25 YEARS AGO ON AMBERGRIS CAYE BY ANGEL NUÑEZ
Long before there was this fancy wallpaper with all the lovely designs and the self adhesive back that was sold all over the United States and the world, there was wallpaper used in every humble house in San Pedro. Yes, these were dirt floor houses, the most humble houses you can imagine, but they had wall paper on all four walls of the living room and even bedrooms.
First the dirt floors. When you woke up in the morning and set your feet on the floor, you would not place your feet on wood, nor tile, not even a rug beside your bed or hammock. You set your feet on the bare sand or dirt floor as they are called. The floor was pretty uneven but clean. Mother had swept the floor so much that it had gotten hard. On the front street it was white or gray. On the back street, now Pescador Drive, it was black. But it was clean. I’ll tell you some interesting anecdotes about dirt floors next week. Let’s get on to that fabulous wallpaper in these humble houses.
Well, as you can imagine, these houses were built with pimento sticks or thatch as they are popularly known. Invariably, these walls had a lot of gaps since you cannot get perfectly even thatch. Now when it was mosquito season, you would get a lot of mosquitoes inside the house, or even rain during rainy season. So the villagers found out that they could cover the crevices with wallpaper.
Any book that you could lay your hands on, especially magazines with the shiny pages like the National Geographic, were excellent for this job. Newspapers with large pages were wonderful. If they were books with colored photographs or pictures, they were fabulous. Sometimes we used the old discarded textbooks that were no longer needed at school. All pages of books and magazines were a valuable collection for this wallpaper job.
Once you got your one thousand pages or so for the job, you then made a glue using flour and water. You made a very thick paste and then applied the glue to one side of the paper and a bit on the wall. Then you proceeded to paste on the papers on the walls so that they would inter-lap. After several hours of fun, you ended with a wall that was perfectly covered with paper and all cracks and crevices and gaps covered. When the glue mixture dried and hardened, the wallpaper would be pretty stiff and to an extent even waterproof.
But this job was not cockroach proof. Though the water would not destroy it, the roaches did. So again there comes in “necessity is the mother of inventions”. To prevent the roaches from feasting on the glue and the wallpaper job, we added some kerosene to the glue mixture, and there you had a roach-proof job.
You could form patterns with this wallpaper job. On one wall you could have only animals and trees of nature. On another wall you could amaze yourself with man’s inventions like skyscrapers, airplanes, and trains. On another wall you could add some history with photographs of great world leaders and events that appeared in magazines and newspapers. Headlines made an interesting pattern on these wallpaper walls in our humble thatch houses. So it was not unusual to see pictures of actress Doris Day, Roy Rogers, and singer Jim Reeves. There were pictures of Winston Churchill and Mahatma Gandhi. There were airplanes firing shots during World War II and a lot of pictures of Queen Elizabeth II. As a British Colony, we received a lot of books with her pictures with world leaders, so we delighted in having her in our homes. Unfortunately, there were no political campaigns in San Pedro during those days or we would have had George Price in every house in San Pedro. Any section or wall would be touched up from time to time especially around Christmas time or after the rainy season had dampened the job. A fight in the house between siblings or between mom and dad could also damage the wallpaper job and a touch up was necessary. So what do you know? Our wallpaper houses were not only practical and colorful, but also educational. You could get to know a lot about the world by perusing about your wallpapered wall in the humble yet very comfortable houses of twenty five years ago.