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Then & Now – Our interesting Virgin Islands

 

 

On September 21, 2012, we met Mr. Salvadore Callwood, a very dynamic and energetic elderly gentleman, at his home in Carrot Bay – this was after my visit with Mrs. Melcena Smith. And yesterday, Friday, October 5, 2012, we visited with Mrs. Jenny Wheatley (Teacher Jenny as she is called) at her home in East End. Each of these visits presented us with a glimpse into the historical past of these Virgin Islands – from childhood to adulthood and into the senior years.

Mr. Callwood recalled how his parents moved to the Virgin Islands from the Dominican Republic, his early childhood years and how he left as a teenager to live and work in the United States Virgin Islands but was pleased to return to the Virgin Islands when the, now deceased, Chief Minister of the Territory, who was his good friend,  suggested that he should return home as there was work for him to do – he did and went to work at the Long Bay Hotel and Resort- Mr. Callwood is long retired but has many fond memories of the early years of his life.

Our meeting with Teacher Jenny was two-fold – in the first part, she showed us how to make local “tart” – a pastry that can be filled with stewed coconut, pineapple, guava or whatever you want to fill it with, and is a great sweet treat any time of the year but especially at Christmas time – a must taste when visiting the islands. The second half was spent chatting with this lovely lady about her early years growing up in the Virgin Islands and reminiscing on some of the local sayings – Teacher Jenny is also retired but has remained very active within the community – in addition to the many things she does she finds the time to contribute to the “Millennium Committee” which was instituted by the past Premier, The Honourable Ralph T. O’Neal.

“‘The Millennium Committee took up the baton with an initial goal to compile a list of buildings and sites that might be in danger of being destroyed if their historical value was not properly researched and identified. Xandra Adamson, another Millennium Committee member and longtime resident of the BVI, who is originally from Trinidad, explained, “We knew our long list would not be effective unless we focused on just a few buildings to start with. We let the Chief Minister select from the list his top four buildings of importance and that is how we came up with the ones designated for historical plaques.

The J.E. William George's shopThe four buildings chosen for their historical significance are all located on Main Street, the site of many traditional West Indian homes now converted to businesses. St George’s Church Hall (owned by the Anglican church), Her Majesty’s Prison and the J.E. William George’s Compound are all on the west side of the street. The locally known “Fireproof” building owned by the J.R. O’Neal family (across from the Methodist Church) is located on the east side. Each has a unique history for the significant events or purposes that it served.

Jennie Wheatley, the third core member of the Millennium Committee, is another local historian with a wealth of knowledge. Her credits include starting the Virgin Islands Studies program at the H. Lavity Stoutt College, inspiring many of the territory’s youth to take an interest in their history and culture. She remembers the George’s Compound well. “There were other places you could pick up a few items in the early days, but this was the place to go to get it all – from birth to death. They stocked clothes, groceries, tools, even lumber to build a coffin.”‘ (www.bviwelcome.com)

Note: “Her Majesty’s Prison” to which the article refers is the old Prison on Main Street in the capital of Road Town, on the island of Tortola – the largest island in the Archipelago.

THEN & NOW – Ms. Melcena

 

This week I had the privilege and pleasure of interviewing two other elderly persons within our community – Mrs.. Melcena Smith of Little Apple Bay and Mr. Salvador Callwood of Carrott Bay – both on the island of Tortola. – Mr. Callwood will be featured under separate cover.

 

Ms. Melcena, as she is affectionately called, is a beautiful lady with an exceptional memory for details – while she is missing exact dates it was a delight to sit with her and listen to tales of years past – she still lives in the same village where she was raised as a child, not in the same home – she recalled how small those houses were and even showed a picture of the house, which is proudly displayed on the wall of her modern house that her oldest son, Bernard, built for her.  Despite being the only child to her parents (one other sibling died at a very early age) Ms. Melcena and her husband, now deceased, had twelve (12) children – all of whom are still alive – one daughter still resides at home with her.

This was quite an emotional interview for me as Ms. Melcena was the “god-daughter” of my paternal grandmother, whom I did not know – I didn’t even know where my grandparents lived or really anything about them as they both died before I was born and no-one ever told me anything about them – but here I learned that my eldest sister, now also deceased, was named for that grandmother – Annie Thomas (nee Vanterpool) and she and her husband who was from St. Kitts lived “just down the road” from where Ms. Melcena lives, in the same village and that she was from Great Thatch Island, which is one of the islands in the Archipelago which make up the Virgin Islands (UK).

Although her children had built her a modern home on the beach front – beautiful! This wonderful lady has retained a collection of utensils and other accoutrements from her earlier years including an oven built from a tin (similar in design to a large saltine cracker tin – rectangular in shape, with a lid made also from tin, wired on and on the inside there was a  layer of wires to form a central shelf – this was used for baking bread or any form of baking when the brick oven was not in use – she even retained three large pieces of charcoal as evidence of what was used for heating the oven (charcoal burns without smoking) – some was on the bottom and some on the top.

(Below is the closest picture I could find of such a contraption – this one does not have the central shelf but its gives the concept)

http://rt492.org/dl/projects.html#stoves

Look for Camp stoves and Ovens under the index

 

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