Childhood Memories

Recollections of growing up on South Caicos.

By Emily Malcolm ~ Photos Courtesy Sailrock South Caicos Archival Collection

As I took a stroll through my community of South Caicos, I reminisced on my childhood and teenage years. I saw buildings or parts thereof that reminded me of some of the most exciting and joyous experiences in my lifetime. These memorable moments encouraged me to share what it was like growing up there and the activities that took place within certain buildings.
So journey with me 50 to 60 years down memory lane to experience my reflections about such places as: The Cat ’n’ Fiddle, Silver Slippers, Carib Hall, Government Elementary School (Old School), Cassidy Heights, Sir Hugh, The Cinema, and Benevolent Hall.

Back in the days, it was the culturally accepted practise that children and teenagers did not attend the same events as adults. Parents certainly did not attend the same sessions as their children. So, afternoon events typically catered to children and teenagers, while night events were for adults. The movies were the exception. Many parents accompanied their children to the movies because they only happened at night.
The Cat ’n’ Fiddle and Silver Slippers were the main nightclubs for many years, but they also hosted tea parties, movies, dances and birthday celebrations. Dance sessions for children were held in the mid-afternoon to early evening hours. They were called The Matinee or The Hop. In the early 1970s, Sir Hugh and Cassidy Heights were opened. This gave the community more choices and a taste of modern entertainment.
As children growing up, we were always excited to attend these events. Even when there were regular parties, your attendance was not guaranteed because your invitation was not guaranteed, and in any event the permission to attend rested with your parents who had the final word.
It was customary and morally accepted that young ladies be accompanied by older women to each and every social event held at night. Usually a list of invitees would have been made and someone, most likely a young man, would have taken it to the parent or guardian of each invitee. If the parent reached for the pen, that was an indication that the signing of the invitation was imminent. This was important because it meant that consent was given to attend the party. On the day of the party young ladies would ask, “Gurl, they having party, my name on de list?” The next question would be, “Is Miss Dora name on de list?” If not, then many, many young ladies knew that they would not be going to that event.
Who was Miss Dora? Dora Lightbourne was an older lady who acted as chaperone for young ladies wanting to attend any event when the mother or other adult relatives were unavailable. She walked to each girl’s home to collect and drop off for every occasion. She was a mentor, a role model to young ladies and highly respected by the entire community. She was an entrepreneur who for many years owned and operated the restaurant, Dora’s Sip and Chat at the South Caicos International Airport. This airport was a fuelling station for small aircraft flying between South and North America. It was also the fuelling stop for airplanes travelling to Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands during the annual air show. Sometimes there were as many as 50 or more planes on the ground in one day! Many of the pilots ate at the restaurant, resulting in Miss Dora gaining international recognition for her famous “Dora’s lobster sandwich.”

The Cat ’n’ Fiddle on South Caicos is one building that has stood the test of time, over the years being used for many purposes.

The Silver Slippers
What was a regular night at the Silver Slippers like? In one word—exciting! There was no commercial electricity then, but this building and the bar next door were powered by a generator. So there were lights on, and that generated excitement all by itself! This was the hot spot for those in “society” who could only afford Scrap Iron or Taffair, the cheapest kind of rum imported from Haiti. (Today it is called Monkey Bag.)
The women made new dresses from materials purchased from Cornelia’s Variety Store and bought new shoes as well, as they prepared to have their night at the Silver Slippers. There were regular supplies for this store from Haiti, Jamaica, and National Bellas Hess, then later Montgomery Ward, both enterprises in the United States.
I admired the ladies as they came to my Grandma Cornelia’s store, purchased their material and/or shoes, and went straight to the seamstress, then to the hairdresser. Any time after sunset, they could be seen decked out in their new outfits and fancy hairdos. I would wait by the front window of the shop to see them. They partied all night and the next morning would no doubt be seen in the same apparel because they would have slept in their outfits. (In colloquial terms, “They slept wholesale.” ) There was no hair perm at that time so the hairstyles only lasted for the night and were back to their original state by the next morning.
Regardless of what the men and women endured during the day, they had money to play the juke box and surely expressed themselves through dance and socializing at night. As children living in this neighbourhood, we looked forward to the fights that normally followed such a celebrative night. One couple, who lived next door, would definitely fight since the husband would reach home first and lock the door so his wife could not come in. Whenever she arrived, there was banging on the door, shouting and sometimes stoning of the house. We called them our “live movies.” Law enforcement officers anticipated what would happen, so they would typically caution them and sometimes take one party to the police station or to jail to spend the night. Depending on the severity of bodily harm done, someone might be taken to court and possibly sentenced for their behaviour.

Cornelia’s Variety Store was the place to buy material for a new dress and new shoes prior to a night out at the Silver Slippers.

