The Saba Islander

by Will Johnson

Memories shared

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   Over the years I have enjoyed a lively correspondence with friends and family from all over the world. Starting with my mother who could barely read and write yet had a wonderful way with words. In the boys town where I stayed on Curacao I used to treasure the only link I had with home and that was the letters I would receive.

   I would like to share with you a letter from my late cousin Carl Lester Johnson in New York, dated March 17th, 2005 (written 2.58 Am). Written on one of those nights when he could not sleep and all sorts of memories were going through his mind.

    ” On May 11, 1902, Alice Eliza Simmons-Johnson came on this earth in a place called Saba. Like, John Cameron Swayze’s Timex there were times she took a licking, but she went on ticking for the next 97 years.

    I just re-read your e-mail about the boys. I am so happy that they are doing well, because if our legacy is nothing but good children then we have done our best. I often think of the day you and Lynne married, but what I remember best is your sister-in-law Enid. If she can dance today as she did that day then she is doing well. Please remember me to her.

    Many thanks for your good advice. Old trees die quickly when transplanted in the fall of life. We never know how many springs remain to grow fresh roots. Sabeans had to do too much of that when they were young. The life was never easy, but the love was always there. What I will remember most until I die are the tears of my beloved old Pa, James Horton Simmons on the day he told me goodbye behind Mrs. Mara Hassell’s house.

    The things I remember best about home are the rocks along the paths we travelled smoothed like Italian marble by naked feet. These stones left behind are the monuments in Saba’s lost cemeteries. Saba is among the longest occupied islands of the Lesser Antilles for she is really the Rock of Ages. My father went home in 1938 and he came to love Rupert Hassell. The older he became the more he spoke of home and how Rupert could “pull the middle oar,” on Uncle Jim’s boat that he named the “Setback”. Shortly after Rupert died, I had a dream. My father and I were standing on a riverbank with all our people. In the dream, he nudged and said, “Look Les there is Rupert coming across the river in a two-oar boat. He is coming to carry us home.” I came awake early this morning with that dream repeated as freshly as the first time I dreamt.

    With seven hundred cars a’ rolling like the chariots of Rome, the place may soon need street signs and traffic lights. I would love for something permanent along the roads and paths named for people such as you. However, I would love to know that we remember Gosta Simmons, El Primo (Raymond S.Simmons), Henry Hassell, and Dr. Eric Leverock Simmons. I lost Henry’s e-mail address. If anyone has it please forward this to him. These four wonderful people and you have done more to keep the memories of those who passed our way before than anyone I know.

   Hang in there Will and do not go near the “Clapper Cliff” because I do not want anyone to drown in the sweet tears of my memories of home. Before Louise ever visited home and I referred to Saba as home, she would say, “Shut up, this is your home.’ When we went home in 1970, it was the saddest of times. When we went back in 1986 as the plane took off from Flat Point she had tears in her eyes as I do now. She looked at me and said, “Such a nice little home.” We had planned to go back for our winters when we retired, but she died a few days before Christmas 1989.”


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