The Saba Islander

by Will Johnson

Archive for the month “April, 2019”

MY BROTHER GUY

11930822_10153168628952060_2001715923454358292_o.jpg

Visiting Guy on his birthday, left Peter, Wilda and grandson Raleigh, Guy and Will Johnson

MY BROTHER GUY

Born as Samuel Guy Johnson, in the former Saba tradition, he went through life as Guy.

He was born on October 20th, 1936 at a place on Saba called “Behind-The Ridge”. No complicated names back then: “Behind-the-Ridge-”, “Above-the-Bush”, “Flat Point” and so on so that you had no excuse for not knowing where you were going to or had been. Our parents were Alma Blanche Simmons [born July 24th, 1908] and Daniel Thomas Johnson [born January 9th, 1907].

Because of circumstances at the time life was hard and as children each child had to do their share to keep the Household in food. When our mother was pregnant with Guy, while feeding grass to a large bull in the pen, he rushed her and threw her over the wall of the pen into the large rocks below. She and Guy then in the womb both survived.

As a boy growing up the island suffered much by the deprivations caused by World War two.

11223506_950315691658510_6068085198462857358_o

Left to right Will[age 13], Eric, our mother Alma Blanche Simmons, Guy, Sadie in black and visiting from Aruba Mrs. Lucy Hassell-Croes.

The house we lived in above the Sulfur Mine had been built with monies earned when our father worked in Bermuda in the dry docks there which took care of the British Naval fleet.

Our mother never liked Behind-The- Ridge. The house was built close to the edge of the cliffs above the Great Hole. Guy inherited not only his height from our mother who was [six feet and one inch tall] while he was [six feet and four inches tall], he also inherited bad memories of the place. When he had a dream, which involved Behind-The –Ridge he would say that someone in the family was about to die or that some other disaster was about to take place.

JC024.jpg

This is the house in English Quarter when it served as the residence of the Island Administrator R.O. van Delden who was then a widower, He had been married to our sister Sadie. The house was taken down at Behind-the-Ridge and brought over on head by my brothers Guy and Eric and rebuilt where it still stands today,

In 1943 the family left the home at Behind-the-Ridge and moved to the Windward Side where we had to rent a house. Something unheard of in those days and the rent which was twelve guilders a month was always a great source of worry where was the money to come from to pay the rent.

In 1955 Guy and Eric, helped by friends, took the house apart at Behind-The –Ridge. They brought it over on their heads, shingles and all, and rebuilt it in English Quarter. It even served as the home of the Island Governor, in the sixties for a while. The house still stands there proudly today having weathered all the hurricanes.

11817011_950314781658601_394056874323009439_n

Left to right. Freddie, Eric, Guy and Will Johnson

In the nineteen fifties when Guy finished elementary school and was working for the Department of Works [Public Works], he was sent with some others from Saba to the city of Mayaguez in Puerto Rico to study the basics of agriculture.

On January 2nd, 1955 hurricane Alice dropped some 20 inches of rain on our island in less than twenty-four hours. The flood it created destroyed the road leading to the Fort Bay. In a recent interview which was posted on Face Book he tells of the hardship he faced as a nineteen-year-old, bringing up bags of cement and sand to restore the road. There was not one piece of heavy equipment on the island at the time. His wages were a bit more than the daily wages paid to our grandfather James Horton Simmons which was sixty-five cents a day when he was working in 1939 on the construction of the road.

Guy continued working for the Public Works on the building of the road until he got a much sought-after position in the Post Office. He also worked in the Treasure and later in life became the head of both departments and remained in the Treasury until his retirement.

I recall a tribute which then Lt. Governor Sydney Sorton paid to Guy at a reception at Scout’s Place. The Lt. Governor told those present that he had always looked up to Guy since he was a child. He still looked up to Guy. Not only because he was so tall, but especially because of the confidence his parents had in Guy. Mr. Sorton went on to tell the story. Back in those days the Post office was everything. Not only for incoming and outgoing mail, but it also served as a bank and so on. When his parents wanted him as a child to carry a parcel or a letter to mail, it was a worrisome task for a child. But both parents reassured him when he got to the Post Office to just ask for “Mr. Guy”, and he would take care of the rest. In my mind’s eye I can still see Mr. Sorton as a little boy looking up to that tall man behind the counter and trusting him with his parents trust that Mr. Guy would do the right thing. In talking with Commissioner Roland Wilson before I could even tell the full story, right away he said: “Yeah, yeah, I always remember that speech which Mr. Sorton made for Guy.”.

