The rite of passage from boy to man in St. Philip, Barbados. Growing up in Wellhouse and Marley Vale in the 60’s
I define my rite of passage as the transition from child through puberty to teen then on to manhood. I take pleasure in reflecting on some of the things I enjoyed as I moved from one phase to the next. Wellhouse taught me the child things but I would say Marley Vale taught me to be a young man. I will paint the scene as I saw it.
As an outsider coming into Marley Vale in 1967 just after independence I found it was a different type of community from Wellhouse. Both had a denominational church and several religious Halls and a primary school. Clarke’s hill also had Miss Iris Gay’s private school which prepared students for entry into secondary school.
I found Wellhouse to have been a quiet road to live on. The only excitement for me was the rum shops I frequented. We had Miss Garnes, Sam Marshall and Lemmy Innis’ shops serving rum. I am deliberately leaving out the Handy Dandy on the south of Wellhouse corner because it sold anything from fabric to hardware but no liquor in those days. The Lloyd Alleyne Shamrock on the west side between the two corners was like a small supermarket but did not survive very long. Shrewsbury Primary school acted as community centre at night for 4-H, scouts and Shrewsbury choir rehearsal. Most families kept their children close to home I remember we could only go next door to play but you had to be back in time for lunch and dinner. Children were not allowed to stray very far without supervision, you were instructed, no matter how hungry you were, if someone offered you food you said “no thanks, I have to eat when I go home”. Never saw that in Marley Vale and boys mostly seemed free to roam. For girls it was a different story they were protected in both villages, virtually prisoners who came home early from school and were watched closely by anxious parents.
The rum shop experience
As a 9 year old in Wellhouse I enjoyed the freedom of going to the rum shop for grocery. Miss Garnes and Sam Marshall were equally slow to dispatch as they were constantly interrupted by the rum drinkers demanding attention to their orders through those openings at the side of the shop that separated the rum consumers from us innocents, in front of the counter. Of course, the language coming from the rum consumption side was more colourful and spiritually inspired. Discussion was often punctuated by the slamming or shuffling of dominoes and exaltations of genius plays or berating of a lousy play by a partner. Payday saw a boost of rum sales and was usually the best time to observe the comic exchanges of sense mixed with nonsense all in good humor. I will leave the rum shop for another discussion. In Wellhouse there was not much to do while waiting to be dispatched by the shop keeper. You could go and play on top the well next to Sam Marshall’s shop. It was like watching paint dry as Marshall calculated totals on a piece of brown paper or cardboard box using a blunt two-inch stub of pencil which he usually kept stashed behind his ear. An hour standing at the shop was normal but Sam “Square” did his best and comic relief from the rum section were a welcomed distraction.
In Marley Vale there were 3 shops at the time. Mrs. Lloyd sold kerosene oil and other hardware stuff, Mrs. Dun-Dun Sealy and Parkey King’s shops offered the trusting of goods until payday and were slow to dispatch too but they had good marble pitching rocks next to them so you could at least pitch marbles to pass time. Next to Parkey King’s shop the fellas hung out under the thorny “mobike” or “bread-and-cheese” bush in the shade to chat about all topics ranging from birth to death and anything in between. They boldly looked any passing young girls up and down and berated them if they held their head straight with nose in the air and refused to speak to the group. Today you would have called it “Boyz on the block”. Pitching marbles became an addiction for me and a way to make friends while waiting your turn to be dispatched with your groceries and time passed swiftly. I remember one day before phones became popular in the households I seemed to forget the urgency of why I came to the shop and my grandmother sneaked up the road and stood over us watching me pitch. She decided to check why it always took me so long to bring home the kerosene oil to fuel up the stove. One of the pitchers spotted her and said, “boy you in trouble” I turned to see my grandmother standing there with her hand behind her back. My worst fears were confirmed as she produced a dried coconut broom, the poor man’s “cat-o-nine-tails” and long story short, I sampled one lash, grabbed my kerosene can and headed home as fast as I could. I was not such an eye servant anymore when sent to the shop as that public administration of discipline was embarrassing.
The Wellhouse butcher
The village butcher was the first social classroom I did miss in leaving Wellhouse for Marley Vale. Clarry Alleyne the Wellhouse butcher killed animals on weekend, and sold the meat fresh. I believe it was mostly on Sunday. Before dawn, around 5 o’clock, I would peek through my window and see a light on in Mr. Alleyne’s back yard and would hurry and dress and rush out to join my friends from the neighbourhood to see the pig, cow, or whatever it was, being killed. Most people now talk about in-humane killing of animals and Hallal meat. I think Mr. Alleyne and his colleague were humane in their methods. As we watched in awe we assisted the men and ran errands. In exchange, there was always a treat at the end for us. I remember I had the job to go across the street to Lemmy Innis’ rum shop and wake up Mr. Innis to get a gill of white rum for a butcher. Because it was Sunday the rum shop could not legally open its doors, so Mr. Innis would call me around to his backyard step and sell me the gill of white rum in a shot glass through his back window. He was still in his pajamas. Then I had to carefully walk back to the butcher skillfully balancing this shot glass, brimming with its precious cargo, without spilling a drop. The kill that day was a bullock (aka bull-cow). So, imagine our delight when the butcher roasted one of the bull’s testicles for us. With a little salt my first time eating cow balls was an absolute delight. Wow. It is a delicacy that should be experienced by all. I could not get enough, imagine if it had been deep fried and seasoned, yum yum. So good. Never crossed my mind there could be live semen in that tender meat.
