Let us continue our walk around San Pedro 25 or perhaps 35 years ago. It was 7a.m. when we left off last week and now breakfast of fried manatee has been served along with Johnny cakes and fried beans. The children are getting ready to go to school, but before that there are some chores to be done around the home.
Genaro has to fill up 2 large drums with water that will make the "legia" (soft water) for his mother. He has put 2 buckets of ashes in the drum and has added about 10 buckets of water. The ashes are still stirred up and the water is murky, but will settle down soon for tomorrow's washing.
Genaro's younger brother, Miguel, is busy at the hand-grinding mill. grinding 2 quart, of corn which his mother, Tomasita, will use for the midday "tortillas." The sister of Genaro and Miguel, Anita, is busy ironing some clothes for school. She places 5 sold irons on a hot plate over the fire. When they are all hot she uses one for about 2 minutes, and when it cools she places it over the hot plate and holds on to the second one and alternating each iron. Miracle or technique, the irons are black, but there is not a single stain on the clothing. Soon all the pieces of clothing are well pressed and she begins to get ready for classes..
It is now eight o'clock and the school principal, Mr. Augustine, a Garifuna, has gone to the Central Park to ring the town's bell announcing the first call to classes. The next bell will ring at 8:30-a.m. when the students will get in line for roll call.
Francisco is coming in a little late from his early morning chores. Actually he had done some fishing the night before and had a good catch of snappers and grunts in a crocus bag submerged under water by the pier. Early that morning Francisco scaled and cleaned the fish which mother would use for a delicious "chechac" (fish soup). Francisco must take a quick bath since he smells of fish or the teacher would send him home.
There are some 100 kids assembled in the schoolyard by the beach in front of the police stacion and they are busy playing all sorts of games- Hop Scotch,. Alza y pica la zorra, mash pan, hide and seek, azules y amarillos, jump rope, campanita de oro, marbles, tops, yo-yos, kites, el lobo, tun tun del la calavera, arranca cebolla, hurricane, or si te alcanso de beso (our favorite). The more adventurous would be playing softball with a tennis ball and no equipment or would be climbing the coconut tree in the policeman's yard since the policeman was out at sea fishing.
The school itself stood boldly and huge Along the beach. It was a long white wooden building with green trimmings. Each classroom was not partitioned with walls, but rather by the blackboards. At one end there was a small dark room which served as jail or whipping area. An old organ stood there (the nuns used it once a year) and we delighted in playing with the organ as we waited for the principal to come and give us our whipping. The teachers were Erdulfo Nunez, Manuel Cuellar, Eloina Cardenez, Liborio Gomez, Gilberto Gomez, to mention a few. And so at the sound of the school bell, we proceeded inside for a typical noisy day at school. What fun we had early mornings 25 years ago!
Today between 9 to 12 a.m. we have children at school, moms at the office, dads at their areas of work- school, office, banks, hotels, airlines, stores, restaurants, fishing boats, dive boats or skiffs, or construction sites. What was it like in the village of San Pedro in the 1950's? Twenty Five Years ago would like to take you there just to compare with the present.
At nine dad would be at his fish trap getting the fish out by net, or he would be spot checking the lobster traps for his day's catch, or he would be anchored at a good fishing site with a hand line. At ten or thereabouts, he would sit on board, talk to himself and have a light snack of flour tortillas, a piece of fried fish and water. By eleven he would be heading home or would be at the "tablon" (a permanent table at the beach just into the sea where the fish was laid). At the tablon lie would be cleaning fish for his table, selling some fresh fish to the neighbors, and cleaning the extra catch to be sold corned in the Belize City or Corozal Town. Mom would be at the "tablon" with her tray of fishes and the frying pan would be heating up already over the firehearth with some homemade coconut oil. By 11:30 San Pedro village smelled like fried fish all over the place. You Could hear the sizzling fishes In the frying pans and could hear the slapping of their tails as they struggled for their lives in the hot sizzling coconut oil. What cruelty? No, what freshness of a snapper meal.
On the other hand at nine, after having sent the children to school, mom \~ ()it](] be sweeping the house and the kitchen floor. The kitchen was Usually separated from the house and a "fogon" or firehearth would be at one corner of the kitchen. By a few minutes after nine, mom found herself behind a "batella" doing her laundry by hand, In the batella there was plenty of clean well water, a bar of sunlight soap, a scrubbing brush, some "blue" instead of clorox and mom was scrubbing back and forth trying to remove old fish, scales and blood from dad's dirty clothing. By ten, she would Put some rice over the fire And the beans would already be boiling by then. Once the laundry was on the line, mom would take a quick run to the beach to see if her husband had arrived and had cleaned some snappers or mullets or jacks for the midday lunch (In San Pedro 25 years ago and today still, the 12 o'clock lunch is the main meal, not the evening supper). By eleven thirty mom had started frying the fish for a tired husband and some hungry children who would atrive home at 12 for the midday meal.
What about the teenage girls? They were all mom's apprentices and helped in the same general chores around the house? And the teenage boys? Out at sea with dad. And the school age children spent 3 hours at school copying notes, doing lessons, mixing powdered milk (Klim) in buckets of water for the recess snack and playing base- ball for recess. By noon they arrived home as hungry as lions and at times as dirty as a hippopotamus Good old days twenty five years ago. Not better, just different except for the fresh snappers frying in coconut oil. Boy, were they delicious and healthy.
