One of a kind;Bobby Every
One of a kind; Bobby Every
By; Will Johnson
Man does not live by bread alone, but by the lyrics of poets, the wisdom of sages, the holiness of saints, the biographies of great souls.
I was in Florida, experiencing the fury of the mighty tornadoes in Kissimmee, when Bobby died. I had accompanied the group though who had brought him out from “Drunkards Haven” the afternoon I was leaving and the day before he died.
Consequently I did not attend his funeral. There was no need for me to be there. I had buried him once before in a private ceremony and I have the photographs to prove it. He said to me one day: “When you get a chance come over to the house and bring your camera. I want to show you my coffin.” The grave lined with whiskey bottles I had seen many times before. He had built the grave himself and also the coffin.
When I arrived at the “Drunkards Haven”, sometimes renamed to “Paradise Point” when Bobby was on the wagon, he and his dog “Sweet Pea” were there waiting on me. “Now you don’t go pee in the grave yet,” Bobby said, “as I will also want you to take my picture in the grave after we have finished inside.” After viewing the simple pine coffin, Bobby laid himself down in it and played dead. He also asked to take a photo taken of him sitting up in the coffin. “No need to fart or belch for this one, “Bobby said, “as that cheap camera of yours can’t record a fart or a belch.”
“You know my great niece from California was here a few weeks ago, and I told her to bring her camera that makes movies. After setting up the movie camera, and I laid down in the coffin, she, all dressed in black, hanged on to the coffin and pretended to be crying. I asked her if it was O.K. to fart and belch in the coffin, and she said, “Go ahead. Me boy, that was some fun!”
Bobby was a man who looked at death as just another phase of life. He even seemed to look forward to it. When he died at 82 and his friends laid him to rest in his whiskey lined grave at the Drunkard’s Haven, they all went to Scout’s Place for a cocktail party. These arrangements he had made before he died, including a tape of hymns that he wanted them to sing at the grave. He said he wanted an Irish funeral and he got his wish.
Bobby was Saba’s best known taxi driver. He grew up on Saba at a time when people here were dirt poor. I remember him telling me once that Harry Johnson and he as boys had found an old rusty can with three cents in it. Since Harry was an orphan, Bobby told him: “You are worse off than me, you take two cents, and I will take one.” That way of sharing he continued through all his life with friends and family. Like most people at the time he went to Aruba and worked there for some years and he married Ivy Skerritt, also from Saba, while he lived on Aruba. All of his children were born there. In the nineteen fifties he returned to Saba with his family and he brought a Jeep along. He knew something about mechanic work as well as other trades which he had picked up on Aruba, and he kept himself busy with that as well as with farming and fishing. All his life he loved to farm and at the time of his death he left a crop of “quesunchies” (pigeon peas) and other crops and so his family could reap even after he had passed on.
When tourists started coming to Saba, Bobby found his true calling in life. A born comedian, he was a “natural” as a taxi-driver and a tourist guide. A number of articles have been written about him in newspapers and magazines in the United States and Europe. He knew how to treat people, and they appreciated it. I personally have witnessed in the past, someone paying him $15.—for an all day island tour and Bobby thanking him profusely. A moment later the visitor returned and said: “That was for the tour.” He handed Bobby a $100.—bill and said: “And this is for the jokes and the hospitality.” Bobby’s tour would include a visit to his home where he would give his guests a bouquet of flowers and a taste of Saba Spice liqueur. “Good only to throw on your doorstep to keep the witches away,” Bobby would tell them. He usually would only get one tour and stay with his people for the rest of the day. The jokes he would tell were sometimes so off-color as not to be repeated. Guests would send him new jokes by mail and a number of joke books so that he would be up to date. He told me once that he was telling jokes about priests, and that one of his guests was very silent, so he switched to another subject. The man in the back told him: “Bobby, don’t stop the jokes. I want to know what the rest of the world thinks about us priests. I am the Bishop of Chicago.”
People would forever be sending him T-shirts and among his large collection, the one he wore most and which I liked best, read: Sex Instructor. First Lesson Free.”
