In the islands there used to be a thing called “yard culture.” Yard culture was all about somebody’s house that had a yard, usually a large yard where kids, who’s parents worked, gathered after school. Under the watchful eye of a mother hen the kids were looked after. A kid just couldn't get into trouble. If there was any kind of misbehavior it was for sure you’d get reprimanded and/or disciplined and it was for double sure your parents would be told, which meant you’d be reprimanded and/or disciplined a second time.
I believe my sister, Erva, and I are part of the last generation to know what “yard culture” is.
In Cruz Bay on St. John there were several homes with large yards where kids gathered after school. But the best and biggest yard was Miss Meada’s.
In fact it would be safe to say Miss Meada’s yard was the center of down-town Cruz Bay as it occupied a whole block. Her yard included her home, a small shack that was her kitchen/restaurant, The Inn, which was a house she rented out, her tortoise pen, a two-seater privy, a large chicken coop, and the shack were Trumps lived. (More about Trumps later.) If you told anyone, “I’ll meet you in the yard,” it was understood you meant Miss Meada’s yard, because that’s what it was called, The Yard.
Miss Meada had an older twin sister. Miss Myrah was a registered nurse and midwife. If you had to get a shot, you were blessed if Miss Myrah gave it. I was one of those kids who hated getting shots, particularly penicillin when I’d get tonsillitis which meant getting a shot in my butt. There I’d be stretched across Mom’s lap, squirming and squalling and Miss Myrah would do this trick of slapping my butt. By the time I felt the sting of the slap, the shot was given. She was fast. She was good. The Myrah Keating-Smith Community Health Center is named after her. (You can see her picture and read more about her here.)
Miss Meada’s gift was being an excellent cook. In the early days her kitchen/restaurant was the little wooden shack in the middle of her yard with a few tables where people came to get a good meal. Later on she replaced the shack with a concrete building that had a real dining room.
The first thing to happened, when we kids starting arriving in her yard, is that we’d get something to eat. What I remember best were her Johnny cakes. They were the perfect blend of baking soda and sugar, a wonderful salty-sweet. And they were just warm, not hot from the fat they were fried in, or too cold from having sat too long. We’d get something to drink too, like lemon or lime aid. If it wasn't Johnny cakes it was something else, like a piece of hard bread with some nice sharp rat cheese or a coconut cake or a hard-boiled egg. Or we might get whatever fruit was in season, like mangos or sugar apples.
After we had a snack, the older kids had chores to do. Erva helped out with these. I don’t remember doing chores, but I probably did. Children were not really allowed to be idle. Even the youngest were required to help out and were given small tasks they could easily perform. I do remember feeding her tortoises which were quite large, but then I was quite small. Those tortoises are still there, having out-lived their owner. They may well out-live me. They are not so big as I remember them.
After chores it was time to play; stories for my next blog.
If you go to the St. John Historical Society site and click on slides 43 and 44 you can see pictures of Miss Meada and Miss Myrah with their cousin Theovald "Mooie" Moorehead. There are a lot of other wonderful pictures from the early days as well.