Tag Archives: caribbean stories

Tales of St. John & the Caribbean: The Queen’s Panties

From Tales of St. John & the Caribbean
“The Queen’s Panties” by Curtney “Ghost” Chinnery

In the mid-sixties, the Queen of England paid a visit to the island of Tortola. This particular story is one that probably should not be told. But what the hell, we were just children.

Let me start with the day before the Queen came to Roadtown, Tortola. There were four of us. We were called “Water Rats.” There were two police officers that were assigned to the waterfront area. One of the officers called out to us saying: “Hey! Come here. Tomorrow the Queen will be here, and we don’t want you Water Rats in the water. Don’t let us have to chase you guys around.”

Those officers were men we respected. Therefore, we promised not to be in the water. We had intentions of making good money that day from visiting tourists by diving for coins.  Being that our plans were changed because of our promise, we were left with nothing in mind to do for the day of the Queen’s visit. The eldest of our group, a fellow we called Hookadoe, who is no longer with us in life today, said, “I know what we can do tomorrow. Let’s come early in the morning and go up under the stage.”

My brother Abraham asked Hookadoe, “Why?”

“To see what color panty she’ll be wearing,” Hookadoe replied.

Suddenly, we all thought it was a great idea, for it meant to us that we would be the only ones who would have the   pleasure of seeing the Queen’s panty.

Early the following morning, Hookadoe, Abraham, our friend Blackbird and I met up at the Market Square near the waterfront. Slightly before daybreak, we made our way over the hill so that we would not be seen by anyone.

Directly above the Roadtown Post Office was an old pirates’ castle, which today is the Dr. Tattersol Hospital. Sticking out from various points of the castle were heavy iron cannons pointed out towards the Roadtown harbor. There was one particular cannon we kids used to descend downwards into one of the many genip trees to get to the street below on the side of the Post Office. As we got to the street level, which is the same narrow Main Street of today, I was sent out as a scout to see if anyone was in the street.

After seeing no one, I signaled to the others to follow.

In those days, we had a wooden dock that was for ferry and yacht discharge only. The dock directly across from the passenger dock was for cargo boats to unload. For the Queen’s comfort, they constructed a large stage between both docks using many strips of wood for the floor, which made us think we would be able to look up between the many single strips of board.

We all took turns inching our way out toward the customs building at the dock. Upon arrival, we went into the water, clothes and all. The back end of the stage that faced the water was open so that we Water Rats could climb out of the water and go up under the stage.

After we made it under the stage, we undressed and wrang out our clothes. We depended upon our body heat as a drying agent to dry our clothes.

It wasn’t long before people started to gather. Suddenly we heard the sound of an engine. A few moments later, two U-boats came and tied up at the end of both docks, which meant we were totally trapped. To keep from being seen we now had to move toward the front section of the stage and in our little peeping plot, there was no turning back.

That morning we had no breakfast, which was a big mistake. The crowd started to build, and beneath the stage started to get hot from the sun. There was nothing we could do but lay on the ground for a few hours. As time went by, we developed hunger. What made matters worse was the odor of fried chicken, which was causing a big problem for us.

As the  hours passed, the heat built up. Our wet clothes never got a chance to dry from our body heat, because our bodies were just pushing out more water from sweat. Therefore what we did was remove our clothes.

I can remember starting to say a prayer, a prayer asking God to send the Queen soon, so that we could get out of there. There were only two ways out. One was to give up our quest. The other was to wait it out until the Queen arrived, made her speech, and moved on up through Main Street to the schoolyard where many people were gathered to see her. The choice of giving up was out of the question, so we stuck it out.

As we lay upon our clothes, up under the hot darkened stage, we heard clapping through the cracks of the stage steps. I could see the crowd moving to the left side in front of the stage. This cheering, clapping, and movement of the crowd told us our big moment was about to come. We made our move to the center of the stage, so that we could have a clear view of the Queen. We all laid side by side in the area where the Queen was about to walk up on the stage.

I can remember that our hunger had intensified so much so that our stomachs were making noises. This was another problem, because the moving gas in our stomachs was loud enough to be heard from the outside. Then as we lay there trying to quiet our stomachs by squeezing them with our hands, it suddenly got very dark.

It seems that someone had just unrolled a three-foot-wide   red carpet for the Queen to walk on, which posed another problem. To combat this new dilemma, my brother and I moved to one side of the carpet and Blackbird and Hookadoe the other. That way we could still view the Queen from the sides of the carpet.

The white convertible carrying the Queen drove up in front and stopped directly at the beginning of the red carpet. The car door was opened by one of our local police officers. We could now clearly see her face. Her beauty glittered as the sunlight hit her overall structure. Her large white dress was whiter than white itself. But our viewing of her was just for a brief moment. Once she came to the first step we beneath lost visual of her face.

Our big moment had finally arrived. We moved back from under the step section in an attempt to follow her movements as she was being escorted to her area upon the stage. We tried to look and peep through the cracks of the strips of wood on the sides of the carpet, except that fate was not on our side. The panty we had tried to see, for us, did not exist. All that we saw from our angle was layers and layers of material. It seems that the Queen had on about 25 dresses, one dress on top of another. We did not even get to see her ankle. The only part of her skin we saw was what all had seen, which was from her elbow to below her shoulders and her face. All other parts of her body were covered.

