Remembering Clarence Connor
By: Will Johnson
In his obituary the family mentioned me as one of his good friends. And indeed I was. I don’t know if he told them. Perhaps he did. He remembered me especially fondly until the day he died for a special favour I did for him these many years ago.
He also loved to read “Under the Sea Grape Tree”. I remember one night that he called me. It was after ten already. When I picked up the phone the caller was laughing so much that I thought it was a crank call and was just about to hang up. But then I recognized his voice and he said:” Wait for me to calm down.” He said to me: “My wife told me that if you don’t stop reading all that stuff Will Johnson writes it is going to be the end of you.” I told him: “To the contrary if it makes you laugh it is good for your health.” And then he started to tell me the different articles which he liked and would go off into a peal of laughter each time. He was good friends with Frederick Froston and he loved what I had written about his old friend. He laughed so much about the one I wrote when Evans Deher and I had gone to the movies on the Backstreet and some small bad boy had shouted out in the theatre “St. Dominic” and the rest is history. If you mentioned the name “St. Dominic” in Evans presence he would hurl a barrage of West Indian bad words at you something similar to the “goalkeeper” invented by the Dutch to hurl metal objects from their warships at an incoming missile. And that was exactly the night that the poor Nuns had decided to go to the movies. But the reason he called that night was for an article which I had just written about the time I lost a guilder on my way to see my first movie “The ghost and Mrs. Muir” and my friend Alan Busby had to lend me the money to see the movie. I know more or less where I lost the guilder as I had a goat tied up there and had to clear her on my way to The Bottom. He said it had brought back to him the time he had lost his two pence on Anguilla and how each time he went back to Anguilla he wondered if it was still there in the bushes where he had lost it. Even though he was a man of means he said that the poverty he had grown up with was such that the two pence meant such a great deal to him that it was imprinted on his brain. The same it was with my guilder which I lost as a boy. Every time I pass the spot I wonder if my guilder is up there in the bushes.
I first met Clarence when I started working in the Post office in 1960. I may have met him before as I had been passing through St. Maarten twice a year on my way to and from school on Curacao all the way back in 1955.
But the Post office then located in the old Courthouse was just across the street from where Clarence worked at Mr. Cy Wathey’s gas station and grocery store so there was plenty of opportunity to see him and talk to him. He and Mr. CY operated the business as father and son. Mr. CY could entertain you with stories about Clarence while Clarence would just be there behind the counter doing his job and laughing at the exaggerations of Mr. Wathey who was a big joker. I remember one which Mr. Wathey used to tell about Clarence. There was a new Receiver in Town, a Mr. de Haseth from Curacao. Before all taxes were abolished in the Windward Islands in 1950 because of the bad economic conditions, there were all kinds of taxes around including Income Tax. Mr. de Haseth was a man with a mission. Everyone he saw doing something he would be checking on their income for possible income tax. And so he went to Mr. Wathey to find out more about Clarence’s income. Mr. Wathey had allowed Clarence when things were slow to do some tailoring. When Mr. Haseth asked about that Mr. Wathey in trying to play it down said that only now and then Clarence would make a pants or a suit and suggested that Mr. Haseth look around and see how many suits people on St. Maarten at the time could afford. Furthermore Clarence he said was not the best tailor in town and very seldom people would come to him to make a pair of pants or a suit. Well Clarence was seething by this time as he was hearing it all from the grocery. And he jumped up and said” Now Mr. de Haseth don’t you believe what Mr. Wathey is telling you,” and then went on in detail to tell Mr. de Haseth how many clothes he was making in the course of a month. That was the information Mr. de Haseth was waiting on and Mr. Wathey never let Clarence forget that he had been trying to protect him and that he Clarence had given himself away and now had to pay an unnecessary income tax.
