STREET BEAT: Heartbeat of St Thomas
As part of the Nation Publishing Company’s 50th anniversary of Independence celebrations, the WEEKEND NATION is dedicating the Street Beat column to a district in each parish that we believe is the unofficial capital.
WELCHMAN HALL, St Thomas has remained largely unchanged for the past decade but go back far enough and you would see a very different landscape.
Where there are now buildings there used to be sugar cane, although this is not unusual.
In Vault Road, Vera Maynard still lives by the old ways. She said the area had always been populated but people were more into agriculture in earlier times.
“When I was small, we still had houses out here but people used to work their spots of land. They use to grow sugar cane and food. I was raised on a plantation with poor people and life was good. People used to share, if a man was digging eddoes, you could ask for some but today different, it is a different life for the young people,” she said.
Maynard said she was one of the few elderly people left in the neighbourhood but she refused to stay still and fade away.
“Nearly all the old people in Welchman Hall gone but I still stay with the old ways and I still work hard. I bake bread, I do pone and I make steam pudding – I come along and see the old people doing it and I still do it.
“What am I to do, sit down and turn foolish? The worst thing you can be is in a house alone and playing you retired,” she said.
However, Maynard is not alone as her daughter Suzette Maynard soon joined her at the window. She too had her stories from years ago.
“We have the vault up the road here; this is what the road named after. The vault was the liming spot for the youth one time. I learn dominoes there and we use to play there until one or two in the morning,” she said.
Suzette also told of a ghost story concerning the vault which did nothing to keep the youth away.
“A general is buried in that tomb. A story we came up with was the general was buried with a daughter-in-law he didn’t like so he used to turn over and keep noise,” he said.
“We used to go and get cane and suck. All now we would be on Easter vacation sucking cane but all that done now,” she said.
The reason where no one sucks cane anymore is that there is no more cane to suck. A construction firm, Steve’s Building Works, is now located across the road and the other areas where cane used to be now either has housing or is overgrown with bush and trees.
Despite the changes, Suzette said St Thomas, with pride of place to Welchman Hall, was the best place to be.
“I love St Thomas, the only problems are the water and the bus
service. I have lived in St Michael and St James but I am born and bred in St Thomas – it is the heart of Barbados with easy access to everywhere else,” she said.
The post office is another landmark of Welchman Hall. Postmaster Merlese Graham-Hollingsworth said she started in 1992 as a clerk and recently moved back.
“I started here the same time they had the eight per cent strike as a clerk, the only one. In that time, the post office used to shut for lunch. There was a lot of traffic then as we used to change money for the staff at Harrison’s Cave and for the MTW (Ministry of Transport and Works) workers, but all that is finish now,” she said, adding there were also fewer tourists coming for stamps.
Even so, Graham-Hollingsworth said the post office was still busy today as development in the surrounding areas resulted in greater mail, so the mail delivery officers worked harder. She said they also still change a lot of pension cheques and dealt with many parcels from places such as China.
“Parcels are on the increase and you should see the old people coming to get their cheques changed – they come with their walkers for the money,” she said.
Nearby, “Ma” Sealy was planting cassava and sweet potatoes. A retired agricultural worker, she demonstrated the proper way to plant, saying she taught her children as well.
“We are not learning the young children to work and they are finding themselves in bare trouble. I teach them and tell them if they learn by certificate and lose their job, they will still live,” she said.