Other times when it was a pig we would get to hold the bowl, as the pig is stuck, and catch the blood. Some of the precious blood was used by the women to make black pudding while the snout, tail, trotters, ears etc. used to make souse. Everything was meticulously cleaned. Mr. Alleyne was a pro. But last and not least some of the blood and liver were fried with seasoning and we got to sample it. Yum. There was hard liver and soft one, you would hear the word “har-slip” used to refer to that, my pronunciation is rusty. All the activity was over by day break with the meat parceled out and people started coming by to pick up their orders to cook. I returned home happy.
Raising my own pig in Marley Vale
When I moved to Marley Vale, I actually helped my grandmother raise a pig and it was killed in my backyard, not by a butcher, but by my amazing next door neighbour called “Sunny-Tat” Gaskin. Sunny was a jack of all trades. I have learnt so much from him. Sunny was a guy with a green thumb at gardening, a local shoe repairman he did carpentry and mason work, fisherman until 87+ even when he could not swim to the boat, he was not satisfied doing rock fishing. Someone just carried him to the boat anchored in Skeetes bay and he did the rest. In his stint in the USA he was a security guard. There was nothing he could not do. Lovely human being and a tough teacher and critic.
Mr. Gaskin killed the freshly bathed pig while I held it down and showed me how to carefully dunk it in the half oil drum filled with boiling water and then how to shave it. He expertly cut the pig up and placed the still warm shuddering meat on a “dung” basket padded with bread fruit leaves. Days prior to the killing of the pig my grandmother would prepare a list of friends and neighbours in Marley Vale and send me out to do what we call “Ordering out the meat”. You may have guessed it simply meant going house to house asking everyone if they wanted to order any pork and noting down how many pounds. Of course, if the pig was too lean then we had to pro rate the amount of meat we gave to people so that we didn’t disappoint anyone.
Let me tell you about when I got to raise my own pig who became just like a pet. I went up Industry Hall way to purchase a little piglet. I carried a “kruckus” (burlap) bag and placed the pig in it but he was heavier than I expected and very active and unruly and difficult to walk home with. So, I walked to the bus stage stop and paid 5 cents to the bus conductor and placed the pig on the floor of the bus. People looked at me and the bag with the squealing pig, routing around inside it, but I did not care this was my pig and I was going to look after him. You know I raised that pig like a pet and stepped into that pen and kept it spotless and bathed, fed and rubbed him down. As I got home from school the pig would jump up and place front legs on top the pen door to greet me. Now when my grandmother told me we needed to kill the pig, I had gotten so attached to this pet, I could not do it. She gave me the list and I went around Marley Vale ordering out the pork. On the Friday morning, I was told not to feed the pig as Mr. Gaskin was going to kill it on the weekend. I was sad and said I will not be there to hold the pig or catch the blood and I do not eat my friends so I wanted no pork to eat. Fate has a way of stepping in and solving these troubling problems in life. I came home from school to bathe my pig one final time but behold the pig had escaped through a huge hole in the back of the pen. I guess he got hungry ate the hole through the wood and fled or maybe he just understood I could not protect him. A search of the gullies and neighbourhood did not turn up a trace of my pig. I was secretly happy but I had the bad job of going around the district and “un-ordering out the pork”. Some people were very upset as they were depending on that pork for their weekend meal and had no money or time to go to the supermarket to buy meat cash. What a letdown for them. I switched to raising sheep after that episode and to this day I don’t eat mutton either.
Raising sheep in Marley Vale
I raised about 10 black belly sheep as pets. My grandfather Deanie who lived up Merricks was proud of me and insisted to my grandmother that I must have one of his white belly sheep for my birthday. This was all a surprise when I got the message to pass by. It was early evening time and he greeted me with a young white belly sheep tied to a rope and told me it was mine. Now this sheep was too big to fit into any “kruckus” or “burlap” bag so I had to walk her from Merricks to Marley Vale and the darn sheep would not co-operate and walk fast and kept a racket. There was no walking her through Marley Vale as I still remembered the smirks and looks the passengers on the bus gave me when I transported the squealing piglet.
