Saturday, 17 March 2012

What We Saw in the West Indies

This series of articles is a great find by Alan. He recognized that the names of these children and their ages were similar to Hyatt Verrill and Kathryn’s children; I missed the connection five times. Family has confirmed!
Part 1 of 5
By Lola and Valerie

From Everyland magazine, January 1917, researched by Alan Schenker, digitized by Doug Frizzle, March 2012.

WE are two little girls, Lola fourteen years old and Valerie twelve, and we are just as happy as we can be. We are on the steamer Guiana with our father and mother, bound for a trip to the West Indies and South America.
We used to live on one of these islands when we were too young to remember much about it. This time I, Lola, am going to keep a journal and Valerie has a camera, so we will be sure to remember every interesting thing that happens.
We have passed the Statue of Liberty and are way down the bay with New York far behind. We are stopping a moment to let the pilot, who always takes the ship out of New York, get off into his little boat which has come alongside. We have given him our farewell letters and now he is climbing down the ladder and as soon as he reaches his boat he waves his hat, the passengers cheer, the captain on the bridge gives his signal to the engineer and the Guiana starts again.
We just love our little stateroom right across from father and mother. It has a big round porthole for a window and an electric fan and two cunning berths and such dear little curtains around them. I have the lower one and Valerie has the upper, for she likes to climb.
The dining-room has small tables everywhere just like a hotel, and the big social hall has a piano and graphophone, and I am glad I brought my music. There is also a nice library, but we are sorry they do not sell ice-cream soda and candy.
The captain asked us to come up on the bridge at noon and see him shoot the sun. Valerie said some one else must have shot it already for it looked very dull. I ran to father and asked him what "shooting the sun" meant and he told me all about it. When the captain took us up with him later I surprised him by knowing that the instrument he used was a sextant and that he had to figure out just where we were at noon every day after looking through it.
We have been way down in the engine room with the chief engineer. My, how hot and noisy it was! but you would never know the ship was moving when down there. We felt sorry for the firemen who do nothing all day and night but shovel coal into the huge furnaces. They burn nearly ten tons of coal a day.
The wireless room is Valerie's favorite place. The second operator has taught her a great deal about sending and receiving messages and what the dots and dashes mean. She is quite proud of knowing how to send the S.O.S. call if no one else was able.
It is warm enough now to wear summer clothes, for we are in the Gulf Stream and see flying fish which fly just from wave to wave but not in the air, as we had expected. We also see great patches of yellow Gulf-weed.
The doctor says he has ordered a school of porpoises to have recess tomorrow so we can see them at play when we pass. I know he is jollying me but father says we are likely to see some at any time.
Later we had a great joke on the doctor. We sent him a hurry call to come up on deck as he was wanted at once. Then we showed him his "patients," — dozens of porpoises turning somersaults in the air; leaping so near the ship that we hoped that one would jump on board, but none did and soon the ship had left them far behind.
This is our fourth day from New York. We rose at daylight to catch our first view of a West Indian island. I remember that these islands looked just like little dots in our geography and we were so surprised to see this one covered with high green mountains rising out of the sea.
A few hours after sighting land we reached the harbor and dropped anchor and waited for the port officer and doctor to come on board. Saint Thomas Island belongs to Denmark and everywhere we see Danish flags flying,—red with a white cross.
Swarms of boats of all kinds came out from shore, boats full of the queerest looking vegetables and fruits and odd-looking necklaces, bracelets, belts and bags made from bright-colored shells and seeds. Everybody is colored. The diving boys are very funny. They beg you to toss them pennies and then dive down into the beautiful clear blue water to get them. It is great sport watching them and some of the smartest can go down on one side of the ship, dive under the keel and come up on the other side and catch a penny before it touches bottom.
It seems strange to see palm trees everywhere, looking like great feather dusters. We are going ashore after breakfast in a small boat named "Laughing Sally." The ship stays here all day so we will have plenty of time to see all the sights.
We had a beautiful time on shore. Valerie took her camera and got some fine snapshots. It seems queer to have such hot weather in midwinter when a week ago we were shivering in New York. We felt like Alice in Wonderland — everything was so different. The first thing that took our fancy was a funny pink fort with wooden-looking Danish sentinels just like a toy fort and tin soldiers. We walked up the main street and saw only colored people everywhere. The women wore bright-colored dresses and turbans and carried huge bundles and baskets on their heads. We went right to the market place and bought some sugar cane, which we liked very much, and we tried all sorts of odd fruits; mangos,—which are so squashy they ought to be eaten in a bath tub, and taste of turpentine,—custard apples, sapodillos, pawpaws and sour-sops; but none tasted as good as our apples, pears, and peaches.
We walked up a steep street made into steps, to visit Blackbeard's Castle on top of a hill. The people say an old pirate of that name once lived there. We saw banana trees with big bunches of bananas on them, and a native boy walked up a coconut tree to get us a green or jelly coconut. He really walked up, too, and we took a picture of him doing it. We also saw bay trees growing and went to a bay rum factory and bought some bay rum, for the best bay rum in the world is made in Saint Thomas.
We saw, in one of the stores, several pairs of ice skates hanging by the door, and were amused to have the proprietors tell us that they were used to advertise the fact that the winter season had begun and holiday goods were on sale; and this with the thermometer between 80 and 90 degrees the year around!
A dear old negro "mammy" followed us about, waiting for a chance to ask if we knew a nice American family named Philips who had taken her daughter Freda to New York last year as nurse for their children. These people all think that New York and America are as small as their islands and that every one knows everybody else just as they do in the islands.
We are back on board the steamer taking a last look at the pretty town on the three hills as we are leaving the harbor and some time to-morrow will be in the English island of Saint Kitts.
(To be continued)

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As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.