56902417_10162122148570179_3102129791273271296_n

Guy in a forever good mood and an eternal smile. He was born at Behind the Ridge on October 20th, 1936

In 1960 Guy got married to Angela Johnson and together they had three sons. Greg who lives in Florida, Eddy who is a harbour pilot on St. Maarten, and our Island Governor Jonathan.

Guy’s other marriage was to the Saba Lions Club. As a charter member in 1977 he served for the rest of his life in the Club in various functions.

For many years the Lions Club took care of the Saba Summer festival also known as Carnival. He was very active with all the activities in order to see to it that the yearly event went off without a hitch.

He was also very active in the Roman Catholic church as a Member of the Parish Council and helping out wherever he could. Even in his last weeks he would be talking about church matters while in hospital.

40293690_10160780540180188_6457321473693450240_n

Freddie’s daughter Desiree in the middle with two of Guy’s grandchildren visiting from the United States Sarah and Jacob

In the nineteen seventies the Christian Council of Churches [C.C.C.] created a fund to help poor people get easy loans to build cisterns with. A Minister at the time said that “A person in the islands without a cistern is a poor person.” The Saba Local Fund Foundation was established and was given a loan of twenty thousand Antillean guilders. This was a revolving fund and low interest loans were given for the purpose of building cisterns, adding on kitchens and so on. During the existence of the Fund Guy served as the Chairman and was assisted by Secretaries like Mr. Leroy Peterson, then Mrs. Wilma Every-Woods and Mrs. Sonia Richardson-Sorton.  When loans became easier to get from the commercial banks the Fund paid back the C.C.C.  the initial loan and the money made from interest on those loans were distributed to the churches on Saba. Guy traveled to various Caribbean Islands for meetings in connection with this Fund. Saba was the only island where all the loans were paid back and where full account could be given on the use of the monies loaned by the C.C.C.

Guy also like to fish and often told stories about how whales when surfacing near the small rowboats fishing on the ‘Saba Bank”, had nearly overturned the boat. From a boy Guy had to farm and keep cattle. What was done out of necessity grew into a lifelong love of working the soil of which our ancestors have been a part for centuries.

He will be laid to rest in the cemetery among his ancestors. One of his ancestors Commander Richard Johnson of 1828 is buried within sight of the cemetery. All four of Guy’s grandparents are buried here as well and he is being laid to rest in the grave of his maternal grandmother Agnes Simmons born Johnson and not too far from the last resting place of his brother Freddie.

Nothing needs to be exaggerated about his personality and his seemingly ever good mood. Now that Face Book is the most used means of communication on Saba, the tributes which have been made to him from all the Island Families tell it all.

Guy Johnson August 4th, 2001.jpeg

Guy visiting our home at The Level and going through one of my many family photo albums. He was a frequent visitor to my home.

Guy traveled the Caribbean extensively as a member of the Lions Club. He was known everywhere as “Lion Sam.”

He also went on family vacations and also for health reasons to The Netherlands and Colombia.

Throughout the hardships he experienced in life he always remained calm and collective and seemingly always in a good mood. His life goes to prove that even in a small place, on an island, much can be achieved when focusing on the positive things in life. He has been a real role model not only for his children and grandchildren but for Saba on the whole. In a sermon here in this church a couple of weeks ago, a visiting priest from Jamaica Father Bernard, sad that many people’s biggest concern is “How will I be remembered?” It is perhaps that worry which drives people of accomplishment to do ever more up to the very last.

Should Guy have had such a worry then he need not have had to. For sure he will be remembered. Not only for being a tall man, but especially for being a gentle and kind man with a forever smile even up to the last when he was going through the end days and the suffering it brings with it.