The great favour Clarence gratefully remembered me for was the following. I knew where his house was. That land Down Street was part of one of the former salt lots which had come into possession of the government which in turn had leased out lots to who they wanted. Between Clarence’s house and the Front Street there was an open lot and where I worked I heard different people were after it. After all Front Street property was like winning several grand prizes at the same time. I went to Clarence and asked him why he had not applied for it. He laughed and said:”Will you know I would never get that.” I told him: “It will only cost a guilder stamp paper. I will make up a request for you to the government for that land. Go to Claude. He will not refuse YOU a meeting. Look him in the eyes and give him the stamp paper and tell him that was what you wanted.” I was Claude’s opposition at the time so I warned him not to use my name. The move was a successful one. I had enough confidence that Claude would not refuse Clarence a favour. He went on to build a three storey building on the property and it kept him comfortable until his death and I hope that it is still in his family.
He loved to fish and in his last years he would go fishing. His boat was just a short walk from his home down to the beach and so he could ease away his last years doing the things he had done as a boy and enjoying life as much as he could.
For this article I would like to include an interview by Mr. Lloyd Richardson with my friend Clarence. This article appeared in The Chronicle in its edition of Friday, October 9th, 1987 and was a special anniversary issue for the fact that the Wathey family had the SHELL agency for fifty years. This interview will give you the reader the opportunity to know more about Clarence than I could ever remember.
The article was entitled “The Old Man, Cyrus Wathey”, and it tells as much about Clarence as the Old Man.
“There is not an hour of the day that passes that I do not think about The Old Man.” Those words were spoken by Mr. Clarence Connor, as he fondly recalled the late Cyrus Wathey, his boss for 23 of his 30 years as an employee of the Wathey family.
As I sat and listened to the friendly, soft spoken gentleman talking about his life as a young man in the services of the one he called “The Old Man,” – even though Cyrus Wathey was only 45 at the time- I knew that this was no ordinary employee/employer relationship, but a tie based on mutual respect and friendship that had evolved to blind devotion and fatherly love by the time The Old Man passed away 23 years later.
“He was a wonderful, truly kind human being and I will remember him that way until the day I die. He was very good to me and one of the good things about him was that he never treated me like a servant who was below him in class or anything like that, he treated me like a friend, a companion or a comrade, who always spoke to me as man-to-man and his young son Claude was just like him a very good person,” Clarence said.
Clarence’s mood changed often during our nearly two hour chat, as he recalled the happy and the sad times in the employ of the Wathey’s. Going back to the beginning, he spoke of coming to St. Maarten in 1944 after leaving his home in Anguilla and first spending 2 years in St. Thomas.
He was just over 20 at the time he first saw Mr. Cyrus Wathey and although he only watched him from a distance he always felt an affinity for him. It was not until several months later that Clarence actually started to work for Mr. Cyrus Wathey. Clarence recalled being very impressed with the way Old Man Wathey had carried himself. He even remembered the color of his clothes and how he looked on that first occasion.
“He was a sharp looking guy you know. I remember when I first saw him; he had just come downstairs from his home wearing all white and was headed to his father’s store opposite the Post Office. Somehow he attracted my attention and I watched him as he crossed the street until he reached his father’s business. That was in January 1945 and I didn’t know then that within a few months I would be working for him,” he said.
Clarence started out pumping gasoline at the old pump station in the square, which he said had to be operated by hand. He also worked in the family’s grocery store next to the pump. He remembered that much of the sales in those days were one cent transactions, in which a weighed amount of baking soda, or baking powder was wrapped in little packets of brown paper and sold for a cent.
Recalling fond stories of The Old Man, who he said “was a guy who was always out to help you.” Clarence, who was a tailor in his free time, told a story of how he had tried unsuccessfully for a long period of time to arrange the purchase of a quantity of cloth from a company called Odom in England. One day he mentioned his problem to The Old Man and two weeks later he had his Odom cloth. Old Man Wathey had used his influence as a shipping agent to arrange the prompt delivery of the cloth, and on top of that, Clarence added, the generous gentleman then informed him that he could sell his cloth in one section of his store, although he too sold clothing, and this act meant virtually setting up his own competition.
“That was a boss. No other man living or dead would ever have done that, not even a father for his son,” Clarence said, followed by a long period of silence as he pondered the thought. Recalling the Old Man’s reaction when he thanked him for what he had done, Clarence said, The Old Man pushed out his chest macho style, flipped the ashes from his cigar and said “That when you’re big,” with a hearty laugh. Clarence imitated the Old Man’s Voice and jovial personality as he repeated The Old Man’s words.
