Nevis. He said to me that the wind was not blowing right so the boat would have to make tack. not knowing what that meant it did not bother me because I was in the safe company of my parents and my new found uncle and aunt. it was a long, long sail as the sun had started to fall from the sky. It was not until the darkness had fallen that the boat reached to Nevis. Persons who had traveled with us were angry that they had not gotten home to Nevis earlier. The 'Vagabond' must have had one of its slowest crossings that day. We left the pier in Charlestown and walked up the street for a few yards to the upstairs level of the home of another new-found uncle, Uncle Edmund. Uncle Edmund was so happy to greet us, especially Uncle Allan whom he had not seen for a long time. Uncle Edmund called his wife Eulalie who again was very happy to see us and greeted all of us. Aunt Eulalie prepared supper for us; we had a choice of Vienna sausage or corned beef with bread and hot Ovaltine. I had Vienna sausages, fixed with some kind of sauce that was very delicious. To this day I will choose Vienna sausages anytime ahead of corned beef.
The main purpose of Uncle Allan's visit to St. Kitts and Nevis was to introduce his wife Sarah to the extended family. Uncle Allan had left Nevis in the closing years of 1930's and lived with his wife in Trinidad.
I remembered the next day. We got up early and everyone seemed to be up and about. I went outside of the house where we slept. the environment was strange, with wide open fields and animals of all types were everywhere; chickens, sheep, goats and pigs. I remember asking for the latrine, and was shown an outhouse that seemed miles away. Someone had to follow me. It was different, coming from the inner city slums of Newtown where everything was close but in Jessup, the homestead of my paternal ancestry, the latrine was built as far away as possible from the house. We were at the home of Uncle Son (George) in Jessup; I am not sure how we got there. I guess for the first time I compared and contrasted urban and rural life styles. We had breakfast, but what were most interesting to me were the sugar apples and the deep red, many seeded plums (the type one had to roll and soften so as to make it taste sweet). I remember being introduced to two new cousins; one was about two or three years older than I was and the other a baby in a crib. I remembered the older one as a show-self. He wanted to show his competence in climbing and ran up and down from tree to tree a skill that was remote to me at that time. That was Esmond (George Scarborough—Taxi Operator) and the baby was Austin (former Commissioner of Police). I remembered Uncle Son for his dark complexion and welcoming smile. His wife Rita was of a much lighter complexion and was very friendly.
Uncle Allan and my Father were greeted everywhere they went in the village and received gifts of provisions, eggs and coconuts, a warm welcome for two sons that had returned to their village of ancestry.
We did a tour of the island by car, driven by Uncle Edmond. The thing that has stuck in my memory from that tour was a visit to the New River estate Sugar factory. My father was hailed as a hero because he was working in the modern Sugar Factory in St. Kitts and by that time had reached the rank of Foreman of the cane Rake division.
I can vividly remember the return journey to St. Kitts. It was a fair day in brilliant sunshine and a good breeze was blowing. We set sail on the open windjammer called "Valiant". The ride on the Valiant was completely different from that on the "Vagabond". I can recall looking at the bow of the boat as it was cutting through the water. Sometime later I remembered noticing the outline of the Basseterre harbour. As we sailed closer I began to see a landscape that I was familiar with. The oil tanks of Pond's Pasture were first to reveal their full details, the Fort Point, then the almond trees on the bay front, the Government Treasury, the Public Market and then the stores. We sailed back in to the treasury pier in good time. I have always wondered if the names of the boats had any significance to the quality of the trips we had.
Chapter TwoMy Early Years
My early years were spent in Newtown. My birth was a normal one and home delivery. I had been advised that the attending midwife was a jovial lady whom every one called nurse West, and who later on in life got married to become Mrs. Archibald. I was told that I weighed ten pound thirteen ounces at birth and this was confirmed some fifty seven years later by nurse aurora turner, who told me that my birth was the first she attended as a student nurse; she vividly remembered the bouncing baby boy and that she had had the pleasure of doing the weighing. I was baptised at the Wesley Methodist church in Basseterre and was named clement David Obadiah and was always called by father's surname, Williams.
Life in Newtown was relatively easy for us, when compared with the other people in our environs. My mother was called by her first name, Lucille by her counterparts but all who were younger called her Miss Lucille. My mother was an iconic figure within the community of Newtown. Her principal occupation was that of a huckster and food vendor. She sold many items of provisions, charcoal, salt and homemade confectionaries such as sugar cake, peppermint sweets and ice-cream. She cooked 'tons' of food daily on an open fire fuelled by wood.
