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Hart Tillett remembers the “old” Mullins River and Hurricane Hattie

LettersHart Tillett remembers the “old” Mullins River and Hurricane Hattie

Dear Editor,

Thanks for reprinting the piece on Mullins River by Abraham “Abe” Ramos. Like him, I too taught at the Methodist school in Mullins River, but unlike him, was there before, on the lucky side of Hattie, the hurricane he mentioned. Also, my stay was shorter, just a year, 1959-60.

The RC school was still there at the time. By then a village council had succeeded town status, the only remaining evidence being the two or three disused paraffin lamps along the dirt road connecting North End to the south where our school was located.

But the pier was there on which I would occasionally join the villagers, watching the men loading their dories with beach sand, the first stage of lightering it to Belize City. I did not know the phrase “labor intensive” at the time, but when I did, I had flashbacks to the sand-craft livelihood of those men harvesting the tons of sand every week. Unloading it at the end of the six-hour journey at the city docks, one shovel at a time, was no fun either.

Like other small villages of Belize, Mullins River has its family-name ID’s. If your surname was “Cherrington,” “Gallego,” or “Mejia,” that’s a dead giveaway as to your place of origin.

As mentioned earlier, my time there predated Abe’s, and so, my recollections are somewhat different. The teacher’s quarters was spacious with indoor plumbing. It had wrap-around screening—and for good reason. Short jackets and bottle flies abounded.

We spent quality time with Mr. Barker, the policeman, and his family. It was under his tutelage that I learned about sealing wax and saw an official government seal (for official letters), and how to use a crank-up telephone. He took us fishing upriver, or on calm days out to sea in a borrowed dory. A real gentleman in the trenches.

Darkness seemed to come on you suddenly in the village. I recall a visit by the Education Officer who wanted to meet with the PTA. Against the advice that 7:00 PM was too late to start a meeting, he went ahead, but after waiting for an hour with still no parent there to talk to, finally “adjourned.”

Hattie struck the village the year after I left. Mullins River must have gotten the worst of the hurricane. The police station was located on the beach. Four feet off the ground, it comprised a lower level where official business was carried on. The family lived in the upper storey, reached by an exterior stair rising some 15 feet above ground.

The storm surge rose to that level and continued to rise, forcing the policeman and his family into the loft, where they would have been trapped if the water went any higher. Luckily, it crested—within a foot of the trapdoor.

Many others perished, washed away to sea by the ebbing surge. A new Mullins River rose, but like Abe, the memories of the Mullins River “then,” and the fine people of the village, have a special spot in my registry of places that had a lure all its own.

Hart Tillett

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