Recalling the humorous side of The Old Man, Clarence recalled a story of how he had gone to work very sleepy one morning after attending a dance at the PMIA Hall the night before. Clarence simply remembered that “sleep was killing him,” but he managed to stay awake until 1 pm., when The Old Man had retired for his siesta.
“I figured that after he goes up I’d catch a little catnap, since I did not have a lunch hour. So when he went up to take his rest and when he came down at about 2:30, he found me fast asleep. In those days we had the old time drawers and kept the money in a cigar box in it. He took the money and the cigar box and hid them, then he took his cigar from his mouth and flipped a little of its ashes on my arm. Naturally I woke up from the heat and as you can imagine I was very embarrassed. He then went to his office, took fls.25.00 from his iron chest and said ‘Clarence change this for me please,’ of course to show me that the money was gone.
“So when I went to the drawer and discovered that the cigar box and all the money was missing, that time my heart began to pump like the gasoline pump out front man!,” Clarence said, his voice registering the excitement of the moment he was so vividly recalling. “But what saved me from fainting is that I looked at his face quickly and could see the laughter, gearing up there and I knew that he had taken the money. He said, anybody could have come in here and taken the whole place and go with it and you there fast asleep,” Clarence said laughing hilariously at that exciting moment so many years ago.
Becoming serious again, he said. “Any other boss would have fired me on the spot, but he used the situation of my shortcoming to teach me a lesson. I never slept again on the job,” he said.
Moving from father to son, Clarence spoke of Claude with almost the same reverence as the old man. He said Claude’s character was much like his father’s and he also was very generous, sympathetic and everything you could think of, “and in those days he did not even think about going into politics or anything like that. This was the forties and Claude did not start with politics until the fifties.” And the article continues with interesting memories. He recalled one story of how a friend of his had come to him and asked to borrow some money for his passage to Curacao, but fearing he would never see his money again, Clarence sent the man to his boss Claude, who immediately gave the man the money without even as much as a word. “About three years later it crossed my mind and I asked Claude if he had ever gotten the money back from the man. He said no, ‘when I gave it to him I did not expect that he would return it, but I knew that he needed it so I gave it to him.’ That was the kind of man Claude was and still is,” Clarence said
He added that these days when he looks at TV and he sees all the awards Claude is getting, he personally knows that he deserves them and even more, because politics or no politics Claude is a very good human being who helps anybody that he can. Returning to his memory of The Old Man, Clarence who had been given the name C.B. (his first initials) by Claude, said that although The Old Man was kind, one made a terrible mistake if one mistook his kindness for weakness. “He was a very good man, but don’t make a second mistake with him, because he never forgave you the second time,” Clarence said remembering that he had been once forgiven for falling asleep. “I remember one time we had a disagreement and he knew that I was right, but he still blamed me. So I took the blame. Later he went up for his siesta as usual and when he came down he carried a placard on which he had marked, ‘The boss isn’t always right but he’s always the boss.” With that statement Clarence laughed out loud with such enthusiasm that before it was over we were both near to tears with laughter. “He knew he was wrong, but he was the boss,” Clarence said after he had stopped laughing .Mr. Clarence Connor is now (in 1987 that is) sixty six years old, but he still breaks out in laughter at the drop of a hat and having spoken to him for just a short time I knew that I had made a friend who would forever be young at heart. He spends his days, fishing now (his life’s hobby) and before I left, he promised (unsolicited) to supply me with some of the fish from his traps.
As I walked away I wondered what the attraction had been that had caused Clarence to become so overwhelmed with The Old Man from the moment he first laid eyes on him and I theorized that it was perhaps that they were of the same kind heart and spirit, which seek out the good in other people. But, if you believe in the stars, could it have been because as he revealed during our chat, both Clarence and The Old Man celebrated their birthdays on the same day?” And so today we remember Clarence or CB as The Old Man used to call him.