Today in San Pedro at 12 o'clock, people are rushing home or the restaurant for a quick lunch and back to work. A few arc still out at sea looking over divers or trying to catch a game fish for their guests on board. Most people are working all afternoon- signs of good business and Our changing times and lifestyles.
Twenty five years ago the afternoons were totally different. At noon the children arrived home from school for lunch and dad also arrived from the sea with a voracious appetite. Amidst mouthfuls, dad grumbled of his lobster traps being turned over by the dolphins or smiled of his fish trap being full of snappers and ready for a trip to the city.
By 1 p.m., the children had returned to school and dad would find a shady Spot under a tree or verandah or a hammock in the middle of the living room for his afternoon siesta. Soon his snores would be heard half a block away. And soon there was a harmony of sounds as mom responded to dad's snores with her own snorts and whistles and flapping of lips. Oh yes, there was peace during siesta hour as nobody listened to these snores. Even the dogs took their siesta under the almond tree. When today a few fortunate folks have a "five" as they call a short siesta, 25 years ago the siesta was as good as a night's rest and at times stretched for 2 hours or so.
After the long comforting siesta, dad would wake up and walk around the house like a zombie looking for something to do. At times he would pick up his equipment and start weaving his cast net or the seine. Another afternoon he would go in the backyard and mend old and broken lobster traps or construct new ones. At times MOM Would desire to fry fresh barracuda for supper, so dad would head for the reef or Outside the reef and do some trawling which would almost guarantee a baricuda, kingfish or mackerel. Another group of men would walk down and up the beach simply to chat with other fishermen to find out what luck they had out to sea. Some men that had been too lucky would still be at the "tablon" (fish table in the sea), cleaning fish and salting It to preserve it. Mullets and shads and grunts would be tied with "chit" (palmetto leaves) in two's as these were Corned snd sold by the dozen. Snappers. for example, were corned Individually and sold by the Pound.
But let us return home where mom has awakened from her siesta too. She would fire up the "fogon" or firehearth and start boiling water for tea and for everyone's shower. Once the fire was at full 450 she might as well set the "comal" (hot plate) to cook nice flour tortillas or s would set the "hornilla" (an oven fabricated with a drum) and bake so delicious Johnny cakes. By there would be a constant flow of smoke coming from everyone's patio kitchen and you could smell the tortillas, Johnny cakes, refried beans, fried fish or fried manatee or turtle. The children would be heading for home around this time and so would dad for the evening tea as it was called, not supper
Five o'clock marked the end of a laborious day and tea was the last activity before the night's events began. It was the end of the day for the dutiful housewife, the studious children and the adventurous dad. But do keep in mind the 2 hour siesta for mom and dad. Not a bad day after all.
You will agree that for the most part nightlife in San Pedro today begins at 9 or 10 p.m. Twenty five years ago nightlife ended at 9 p.m. In other words, 9 p.m. was like 3 a.m. today.
At 5 p.m., the family had tea with flour tortillas and fried fish, and that was the end of the working day for San Pedro village. With one more hour of sunlight, the children rushed to do their homework as it was a bit more difficult writing and reading under the light of the "quinque" or kerosene lamp.
Six o'clock caught mom packing up to close the kitchen and pulling down laundry from the clothesline. Dad would spend an hour or so weaving at the net trying to add a few more feet to the seine net that he needed so desperately. At dusk the children took to the beach for some recreation. They loved to sit in circles to tell stories of 'La Llorona", 'Xtabai", "Sisinuto", "Tata Duende", "Tata Balan", "Las Aninias" or even the infamous "Pepito."
At dusk also the teenage girls would be getting ready, putting on an extra dash of perfume- Siete Machos or Kush Kush- and waiting for the arrival of the boyfriend who would visit the house from 7 to 9 p.m. She would put on her best attire, some lip stick and anxiously waited for the gentleman she had not seen for the past 22 hours.
Still at seven, some children would be playing at the beach or by the plaza in front of the church. Baseball was popular, but so was "mash pan", "alza y pica la zorra", "campanita de oro" "huracan" "tun tun de la calavera", and a few others. At seven on the dot Pancho arrived to visit Paulita and so did a dozen or so other gentlemen at the home of their girlfriends. Mom and dad would Sit in the living room and chit chat with the dating couple. She would be a bit quiet and he would try to put on his best self to impress the future in- laws. He would share a spearmint gum or pepitos or a chocolate. After a while mom and dad would retire, and they would have some privacy and an occasion to steal a kiss or hug. If at nine the boy had left, mom would signal the time by walking about dragging her slippers, coughing, clearing her throat or the more outspoken would tell the boy it was already 9 o'clock.
At nine at night San Pedro would be as still as a cemetery. It was dark, except if here was a full moon. No one was walking on the streets, no street lights, no store signs, no lights coming from inside any of the houses. It was total silence and total darkness. yet in a setting like, this it was more possible to have an encounter with "La Llorana" or "Tata Duende" than to be accosted by a thief or drug peddler. It was dark and peaceful, serene and romantic. This was the laid back sleeping fishing village of San Pedro 25 years ago. Good old days of San Pedro in the '50's of the last century- good old days that are gone by, but not forgotten.