A special word of thanks to all of those who heaped praise on my brother, to all those who turned out to accompany him to his last resting place and to all of those in the health care system here on Saba and on St. Maarten who helped to take care of him in his last days.

A certain Bishop Brent reminds us in a sermon what dying is all about.

“A ship sails and I stand watching till she fades on the horizon and someone at my side says. She is gone.

Gone where? Gone from my sight, that is all. She is just as large now as when I last saw her.

‘Her diminished size and total loss from my sight is in me, not in her.

And just at the moment when someone at my side says she is gone, there are others who are watching her coming over the horizon, and other voices take up a glad shout. There she comes.

That is what dying is. A horizon and just the limit of our sight! Lift us up, oh Lord, that we may see further.!

Thanks to all, and May he rest in Peace.

 

 

 

 

BECALMED IN THE WINDWARDS

BECALMED IN THE WINDWARD’S.

Sint Maarten’s number-one seafarer retires to his porch to watch the Caribbean fill up with ships.

 

entrance-to-capt-hodge-guesthouse.jpeg

the entrance to Captain Hodge’s Guesthouse was located on the Front Street just up the road from the Pasangrahan Hotel

I had lived with Captain Austin Hodge and his family at the Guesthouse for a good ten years. Starting with 1958 on my way to and from school on Curacao and then in 1960 on a permanent basis when I worked for the Government in the old Court House in a variety of positions.

Life was slow back then. I can recall sitting on the front porch of the guesthouse in the early evening. If a car passed after7pm the Captain would wonder where so and so was going that ungodly hour of the night. He knew all the car numbers out of his head.

There was much room for oral history and where he had lived. From his native Grand Case to the United States, Guadeloupe, the Dominican Republic, and back to Sint Maarten. His wife Mrs. Bertha Hodge-Lawrence was also from Grand Case. I would get a ride with them from time to time to do grocery shopping by Miss Bertha’s brother Jimmy Lawrence in Grand Case and got to know many of the families from that once quiet village as well.  I was curious and people would confide in me. Things which they would not tell a close relative they would lay the burden on me of keeping secrets.

But regular stuff, oral history interested me a great deal. I read a lot and would question the old timers how things were ‘back in the day’ as we say nowadays.

 

10838018_10153013455148686_8076804864322088527_o

Government schooner the Blue Peter which ran the mail and passenger service from 1947 to 1962.

I was looking for a Holland Herald magazine in which they pictured the Captain with his dark brown skin and Norwegian blue eyes. His ancestors were partly from Anguilla and I believe that he told me more than once that his grandmother was Irish and he had inherited the blue eyes from her. Neville Lake will be able to correct me on that as I believe that he told me that the Captain was a great uncle of his.

I have not found the magazine I was looking for. However, I found an old “HOLIDAY” MAGAZINE from September/October 1972 Vol. 52 No. 2. with a long article by Michael Strauss. Captain Hodge’s life and the recent history of the Dutch Windward Islands is important. I will illustrate the story with photos of what is discussed in the article to make it more interesting to his family, friends and readers of The Herald.

“Once the most seafaring man of the Dutch Windward islands, Captain Austin Hodge is taking it surprisingly easy these days. In Philipsburg, Sint Maarten he’s content to sit on the front porch of his new seven-room concrete home with his wife Bertha and gaze at the masts of the large cruise ships in the harbour, to scan lush green heights of towering Fort William – near where Peter Stuyvesant lost that famous leg in a fight with the Spanish – and to look after his young coconut trees, the crotons, roses, and leafy bougainvillea that surround his house.

“It is a small wonder. Now 71, Captain Hodge has spent a full life. He has sailed the nearby waters of the Caribbean and the Atlantic countless times as a seagoing mailman – and has skippered a ferryboat. He has operated one of the most popular guesthouses this side of the British West Indies, even putting in stints as a cook, waiter, and “chief bottle washer’ at such American outposts as New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey.