The cooking was done primarily in make shift cauldrons made from five gallon tin pans in which kerosene and other products were imported. The main fire place was under a shed that was away from the two-roomed wooden house in which we lived. The fire place was composed of two solid concrete blocks, dimensions of sixteen by twelve by twelve inches on top of which sat two steel rails—made from old locomotive engine tracks, each about five feet long. The wood would be stacked in a particular manner so that when they were ignited they burned along the length of the wood. Secondary fires would use charcoal in coal pots. Wood was acquired from suppliers who cut button mangrove from the swamps of Conaree and Frigate Bay or 'cossha' (acacia) wood from the acacia plants that grew on the pasture land areas. Cossha wood was the premium fuel. Wood was parcelled in bundles and sold in units. In the early 1950's a twenty pound bundle was sold for six pence; the equivalent to twelve cents in eastern Caribbean Currency.
The main supplier of wood for my mother's industry was an elderly man whose name was Joel Pitt. Mr. Pitt rode a donkey saddled with a dual crook. It was a classic sight to see Mr. Pitt perched on his donkey with two bundles of wood held in the crook on each side of the animal. He made sure that my mother had adequate supplies of her vital fuels, wood and charcoal. The wood which Mr. Pitt brought was always green and freshly cut and filled with moisture. The green wood was left in the sun for several days to dry out. To cook with green wood meant that the fire would be slow and would produce high density clouds of smoke because of the moisture present and a low rate of thermal energy would be given off; contrary to what was required.
A daily routine for my mother would involve cooking a kerosene pan of rice with some form of vegetative mix such as peas, beans, greens, diced breadfruit or pumpkins. Then there was a pan with stewed meat-pork, beef or mutton. Fish was fried on an open dish that was made of a concave piece of cast iron about three quarts of an inch thick and about three feet in diameter. It always appeared black. The black colouring was due to deposits of carbon graphite from the oxidized vegetable oils used in the frying. The graphite layers built-up over a period of time to form a non-corrosive cover on the frying surface. This protected the cast-iron from rusting. This lining or seasoning of the dish is an ancient process that was the precursor of the modern day process of lining frying pans with Teflon.
The local drinks that were made and sold by my mother were principally mauby and ginger beer. The ginger was grated fresh every morning and blended with water to an acceptable strength and then strained (filtered) through the materials of flourbags—a coarse cotton fabric. Complimentary flavouring was added by the use of almond, vanilla and rose essences and it was sweetened to taste with sugar. The mauby had to be prepared the night before. This involved the boiling of a mixture of mauby bark, orange peel, ciliment bush (bay leaf), anise and kockanda root in water to produce a dark concentrated brew. This brew was diluted with fresh water to produce a palatable drink and then sweetened with sugar to taste. it was also important to add quantities of stale mauby that provided the start-up yeast for the fermentation process of the new batch. the fermentation took place overnight and by early morning froth would be foaming over the top of the bottles in which the mauby was placed.
The drinks were dispensed in dark twelve ounce bottles that were previously filled with imported beers, stouts and porters. Popular labels in those days were Tenants, Amstel and Murrays. The daunting task of washing over one hundred half bottles, as they were commonly called, and maybe ten large 750 ml rum bottles was mine. The washing process involved three stages. The first was to shake the bottles with a mixture of a soap solution and bay sand for about ten to fifteen seconds, secondly scrubbing for several strokes with a bottle brush and then the final rinsing with fresh water two to three times.
My mother's major market for her food vending was the Basseterre Sugar Factory. The critical hour was eleven o'clock in the morning, the time when the factory workers got their lunch break. All had to be ready by then, as hundreds of workers had only one hour for lunch. The food and drinks were transported in a box cart with steel bearings used as the wheels. In the early years of my life, this cart was drawn by my older brother Calvin. On the way from Newtown to the breakfast shed at the sugar factory the first stop was at the sugar factory's ice plant to collect ice for the cooling of drinks.
The food was served in enamel bowls and plates, the drinks in makeshift can-cups that were made by soldering a handle onto a juice can. The favourite cans were Trinidad Citrus Growers cans that previously contained grapefruit and orange juices. I guess my mother served about one hundred lunches daily. My mother employed a number of persons to help her, but she was the field marshal doing and supervising everything. The principal help was a young woman whom my mother adopted, her name was Gracie. Gracie lived with us and we all grew up like brothers and sisters.