South Caicos Cinema
Uncle Dick’s Cinema, as it was called, brought a real cinematic experience to this little fishing community. People anxiously awaited the arrival of Bahamas Air on Tuesdays so they could find out what movie would be showing that week. The seating arrangement made this building the ideal place to hold community meetings, church services and gospel concerts. On movie night there was a concession stand with hot dogs, popcorn and sodas on sale. The building was last occupied by the New Testament Church of God. It has since been bought by the School for Field Studies, an extension of Boston University (USA) for marine biology.

Carib Hall
This tin building with wooden floor could be viewed in its early years (1950s to 1970s) as the “classy centre” of the residential town, for not any and everybody could patronize events that were held there. Some of these were welcome parties for visitors to the island, private parties and tea parties.
This building has had many lives. It accommodated the early childhood education class under the supervision of Mrs. Iris Stubbs and student teacher Mrs. Noreane Williams McKoy. It was also a movie theatre. That is where I first saw “The Titanic.” It was also a dance hall during the disco era. Two popular songs were “Kung Fu Fighting” and “Down on the Corner.” It was a banquet hall for many church events, the Carib West Wholesale Liquor Store under the management of Mr. Royalton Harvey, and then a storeroom for Super Value Supermarket as recent as Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
Inside, the building was always hot. Many feared that the floor would come crashing down as a result of the weight of the large crowds and the vibration as they danced to the pulsating beat of the Bee Gees and other artists of that era while having fun, fun, fun!
“Miss Chayla’s Wall,” which is in front of the building, was the place persons ran to find a seat and cool off in the refreshing night breeze. Many love affairs began there—and some were ended there as well!

The Sir Hugh
This building with a club, dance hall and restaurant was the hot modern spot for all in love. To have sat in the roofless dance hall with the raw salina pond breezes pounding one’s shivery body, could have only meant that there was someone nearby to make one warm.
The Sir Hugh was also strategically located near what has always been the sports complex of South Caicos. This included the basketball court and the parade ground where all schools held sporting activities and the place the community came together to play cricket. Parades, commonly called marches, either began or ended here as well—for example, the Benevolent Anniversary March.

The Benevolent Hall
The Benevolent Burial and Savings Society was one organization. It was formed on May 24, 1887. Weekly meetings were held every Tuesday. Sick members benefitted weekly from the fees and when members died, families were assisted with burial expenses. The organisation also made coffins and sold them to members of the community.
For many years May 24 was celebrated as the anniversary of the organisation. Persons travelled from the Bahamas, United States and other family islands for this grand occasion every year. Members held a service at one of the churches, then marched through the town to the beat and rhythm of a brass band. This culminated with a “shay-shay” dance session at the salina. The men wore black suits with black hats; bow or neck ties with white shirts. The women were clad in white. This included dress, petticoat or slip, shoes, hat, handbag and accessories. Some of the ladies had custom-made embroidered petticoats to display during the shay-shay. This was the most anticipated event of the year.
A multi-purpose building, the Benevolent Hall served as a sanctuary when church buildings were being renovated or as an entertainment centre for religious and secular programmes and concerts, or for town hall meetings and tea parties and even as the first home of Pierson High School (now Marjorie Basden High School).
In the early 1960s, there were three churches on the island: St. George’s Anglican, South Caicos Methodist and Mount Olive Baptist. Each church held a tea party event at a special time of year. The ecumenical fellowship was so good that everyone looked forward to each other’s events and supported them all.
I recall that at the age of seven, I learnt the meaning of tea party, but more so the expression “throwing up” for the tea party. When told that I had to pay thurpence (three pence) to throw up for the Methodist Tea Party, I became nervous and started crying. My mother asked what had happened and I told her what I had heard. She explained to me that “throw up” meant the amount of money one had to pay. The thought of knowing what I would have to eat and drink made me very anxious for the time to come. I knew that I would get to feast on queen cakes, homemade ice cream, candies, cake, ginger beer and also a cup of green tea sweetened with condensed milk . . . mmmm! There were lots more delicious treats like fudge, and coconut and milk douce.
Of all the events held on the island, “entertainments” were the most exciting. Entertainments meant the dramatization of songs (local and international), movies, cultural skits (events that actually happened) and dances like the shotee, waltz, and heel and toe polka. There were certain persons who just had to be a part of the event. Ma Susan Clare and Frankie Seymour Junior were two of those persons. They kept everyone laughing for days long after the event.
Ma Susan loved to sing and act the song, “The Chicken.” Before her act she would take “a shot” (a drink of rum), so being spirited she was ready for action. Once she took awhile to appear after she was announced, and her grandson shouted, “This is an old hen!” The audience roared with laughter because they knew who was coming next.