636a4f3ead5cff8bc8252931c27624489ccc92c02d0b9459747a9a47d9a6ad2c.jpg

Coming up to anchor at For Bay, Saba

“What did I like doing best?”  the tawny, leather-skinned blue-eyed Captain Hodge answered me in his soft, island patois. “I like it all. Early in life I decided I never would work at anything I didn’t enjoy. As a boy, born and raised on the French side of this island – in the ocean-front village of Grand Case – I walked the beaches searching for shells and turtle eggs. As a teenager I played cricket with bats often carved from a piece of fence board, built and sailed my own little sloop, and operated my own seagoing version of “Western Union” service. And, when I became a man, I went to the United States to see what I was missing. I’ve been back on the island these past 40 years, and I’m glad I’m here.”

Those who know Captain Hodge best, as well as those who meet him for the first time, wonder that this sturdy, tall, youthful –looking, muscular man has seen fit to retire. There are some in this capital city of Dutch Sint Maarten who insist that the Captain can still hoist a 100-pound cask as easily as a baby lifts a toy balloon, and that he can sail through a heavy storm to such neighboring islands as Saba and St. Eustatius and the English isle of Anguilla with his bright blue eyes closed, controlling a tiller with no more than a fingertip.

43e55e83a037b20708b981f7e67d94bc6df2e26cc84100f748f8a899189f73f3

Headed in the direction of Saba

But the Captain’s reputation is not based on idle chatter. Through the years he’s weathered tempestuous squalls that have made his craft –mostly 25-to 50-foot sailboats – whirl like a spinning top. He has repeatedly inched into harbors at night during tropical storms with only a kerosene lamp as a landmark and in channels only slightly deeper than the draft of his boat. And he’s turned in feats of strength at sea – in emergencies – such as tossing a heavy anchor overboard that four of his seamen couldn’t move. Though he no longer sails regularly, the sisters of St. Joseph’s College still refer to him as “Our Captain” because of the many times he has carried nuns safely to Saba and Statia.

“Mention of the word hotel invariably seems to make the Captain look toward Front Street, the city’s main thoroughfare that borders the Caribbean for almost a mile. It was here, 17 years ago, that Captain Hodge found himself ‘backed” into the guesthouse business. It proved his most profitable venture.

“it all started just before the arrival of Queen Juliana,” Hodge reminisced. “Overnight housing was going to be scarce because of the Queen’s entourage. Everyone, it seems, was making the rounds in search for a place to stay.

 

Trixie

The motor vessel the ‘Trixie’.

“I was approached by a man I still remember only as Dr. Humes. He said he was writing a book in his house on the other side of the Great Salt Pond but that he had turned the residence over to the Queen’s party. Now he needed a room for himself. Did I know anyone?”

“Since two of my three boys were away at school in Curacao, I offered the stranger my sons’ room for $5. — per day, though without meals. I wasn’t sure I wanted strangers in my house but I felt I should cooperate. After all a Queen might arrive only once in a life-time.

“I don’t know whether Dr. Humes ever finished his book,” continued the Captain . “I don’t even know what happened to Dr. Humes. But word got around that we were taking in guests and, before you could say “all hands-on deck” a few times, we were receiving letters from outside the island.

Soon Captain Hodge was adding rooms to his home and boasting of certain built in advantages for tourists. The dwelling faced Front Street, with all the stores nearby. And the aquamarine and a beach of sparkling white sand was at the back.

“Because there were not too many good eating places on the island for tourists in those early days,” I was told, “our guests soon began asking for meals. “So, it was into the kitchen for Bertha and onto the beach for me- to set nets and lobster pots. The sea in back of our ‘hotel’ was our fish market, and from my endeavors there we were able to feed our guests snappers, yellow tails, and crayfish fresh from the Caribbean.”

BB046

The Dominican Nuns here waiting to go on their vacation to St. Maarten

‘Although those were profitable days, in retrospect Captain Hodge regards them as being an anticlimactic part of his career. For while it was true, he took his guests on sailing trips, upon occasion, he felt that the hotel business too often took him away from his first love – the sea.

Scan0385

Advertisement in St. Maarten events 1969.

The son of a shipwright (his father was born in 1875 on the neighboring English island of Anguilla), the Captain trod his first deck shortly after he learned to walk. The elder Hodge, anxious for companionship, frequently took the toddler to sea with him on short trips.

