Thursday, September 8, 2016


Erskine as a boy on Long Island, Southern Bahamas

In the fifties, a young Bahamian boy in the southern Bahamas island of Long Island, got up at 4 a.m., drank cane leaf or strong bark tea, and ate a piece of his mother’s home made bread.

Then along with his mother he’d climb the steep half hour path “over back” on his father’s land, to weed the fields of corn, pigeon peas, watermelons, cantaloupes, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, cassavas, sugar cane, yam, lima beans and black eyed peas. He and his mother also collected wood for cooking food on their kitchen hearth. His brothers were working in Nassau by that time and his sisters remained at home to do the household chores before school. His father was often away working on a dredge boat or “on the contract” in the United States.

When he and his mother returned to the family’s thatched roof kitchen about 8 a.m., with bundles of wood on their heads, he’d wash off and put on fresh clothes (his mother made short “shamry” pants for him and shirts out of flour sacks or shamry). Then he’d run the two miles to school barefoot.  He had no shoes, but the soles of his feet became hard enough to run over sharp crinkled rocks and never feel any pain.  For lunch, he carried hominy grits in an empty condensed milk can, covered with brown paper and secured with a palm leaf string.

That Bahamian boy on Long Island was my husband Erskine, who like most Family Islanders back then, had what some might consider a tough childhood. However, he says he had a free, happy upbringing, and received a solid foundation at his island school. Like him, many Long Islanders went on to become highly successful in their chosen careers or businesses. Erskine attended college in England, operated his own general store there, and became a company accountant, luxury property manager, and real estate broker. He’s an accomplished musician as well.

There are probably no hominy grits in empty condensed milk cans for today’s Bahamian student. It’s “back to school” time now throughout the Bahamas and our stores have been crowded with parents and children, shopping carts overflowing with lunch boxes, backpacks, exercise books and stationery supplies

The Bahamas has a public (government) school system and there are also many private (“independent”) schools. School uniform is compulsory in both public and private schools. Even tiny pre-schoolers sport little colour-coordinated shorts, shirts, skirts, tops or dresses.

Schoolchildren sometimes pack groceries in local food stores after school, so they can earn money to help their families and save towards their future. The determination and hard work of these children can in many instances lead to scholarships abroad and good positions on their return to the Bahamas. Others remain in their homeland and put aside every penny that they can, until they are able to buy or build the home of their dreams. 

Many of our students excel in sports and grow up to win much sought after medals overseas. Others, such as Sir Sidney Poitier or renowned drummer Berkley “Peanuts” Taylor, become world famous in the film or entertainment industry. Students who are excellent athletes often receive scholarships abroad.

Behind our school children is often a diligent Bahamian mother, who makes sure her offsprings’ uniforms are washed and pressed, that they have bus and lunch money, and that they strive to overcome all obstacles, to become the very best they can.

And some of these Bahamian children might just have a piece of their mother’s homemade bread in their lunch box as they set off to school!