Cassidy Heights
In its early years of operation, Cassidy Heights promoted disco music and live bands. The famous Smokey 007 performed there in the 1970s for a whole week. There were also bands from the Bahamas and several local artists including The Blue Jays from Grand Turk.
“We getting frossy!” That meant that everybody going out to socialize would be at Cassidy Heights. If Crum (local artist William Seymour) and his band Cease Fire were going to be performing, then it would definitely be a full house and the competition to get inside would be difficult. Two of their original songs, “Banana” and “Bombing Up In Baghdad,” were top hits and remain so even today among persons from South Caicos.
This stone building was situated on the hill above Conch Ground, opposite the Slaughter House. Many persons rented it for children’s parties. It was also very popular for visiting artists from the other islands and during Regatta weekend. Today it houses a game room and a laundromat.

For many years, Old School was the only government school on South Caicos. Later, it became the Community Centre, hosting many community events.

Old School (Government School)
This two-storey structure was built in the 1890s. It has withstood all the disastrous hurricanes through the years and remains in excellent condition. For many years it was the only government educational institution on South Caicos. It catered to all-age education that was from kindergarten (known as Junior A and B) to grade 8. Students left the last grade and started their teaching career. Several pursued and became certified trained teachers.
This building was also referred to as the Community Centre. Many community events were held here, including movies, church services and youth groups, parties, town hall meetings, and it was a meeting place for organisations such as Soroptimist International of South Caicos, uniform groups and senior citizens.
My cherished memories are the learning opportunities I had in academics and vocational skills and the Valentine’s Day sale. The Youth Fellowship of the Methodist Church held an annual Valentine’s Day sale and all the youth on island were in attendance. Many wore red and white. There were special cards, chicken, conch fritters, cake and many other sweet treats on sale. The highlight was the post office and delivery of cards. Persons bought cards, paid to have them posted, and at intervals the postmistress would stop receiving cards and read the names of those posted. Many secrets of lovers or admirers were revealed. I remember some girls actually crying when they received a card from a certain young man. Some guys did it just to tease them. The event was great fun.
In my grade 3 class, I made a set of matching cotton petticoat and bloomers (panties). Mrs. Iris Stubbs taught the sewing class and showed us how to backstitch. Those items were sewn by hand. We were very competitive and each girl wanted to produce the neatest item. Upon completion, all items were sold and the money used to replenish the material. Today, the Department of the Environment and Maritime Affairs occupies the building.

The Cat ’n’ Fiddle
Of all the buildings mentioned, the only one in operation is the Cat ’n’ Fiddle. This stone building is opposite the coastline near Cedar Park. It is no wonder that this compound, the property of Lloyd C. Stubbs (son of Norman Stubbs), was called the Sponge Shed, as it was used for drying sponges and storing the cleaned product before it was shipped to Nassau. This business ended when a boat sank en route to Nassau.
The Cat ’n’ Fiddle Club was the most popular building on the island. It was the island’s entertainment centre up to the early 1990s. It housed a bar, was known for its big screen movies followed by dancing with juke box music, then came the discotheque or disco music and also live band. This was for young adults and adults only. Many male teenagers frequented this place although they knew that the police officers would be looking for them because they had not reached the legal age of 21and had to be accompanied by an adult.
There was the children’s matinee during the afternoon and before night fell all children had to be at home. Parents could be seen going to get their children or children hurrying to get home before parents came to look for them. If the latter was to happen, that was a sure beating. The most common phrase used as it took place was “Sunset be in de yard.”
As a teenager, one looked forward to being eligible to go out after Old Year’s night service to the Cat ’n’ Fiddle to join the crowd dancing until sunrise. This was the introduction to the New Year. It was a joyous occasion and the most anticipated event for New Year’s Day. I strongly believe that many, like myself, changed this pattern of behaviour when Rev. Otto Wade, the then- superintendent Methodist minister, preached his sermon entitled, “Turn Your Disco Into a Conco,” one Old Year’s Day night. The conviction was too strong, that that was not the place to go after service. That sermon and the poor attendance at the dance was the talk of the town for a long time. Even today it is spoken about with much conviction.
Through the years the Cat ’n’ Fiddle has withstood the test of time. It has experienced businesses such as a game room, grocery and furniture store. Presently it houses a bar, restaurant and grocery store selling products imported from the Dominican Republic.
This journey has certainly reminded me of my wonderful childhood and how much fun I had growing up on South Caicos. I hope this article helped readers experience the culture of the time and place in which I lived. I know that many will recall happenings not mentioned, so share them and arouse your past so that our awesome journey through life will help someone else to appreciate today for what it is worth!

Emily Malcolm is a native of South Caicos and a teacher who owns and operates Elam’s Care Centre. She has twice served as district commissioner for South Caicos, besides holding other local offices. Emily is a local Methodist preacher. Her hobbies are cooking, reading, writing and handicraft, especially shell work.

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