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I post on Monday with an occasional random blog thrown in for good measure. I do my best to answer all comments via email and visit around on the days I post.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Miss Meada's Yard - Yard Culture - Part IV - In Which We Learn How to Open a Coconut

Erva and I learned to dehusk and crack open coconuts in Miss Meada’s yard. First we’d run around and shake ripe brown coconuts that had fallen from the palms to make sure they had milk in them. When you hear liquid sloshing around inside that means they are good.

The next thing was to find a big heavy rock, preferably one that was kind of flat. If it turned out to be a particularly good rock it was saved and kept some place safe. Next, the coconut got stood up on its broader, fatter end, the pointier end sticking up in the air. Erva, or one of the bigger, stronger kids, would throw the flat heavy rock as hard as they could onto the pointy end of the coconut.

What followed was the coconut dance as feet and legs leapt and danced to get out of the way of a coconut going off in one direction and a rock going off in another. You never knew which directions rock and coconut would go flying, so you had to be alert and on your toes. I don’t recall anyone getting hurt, but certainly the potential was there.

Rock smashing against coconut continued until good-sized fissures formed in the tough fibrous husk at which point the husk could be pealed off. Once the nut was cleaned off holes were bored in two of its three eyes with a nail or ice pick and we’d take turns drinking the sweet cool milk. Then we’d smash the nut on the rock to break open the hard shell and reveal the crunchy white meat. The meat was pried out with somebody’s pocket knife. (Pocket knifes were a necessity. Most every boy carried one. They were used for everything from cutting fish bate, digging holes, whittling, to eating.)

I don’t know how many coconuts we broke open, but I bet it was a lot. We’d eat so much our jaws would get sore and tired from chewing the hard crunchy meat. Green coconuts provide a lot more milk and the meat is a soft jelly. They are just as delicious as ripe coconuts but require the use of a machete to open, something we kids were not allowed to handle.

Today only one small section of Miss Meada’s yard remains; an area by the lignum vitae tree. (You can read more about it and see pictures.) All around the parameter of her property are concrete buildings housing restaurants, offices, shops, and the post office. In the center of her yard where her restaurant once stood, is another restaurant where you can get exotic food cooked in an exotic manner served on exotic plates in an exotic atmosphere for an exotic price.

Oh, and the tortoises are still there.

I treasure the memories of The Yard, its smells, its noises, its multitude of hiding places, its room to run, its safety. I treasure the memories of Miss Meada and Miss Myrah, two proud, strong, gentle, independent, women who gave their time, their smiles, their gifts and their reprimands, without prejudice.

I am one of the lucky ones. No one has replaced them and yard culture no long exists.


  1. Oh, yes...the coconut dance! Separating the nut from the shell was also an opportunity for us to cut our fingers, or accidently stab our palms, but it was also the learning experience we needed on how to handle either a pocket knife or a small paring knife. Amazing how the adults seemed to think nothing of it!

    I think that the lignum vitae tree in Miss Meada's yard is still the biggest one I've ever seen. It may not be as tall as the ones in Emancipation Garden, but its trunk is much larger.

    Thanks for the memories! So sad for the younger generation as Virgin Islands Yard Culture is nearly a thing of the past.

  2. It's not as easy as it sounds. We usually get a chisel and a hammer ;)

  3. I love fresh coconut! When I was little, my friend that lived up the road from me had a tree that grew mini-coconuts. There was a big rock with a little groove worn down in it that the coconuts fit perfectly in. We'd sit there and eat them for hours!

    Rick grew up in Hawaii and had never heard of mini-coconuts. He argued that they didn't exist until I finally drove him up there many years later to show him. Then about 2 years ago, a friend of mine in CA found some in a local grocery store and sent them to me. Such memories!

  4. Erva, Somewhere on the web on a site about Cruz Bay I read that the LV tree was only 40 years old! But I don't believe that for one minute. More like 140. I'm sure it was there when we were kids and just about as big as it is now.

    HA Kim...chisel and hammer!

    Wow, Rena, I've never heard of mini-coconuts either. Did they grown on "mini-trees?" LOL

  5. I love the image of the coconut dance! We love fresh coconut but it's a production to get them open.

    It does sound like you had an enchanting place to grow up.

  6. you had the most fascinating childhood! luv the coconut dance.

  7. sounds dangerous but fun and I'm sure all of the hard work makes the coconut milk and meat taste even better!

  8. Adrienne and Christy, my sister and I did have a most excellent childhood, one I wouldn't trade for the world!

    Angela, You're right! The milk does taste sweeter when you've worked for it.


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