The other day I’m with my dad, CB Hyde, and he told me these two little stories. The first one I practically know by heart; the second was new to me.
“You know the story about Bob Turton and Ellen Oshan?” he says. Before I can answer, he clears his throat. This is one of his favourites.
“Willy Stuart comes up to Grampa Jim (my grandfather, James B Hyde) one day…”
“Hold,” I say. “There’s something I’d like to clear up before you go on. I know the relationship between Bob Turton and Grampa Jim. Bob was Belize’s leading mahogany and chicle contractor, and Grampa was his chief mechanic and boat captain. What’s Willy Stuart’s relationship with Bob?”
“Willy Stuart, Bob Turton, and Grampa Jim were good friends, from childhood thru adulthood. Bob Turton’s family was very poor. Willy Stuart’s family had a little money. Willy treated Bob very well. He used to buy treats for him at Belize Town’s popular ice cream parlours, Shaba and Roddie’s. You know the relationship between Bob and Ellen?” he asks.
“Tell me,” I say.
“When Bob was a poor boy in the streets of Belize City, Ellen Oshan took care of him. Whenever Bob was hungry, he knew he could go to her restaurant for a hot meal. Bob never forgot her kindness.”
“Okay, story time,” I said.
“One fine day, your grampa is at the machine shop, working on the lathe, when Willy Stuart comes up and asks for his confidence.
“Of course,” Grampa Jim says.
“This is a serious piece of advice I have for you, Jim” Willie Stuart says. “It’s about Bob Turton. Be very careful when you speak to him. You know he doesn’t like people to disagree with his ideas. Well I found out he doesn’t like people to agree with him either. Jim, be especially careful when he slaps his fist into his palm and calls you by your full name. The other day he comes up to me, slaps his fist in his palm, and says, very loudly:
“‘MISTER WILLY STUART, you must take me for a bloody ass!’
“I say, ‘Me? Take you for a bloody ass? What I do, Bob?’
“‘Willy, no matter what I say, any point I try to make, you always agree with me. Willy, nobody can be right all of the time. That’s why I say, you must take me for a bloody ass.’ Jim, I tell you—be very careful with Bob Turton when he asks your opinion.”
“Thank you for the advice,” Grampa Jim tells him. “I’ll be on the lookout.”
A week doesn’t go by before Grampa Jim is put to the test. Bob Turton comes up to him, slaps his fist in his palm, and greets him thusly: “MISTER JIM HYDE, I want you to know that I wash my hands of Ellen Oshan.”
Forewarned, forearmed; but no amount of lookout could have prepared Grampa Jim for this revelation. “What? Wash your hands of Ellen Oshan? Why, Patron?”
“What you think of Ellen?” Bob says. “You know she has a sore. Well it is getting on my nerves. She knows it is getting on my nerves. I tell her, Ellen, you go to Dr. Heusner and have him take care of that sore. Tell him to send the bill to me. What you think she says, Jim?”
“She says, ‘Don’t bother yourself, Bob, Dr. Heusner can’t fix this—this da du soh’. Can you believe that nonsense? That’s why I wash my hands of Ellen Oshan.”
“Wash your hands, Patron? But you care for Ellen. And I know how much she loves you.”
“Yes, I care for Ellen Oshan. But I’m not about to put up with her ignorance.”
In the back of his mind, Grampa Jim well remembers Willy Stuart’s admonition about agreeing and disagreeing with Bob. But he can’t stand by and see Bob cut ties with Ellen. So he throws caution to the wind, and says, “Sorry Patron, I don’t agree with yu.”
“What? You don’t agree with me, Jim Hyde?”
“Patron, you know that Lawyer Dragten is a very smart man, gone to big university.”
“Yes, I know he went to big university to learn how to swindle poor people out of their property.”
“Patron, do you know that every week Lawyer Dragten goes to obeah lady?”
“Yes, Patron. You could check and ask questions. Every Saturday that smart Lawyer Dragten pay good money for du-soh.”
“You serious, Jim Hyde? Dragten? You mean to tell me that Dragten pay for du-soh?”
“My, and I being so hard on poor Ellen. Yu know what, Jim Hyde?”
“Forget everything I said about Ellen. Poor Ellen—she only gone da five cents school.”
“You know the story about your Uncle Buck (that’s my mom’s brother, Buck Belisle) and Barney Mahler on board the Victory B (that’s my maternal grandfather’s sailboat)?” my dad says.
“Haven’t heard that one,” I told him.
“They were outside the reef late one evening, heading home — A pretty strong wind behind them.”
“They must have been coming on pretty fast,” I said.
“Yes,” my dad said, “the Victory B could sail like nobody’s business. We thought she was invincible—until the Mighty Twig ran by her between Gales Point and Belize City.”
“Who was sailing that day?”
“I can’t remember,” he said. “But it wasn’t Buck.”
“That wouldn’t have gone down well with him,” I said. “Would have hurt his image immensely. You know, all the time I’ve spent with Uncle Buck on boats, he was always at the helm. Never marinero; siempre capitán. A chain smoking, gambling, daredevil capitán.”
“That he was,” my dad says. “Anyhow, getting back to the story, Barney was lookout on the bow”.
“I remember Mr. Barney well,” I said. “He was the Auditor General for the government, right?”
“At the time of this story he was a finance officer at the Treasury, the understudy of Lord Ashcroft’s father.”
“Ashcroft-the-son has really done a number on Belize,” I said.
“Yes,” he said. “Allow me to finish my story. I told you that Barney was the lookout. The Victory B was heading for the reef and he was to guide her through. The sun was pretty low on the sea, making it very difficult to see much ahead. Too late, Barney saw the rocks. White-as-a-ghost he turned to the captain (Buck Belisle) and stuttered, “R-r-r-rocks—o-on t-t-the bow.”
The captain was also renowned for his biting wit. “Well dehn rocks had betta bloody move!” he replied, just before his vessel grounded.