Bobby owned a large property in The Level. When there was no road there he built a small house which he enlarged over the years. There he used to farm and entertain friends. He named his farm “Drunkards Haven” even though he was on the wagon more often than he was on the booze. I used to spend weekends there sometimes when I would come over from St. Maarten. One morning I thought I heard a phone ringing and out of an old pile of firewood, Bobby picked up an antique phone and listened attentively. “Miss Jones, you mean you heard the noise all the way on St. John’s? I apologize, I had Will Johnson and Alan Busby visiting for the weekend and they had a party. I never thought that you would have heard it all the way over there.” After apologizing once again to Miss Jones he put the old phone back in the woodpile. I was between sleep and wake. Two minutes later, the phone rings again, and Bobby goes through the same exercise. This time it was the Priest phoning to complain. I thought to myself, “We are in trouble.” Of course there was no phone connection to the Drunkards Haven. Bobby had somehow managed to set two alarm clocks to go off about ten minute’s apart. Being half asleep I really thought it was a phone ringing.
At the farm Bobby’s donkey and faithful assistant was named Jezebel. When I lived on St. Maarten and first started publishing the “Saba Herald”, Bobby, Jezebel and Sweet Pea was a source of news, enough to cover at least one page in the newspaper. Long before Sesame Street, I would use Bobby Every as a source to teach my children. For example, in teaching them the alphabet, at each stage I would use him. Bobby in the letter P would be the Pirate, raiding People’s Pots, eating their Pigeon Peas and so on.
As he advanced in years the little boy in Bobby came out more and more. People just his age or a little older, Bobby talked of as if they were old people. If he visited one of his “old” friends and they had left and alarm clock where Bobby could get his hands on it undetected, he would set the alarm to go off at 2 or 3 AM. He would call on them the next day to find out how they had slept.
Bobby never grew old. He just passed from one phase of life into another. To me it seemed comical that Bobby had a long beard, was stooped, and walked with a stick. It seemed to me that he was just up to one of his jokes.
Drunkards Haven became to Bobby the mythic Land of the Lotus Eaters, where Odysseus’ men debarked on their way back to Ithaca and ate the magical fruit that made them forget they had a home to return to. Bobby chose to live at the Haven, perhaps to meditate, to work, to rest and to prepare for the long journey sure to come. Even when he was being brought out from Drunkards Haven on a stretcher after having suffered a heart attack, I could not help thinking that perhaps he was up to another of his jokes. He even gave me a mischievous smile as they put him in the ambulance. But this time he was entering the final phase of that long journey he had been so diligently preparing himself for.
A week after his sister Mabel died, he had stopped me on the road in Windward Side to announce: “You know,” he said;” Mabel reached. She called last night. It took her a whole week to get there. But “Bungie” and they were happy to see her. They even cooked up a pot of Saba food, pig’s tails and all of that.” That was his view of life beyond those pearly gates.
I have not heard from Bobby as yet. He did not call. He had asked me though if I was off island when he died that when I got a chance I could pass by and pee on the grave. I could not be as irreverent as that. I did promise though that I would throw a glass of rum on the grave and tell him the latest joke.
What I do know though is that Saba lost a great soul in the passing of Bobby Every. Man does not live by bread alone, but by beauty and harmony, truth and goodness, work and recreation, affection and friendship, aspiration and worship. Not by bread alone, but by comradeship and high adventure, seeking and finding and being loved.
Rachel Carson once wrote: “If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children I should ask that her gift to each child be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantment of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength.”
Bobby used to regale me with stories of the fairies who had formerly lived in the “Faeroese’s Cave” below Booby Hill. Carl Zagers also told me that his grandmother used to tell him stories of a small race of Indians who lived above Palmetto Point and who were called “Faeroese’s”. Perhaps it was one of those fairies who presided over the christening of Bobby Every and gave him the gift of a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, and served him as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantment of later years. And I am sure that beyond those pearly gates he is still telling his off color jokes and pulling tricks on the “old people”. And who knows. If Taxi services are required up there he is I am sure the best taxi driver up there that one can find. Fare thee well Bobby my friend. Fare thee well.