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BOOK 1. The House at #1 Hole…

BOOK 1. The House at #1 Hole…

 I went to a small public information event being produced by COAST, the local affiliate of the “National Council On Alcoholism and Drug Addiction”. The event was being held on the old “Judge Herman E. Moore” golf course. I am very familiar with this particular golf course and just about every foot of fairway in it, as I started working here, caddying, when I was eight years old.

 At the time we were living in the old pre WW ll, Pan American passenger terminal. (Mud ALWAYS found interesting, atmospheric and unusual places for us to live) This one was a quaint wooden building with an open air waiting room, where gents in Panama suits once waited to swing aboard shiny new silver clippers heading to Rio and Buenos Aries and Ladies wrapped in foxes and Chanel #5 stepped off and into the torrid tropics for torrid romantic liaisons.

The waiting room was our (Gale and my) bedroom, the benches that the mythicals once sat upon in clouds of perfume, romance, espionage and dust devils, were part of the bedroom furnishings for Gale and I. It was bright and breezy, and even though it felt like we were living outside in a movie, we liked it just fine.

200 feet to the west was a Second World War military hanger, painted a  fading brown and green camophlage, and filled with genuine honest to God machine gun chattering, dive bombing, loopdelooping “outta the sun” dog fighting glass  canopied fighter planes, left over from “anti sub” patrol squadrons, parked here like some secret mission or lost patrol.

I see myself standing before and beneath them in the dusty old hanger, the rays of the sun slanting in through wire glass windows high above, lighting the scene. I’m straddling my broomstick pony, looking up at them, completely swept away in double dreamland, part cowboy, part pilot, part pirate (add singer, donwha? and Dada, and that’s the story of my life)

The hanger and these war planes were part of the US Navy presence that reshaped the Island and most particularly, this part of the Island, during the first and second World Wars. The reshaping (in general) included paving all of the main roads, providing plumbing and running water to all the public schools, upgrading the Hospital and public health infrastructure along with huge water catchments on hillsides all over the Island, and (what looked like) thousand foot radio towers judiciously placed (in duos and trios) here and there, (one of which, I would climb as a teenager, along with two certifiable lunatics. (no not Tuts, he had too much good sense for that)

On this part of the Island, the Navy built a genuine submarine base with six major piers or docks, gun emplacements, administrative buildings, a power plant, ten huge Barracks for enlisted men, two military hospitals, numerous administrative and support facilities, (including a little “look out house” on the very top of Hay Piece Hill- (where we also lived, but that’s another story) ammo dumps and emergency food caches, dug into the hill sides, (rations which we the “downtheroadboys” would discover and consume ravenously around 1959. (mostly long green cans of spam, and Lucky Strikes by the carton) along with a solid concrete bomb proof PX, cavalry stables, a recreational center called “The Arena” complete with ceilings over a hundred feet high and a stage where the Calypso King competitions were held during the fifties, a seaplane ramp, an entire airport (runway and hanger) known during the war as “Bournefield” (named for a Maj. Bourne who completed the first solo flight from Washington D.C. to Nicaragua, who knows when. or why)

In addition, they built Officers Quarters, consisting of large individual two story homes on the beautiful breezy hill now occupied by The University of The Virgin Islands, and forty smaller one and two family homes for enlisted men their wives and children down on the flats (known after the war as “low cost housing” or Bournefield”, as in “Scott considers himself a Bournefield Boy”) And last but not least, a wonderful Beach Club facility (changing rooms with a large snack and libation bar) and a stationary “raft” complete with diving boards, at Lindbergh Bay. (Named for Charles Lindbergh who landed right about where my little house was around 1927, after a nonstop hop from Venezuela, on his way back to the states after scoping out prospective routes for Pan American throughout Central and South America)  Lindbergh Bay and its facilities were a wonderful beach destination for local folks for many years after the military had moved on.

Beginning with the purchase and transfer (1917) of the Virgin Islands from Denmark to the United States, the Islands were under US Navy administration, and an entire insulated, semi-socially segregated world existed in this “dounderoad” part of the Island. A world that left many wonderful physical things. Buildings and beach clubs, airports and such, but no record or history of the people, their lives, the stories of the individuals and families that worked and lived here.