“When I was 14,” Captain Hodge recalled, “an importer with an office in Marigot, the capital of the French side of St. Martin, came into my father’s place. He asked where he could find someone to sail across “the channel” to Anguilla to deliver a letter. In those days there was no other fast way – no radio telephone.

“Of course, I know someone,’ my father replied. He pointed to me and said, ‘There’s the best sailor on this part of the island, standing right in front of you.”

The trip was one of the first cross-channel voyages for the young skipper – for pay. Soon he was carrying letters and passengers in both directions. The journey usually was uneventful. But squalls capable of producing up to 8- and 10-foot waves occasionally came roaring in. Hodge, Sr., it seems, never worried. He knew that his son thrived on challenges on shipboard and could handle them.

4aaf8dcc772ef7a78f749b1edf0f04163d8e94ccaf3e889cad99d375bc2f0669

Captain Austin Hodge here checking on the seas ahead.

When Captain Hodge was 18, he was presented with a sleek, 18-foot sailing sloop by his father. Since it was launched on the day the World War I Armistice was signed- and the Allies had won – the craft was suitably named The Won. A short hitch in the French army with service in Guadeloupe soon followed. Subsequently, the mustered-out soldier headed for the United States to satisfy his curiosity to see the outside world. And because he was interested in the preparation of food, he worked mostly in restaurants. Among those he remembers the old Palace Restaurant, next to the Fort George Hotel, on Manhattan’s East Side.

t2ec16hfictt2uwhbsbp86k260_57.jpg

The old  or town wharf was named in honor of Captain Austin Hodge

“I like the States,” Captain Hodge said, “but I missed the sea and when I returned to St. Maarten for just a visit in 1930, I stayed here. I helped operate the local radio station but always was ready to trim a sail and often did.

Then when a chance arose for me to captain the 43-foot government motorboat the “Trixie”, I grabbed it.”

At last, the Captain was back on the sea on a full-time basis. And his journeys were not difficult because the Trixie, unlike most of his earlier sloops, had power-motors. He sailed regularly among the islands of Sint Maarten, Saba, St. Eustatius, and the English island of St. Kitts – for ‘the service of passengers and mails.”

In 1946, when the Trixie was “laid up” with engine trouble, he was told to substitute the government’s sailing schooner ‘Aurora’. Captain Hodge remembers with a smile one of his first trips on the ‘Aurora’, which had no auxiliary engine. “I had been told by Governor Paap of the islands to make the regular trip without delay. The mail service had been held up too many days due to the trouble with the Trixie. As God is my Judge, I started out in oil-calm weather in which there wasn’t a breath of wind. For three long days I was just a swimming distance from our shores. With orders as they were, I had to wait out the wind for there was no turning back. It took me eight days to complete the trip among the islands – a voyage I usually made in one day with the Trixie.”

 

Image (1174)

St. Kitts was also serviced by the ;Blue Peter’.

In contrast to that extended calm, Captain Hodge recalled a journey in 1947 when he set sail on the two-master schooner, the Blue Peter, a new government boat that boasted a small motor. He arrived at St. Kitts on schedule, and his four-man crew, as usual went ashore on the tender.

A storm blew up at about 11 pm, and the crew could not return because of the rough weather. The Blue Peter went aground during the big blow and the little motor conked out. Hodge and the youngster on board, nevertheless managed to get the boat afloat. But since the storm prevented them from returning to St. Kitts, they rode out the heavy winds all night and limped into St. Eustatius. There the Captain picked up another crew, returned to St. Kitts, got his regular men back aboard and continued his rounds of the islands as though the entire voyage had been routine.”

Captain Hodge also owned a sloop called the ‘Grace=a=Dieux’ which he built down street.

Space would not allow to tell more of the story. The Captain lived on to over ninety years of age. I was asked to do the eulogies for both him and his wife ‘Miss Bertha’ when they passed on. In later years the small wharf in Philipsburg was named in his honour. I don’t remember now if he was still alive when this took place, but I am sure that he

086bb778b64dc53c0467fd64c6037d429570a968a39d52129dd8ad7df019e6f1

Nice photo of Captain Austin Hodge from 1947 on the Blue Peter.

would have been pleased with that.

 

Post Navigation