So, like Lazy Jack or Ossie Moore, I flung that sheep around my neck and held on to her legs and walked twice the distance through the lonely River Bottom then around Clarke’s Hill through the mould track by Golden Acres and got my sheep home just before dark. My reputation was still intact.
Raising sheep was pretty easy if you did not have school and extra-curricular activities to deal with. All I had to do was to get up early at 5a.m. at the crack of dawn to take your sheep out on the Wiltshires plantation pasture in front of our house. Competition was ferocious as all your neighbours were also eyeing the best grazing spots to stake out their sheep. So, I would look on the evening before, when tying in my sheep, to see where would be the best grazing spot for the next day. So, in the dark at 5am I would place the ropes on all my sheep and quietly take them to the selected spot and tip-toe barefooted through the dew-covered grass, and begin staking them down. By the time I finished staking out the last one the sun would peep up above the Ragged Point horizon. One thing I never got used to in Marley Vale was the frosty reception you got every morning when your barefoot encountered the dew on the grass. With the sun coming up the droplets of dew sparkled like diamonds and on some days, you saw a mist hovering above the pasture. You left tell-tale tracks in the grass where you disturbed the coating of dew.
I can tell you now that if you forgot to do that scouting the day before to find your next day’s spot it came back to bite you in the butt. There was nothing more irritating when you have finished staking out you sheep and be on your way back to the house when my grandmother would look through the window and shout “Eh, not dey, Connie had she sheep dey yesterday”. You bit your lip and trekked through the cold dew again to move the sheep to another location guided by my stern commander-in-chief from the window.
Sheep were low maintenance during the wet season you just took them out for a walk in the evening on weekends, way across the Three Houses stream to Skeetes Bay in the wooded picnic area called Dixie and you let them roam and graze while you sit under the Casuarina trees (aka mild trees or Australian pine) and read a book. One day that back fired on me the Alistair McLean book got good and I did not realize it had gotten dark until the plot suspense finally diffused. I looked around, the sheep were nowhere to be seen, they actually went home. I ran home and lucky for me my grandmother was not home yet but my saviour (Mr. Gaskin) was there to let them into the gate and placed them into the pen. And that was our secret and I was spared the taste of the coconut broom when my grandmother came home. The sheep could have found a way through the fence and devoured my grandmother’s kitchen garden which was brimming with string beans.
During the “dry” season you had to go after school and “cut meat” for your sheep to eat at night. I quickly discovered that we had guinea-grass hedge rows so I would cut some from the back of the ground and feed the sheep so they would keep quiet and go to sleep. Now when the hedge row was all cut down I discovered that sheep liked avocado pear leaves and breadfruit leaves so I would raid my grandmother’s trees and the sheep would go to sleep contented. Now these temporary measures after school bought me time so that I could get in an hour playing cricket or soccer on the old St. Catherines cricket club pasture when it was located at Wiltshires near Marley Vale. I did like playing cricket after school and sometimes I would try to get in my turn at batting before I went to tie in the sheep for the night. One evening people were batting too long and while playing the game I spotted my grandmother standing under the club trees with her hand behind her back patiently watching the game. I quickly excused myself and ran off in the other direction to tie in the sheep and go give them some leaves to eat. So I dodged another meeting with the coconut broom again. Being young and responsible was tough, time seemed to pass so quickly when you were having fun. My neighbour Bud was not so lucky because he waited to get his turn to bat. His grandmother waited for him as he brought in the sheep and she laid into him with the sheep rope. There was a lot of wailing and lecturing and it could be heard all across the neighbourhood. We kids could not get it right to avoid the temptation of cricket and just go and bring home the sheep. See in those days you had to ask permission to go on the cricket pasture. If your friends were not going you were not allowed to go.
In the next episode, I will look at more learning and experiences in late 60’s Marley Vale. Hope you have experiences to share too.
The above is an excerpt from a book that Carson Don Lorde is writing. He has agreed that BajanThings can publish a preview.
Author: Carson Don Lorde
Created: 7th February 2016
Updated: 4th June 2017
Other articles on St. Philip
- St. Philip, Barbados in the 1950’s & 1960’s. A very brief recollection of the people and events
- Abandoned Lime Kiln at Ragged Point, Barbados
- The Wreck of the SV Nordenskjold
- Keeping fish fresh before refrigeration
- The Bottom-up boulder between Bottom Bay and Harry Smith Beach
- Scientific Studies of Coral Rock
- Boer Camp Pasture – St. Philip
- Ben’s Spring
- Memorials to Departed friends
- High Altitude Research Project (HARP)
- Three Man Well – Woodbourne Valley
- Samuel Weatherhead (1756 – 1816)
Shrewsbury Primary School video
[Background music to video is: Hear, O Lord. Words and music by Ray Repp. Copyright 1966 Otter Creek Music.]