At the end of the factory session my mother took to the streets of Newtown huckstering for additional sales especially on the Newtown Bay Front where people congregated to purchase fish from the various fishermen and fish vendors. My mother would also use the opportunity at the Bay Front to purchase fish for her trade for the next day. The Bay Front was always abuzz with people in the afternoons. This was the liming spot, where men and women hung-out after a day's work. There was a particular area to the extreme east of the Bay Front that was called 'Lazy Bay'. This was an exclusive male zone where a fair amount of rum drinking and gambling took place.
By early evening my mother would be back at home to finish up the cooked meal that we had for supper. I guess many a day this would be food that was not sold at the sugar factory or the Bay Front. Then it was the routine of work all over again; washing bottles, cutting wood to the appropriate lengths for the fire place, peeling small sweet potatoes and so on.
One of the pastries for dessert was sweet potato pudding. This was made by peeling small potatoes then grating them to a pulp which was then mixed with flour and a sprinkling of raisins and currants. along with sweet potato pudding, bread pudding was also a favourite. Bread pudding was made by soaking stale bread in water, the soaked bread was then squeezed to remove most of the water; then the pulp was mixed with a sugar, milk and egg mixture and margarine and the usual sprinkling of raisins and currants. Coconut cakes were also part of the menu. The blending or creaming of sugar and margarine was done manually in a large bowl or pot with a wooden pot stick; flour, milk, eggs, grated coconut and baking powder were blended into the mixture. All goods for baking were placed in drip pans and baked in a homemade oven.
The oven was made from a fifty-five gallon oil drum. A door was cut from the curved side of the drum. The door would have a width about three-eighths of the circumference and length about three-quarters of the height of the drum. Hinges were attached to this door and fixed back to the main body of the drum by rivets as well as a latching device was added so as to secure the door. Holes were punched in the body of the drum so as to make layers of shelving by placing three-eighths of an inch steel rod through the holes. The heat for the oven was provided from a coal pot with lighted charcoal that was placed at the bottom within the drum and an additional wood fire would be placed on the top of the drum. All these baked pastries were glazed with a prepared syrup made from water, sugar and spices.
The Friday and weekend specials were ice cream and black (blood) pudding. The mixture for the ice-cream was prepared from custard powder. The required amount of custard was mixed with about one cup of cool water to form a suspension. The bulk of the water was heated in a pot on a charcoal fire on a coal pot; when this water reached to a boil the suspension of custard was added slowly with constant stirring so that the custard mix would not scorch or burn. When the custard was cooked to the required consistency it was removed from the fire and left to cool. The other ingredients of milk, eggs, sugar essences and colouring were added to form the final mix. The cooled mixture was placed in the metal can of the ice-cream freezer (churner) which had a fan like device in the middle. The cover was then placed on the can and the churning mechanism was locked in place. Ice and salt was placed in the outer tub. The churning was done manually. As the churning took place the ice melted and dissolved the salt to form a mild brine which had depressed freezing point and would be about four degrees below zero on the Celsius scale. This caused the custard mixture to attain freezing point and with constant churning allowed only very small crystals to develop; that was responsible for the smoothness of the ice-cream. As the mixture froze it became more and more difficult to turn the handle of the freezer.
Black pudding was made from animal blood, rice and seasoning of scallions (herbs), thyme and pepper. The rice was partially cooked in water and salt. Then the mixture of the ingredients with the partially cooked rice was blended to the required consistency. The mixture was meticulously stuffed into cleaned intestinal tripe of pigs or cattle. The intestines after being thoroughly cleaned, was cut into lengths of about twenty to thirty inches long. One end was first tied with cotton twine or banana flagging, when stuffed; the other end was tied and then placed in boiling water on a fire to complete the cooking. There was a test to tell when the black pudding was cooked. The link was pricked with a pointer from a coconut palm; when no blood was seen oozing out, it was cooked. It was also critical to get the right amount of stuffing, for if the link was over stuffed the boiling process would cause the link to contract and would create a pressure within the link that would cause it to burst; if not sufficiently stuffed the link would become saggy.
Excerpted from My Early Life On St. Kitts and Nevis by Clement Bouncin Williams Copyright © 2012 by Clement Bouncin Williams. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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