I often wondered about those folks, how it was for them, I see them in a sort of semi sepia photo, framed by hand colored palm trees and a bright blue sea, with  Frangipani, Flamboyant or Hibiscus, stuck behind the ear or in the hair of  young Navy wives and waves from Kansas or Nebraska and handsome and strong young military men.  A Caribbeanized, West Indianized, South Pacific with far more intense racial storylines. Storylines that reflect the crazy explosions that occur when hicks and slicksters of every race, class and culture under the sun are mortar and pestled together, with a liberal dollop of raw rum, a double dash of cayenne, a dose of voodoo (or Obeah) the intoxicating effects of tropics and trade winds and full moon nights… how I wished that Mitchner (or someone) had written their stories…I’ve always known exactly what those songs and that score or soundtrack would sound like. We shall see.

 The little house was here through all of that and was sitting here when they built what would become the Judge Herman E. Moore golf course, the little house found it’s self occupying a little corner of the fairway, severity five feet to the north of the #1 green (which was, like all the othergreens, heavily oiled sand) and fifty feet to the west of the # 2 Tee. Consequently every golfer that wanted to play more than one hole was obligated to all but come in for coffee or rum and Coca-Cola. It was interesting.

Mud had married Howard Lindqvist, a young man from what had (just one generation ago), been the most powerful and well respected local family in St. John, (a family, that after arriving in St. Thomas would, within two generations, drink and squander it all away) Howard was a well educated Howard University graduate with a degree in civil engineering, but an increasingly drunken and foolish wastrel, married to a white woman, who (inexplicably in the eyes of those that knew Howard) was foolish enough to marry him.

Many of the folks that played golf were pretentious and judgmental types (including Howard’s own father Mahlon) and would have preferred not to become so intimately involved in “The little House of Dynamics” every time they got to the first hole, but…that was life in de Islands mon…

Pretty soon the ones that would let me caddy for them began insisting that I actually meet them at the club house rather than waiting ‘til they swung by on the way to the second tee, to pick up the golf bag, and I was officially introduced to the blasted inarguable inconvenience of work.

I was eight, and it was great. Inconvenient, but great. Not the  the walking for what seemed like ten to twenty (or however long nine or eighteen holes used to be) blasted miles in the burning hot sun, dragging a bag that weighed every bit as much and was every bit as tall as “The little caddy that could” wasn’t the great part, that’s the part that made you starvin’ hungry and gave you the money to fill your pockets, mouth and belly with Tootsie Rolls. That was the part that was great. Tootsie Roll heaven in the afternoon.

 Also, there was the further confirmation of a kind of belonging from the older caddies, the “big” boys, all older “rough and tough” young gents of color, that “Skah-ty, de likkle white boy from Nisky School, de likkle white boy, from doun de road, is one a we” That acceptance, and Tootsie Roll heaven in the afternoon, that was the part that was great. That and being surrounded by the artifacts of war, the vanished lives,  the romance, the joys and tragedies, me and my broomstick pony, cantered  up, around, under, over, and through, a whole conjured up swirling universe of sight, sound, smell and emotion. That was the part that was great…the whole frigging thing.

 Later that year (Easter, 1954) Mud and Howard and Gale and I (along with a few suitcases) piled onto a one engine piper, and, fled to Puerto Rico, to escape “bills”,

 PS It would be many years (well a few) before we would see the little house again, we got back (after time in Puerto Rico and New York) to St. Thomas in 1958 and spent another six months in  “The House at #1 Hole” in 1959, but those are all other stories.

 PPS Yes, I do know Kelsey Grammar. In those days, his father Alan (in addition to being a great musician and a friend of my mother and her twin sister), ran a lunch counter in the airport hanger, which was just a hop skip and a jump across the runway (which was how we got to the airport and Lindbergh beach, just hop skip and jump across the runway) from the little house referenced above. Alan and his wife appeared one day with a little arm waving, foot kicking, red faced thing with a remarkable noggin, and proudly introduced it as “our little Kelsey”. I remember being afraid for the pitiful looking little thing and silently wishing it”good luck” yep!

 

 

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