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.