Disappointed as we were, we had no choice but to re­­main under that stage with our hunger. Many people made speeches as we prayed for them to finish and to begin the parade that would lead everyone through town and away from us, which, in time, happened.

Tired and hungry at the end of our worthless quest, we left the stage in the same way we entered it.

Due to the fact that we were so hungry and no one seemed to be around, we walked about the waterfront area and picked up bits and pieces of chicken and anything else we found to eat that had been left on the ground. For drinks we drained old soda cans, and thus ended our worthless quest to see if we could view the Queen’s panty.

Now today as a man I wonder. If they had caught us then, what would have become of us? What type of charge would they have placed upon us? In any case we did what we did when we did it. Personally, I for one would like to apologize to the Queen. I was just a crazy little boy.

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Tales of St. John and the Caribbean: Life in the Big City

Introduction
This story has nothing to do about St. John, but I will now justify it’s relevance for a St. John blog. Like I write, St. John, the Virgin Islands and the Caribbean. This broadens the topic base quite a bit. Now please allow me to stretch this a little bit. Here’s a story about a man from the Caribbean.

Really I just like stories, and I’d like to share this one….

The Story
Many people from the Caribbean have migrated to the big cities of the United States and Europe in search of better jobs. The following story concerns one such immigrant who settled in the Washington DC area.

Upon arriving in his new homeland a young man, a recent immigrant from the Caribbean, applied for a job with the Washington DC Fire Department. He passed through the screening process and underwent training as a fireman and EMT. Appreciative of the opportunities that had been presented to him, he became a gung-ho and dedicated employee.

On March 30, 1981, he happened to be at the George Washington University Hospital where he had just brought in an accident victim. While he was there, a call came in alerting the staff that a high priority trauma would soon be arriving at the emergency room.

Hearing the screech of tires outside, he proceeded to the front doors and saw a black limousine out of which emerged a swarm of gentlemen in suits and sunglasses surrounding older man who appeared to be injured. The older man, refusing to accept the help offered by his companions, walked unsteadily toward the emergency room doors. Just inside, he collapsed and fell into the arms of the Caribbean paramedic.

To the fireman’s amazement the man in his arms turned out to be none other than the President of the United States, Ronald Reagan. The President had just been shot by John Hinckley Jr. who, emulating Robert De Niro’s character, Travis Bickle in the movie Taxi Driver, had attempted the assassination in order to impress actress Jodie Foster.

The astonished fireman carried Reagan to a gurney and took him to the triage room where he helped tend to the President as doctors, nurses and technicians quickly arrived on the scene.

Meanwhile, secret service agents fanned out through the emergency room complex and saw to it that the area was secured. This meant that any non-essential personnel needed to be removed from the area, as the secret service had no way of knowing whether any of the patients might pose a security risk.

“What’s wrong with that guy?” barked a secret serviceman.

“Broken leg,” answered one of the hospital attendants.

“Get him out of here!”

“And what about that guy?”

“Heart attack”

“Get him out of here!”

And so it went until the room was cleared and other accommodations were found for the sick and wounded waiting to be attended to that day.

In the triage room, Reagan was stripped and examined. Doctors discovered a gunshot wound to the President’s chest, which had punctured one his lungs. The Chief Executive was rushed to the operating room where he underwent two hours of surgery to remove the .22 caliber explosive “devastator” bullet and to repair his collapsed lung.

When his shift was over, the Caribbean EMT and fireman went home where told his wife what had happened that night. “Oh, I’m so very proud of you, my dear, you’re a real hero” she exclaimed as she gave her husband a big hug.

That night, while laying in bed, the fireman also could not help but be proud of himself thinking how few people could say that they had played a part in saving the life of the President of the United States.

Two days later the fireman was summoned by his supervisor and told to report to the Secret Service office the next day. “Why do they want to see me?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” replied the supervisor, “maybe they want to give you a medal.”

That night he returned home and shared this new development with his wife. She agreed with the lighthearted speculation of the supervisor and told her husband that surely he was to receive some sort of reward or commendation for what he had done for the President on the night that he was shot.

The morning of his scheduled appointment, the fireman put on his best dress uniform and reported to the office of the Secret Service prepared to be recognized for the part that he had played in the drama at the hospital. His reception at the office, however, was icy, and he began to suspect that something was wrong. A receptionist told him to proceed to room 224, an office down the hall. Inside the sparsely furnished room he found a desk, a chair and two decidedly unfriendly and stern-faced men, who, without any exchange of pleasantries, instructed him to sit down in the wooden chair alongside the desk. The two secret servicemen remained standing.

“Where is it?” demanded one of the men, pointing a finger in the fireman’s chest. “We know you have it and you better give it up now.”

“What! What are you talking about? Where is what?” the fireman stammered.

“Don’t play dumb with us. Let us make this clear. If you don’t cooperate your career and your life will never be the same. You better come clean and tell us the truth.

The questioning continued in this manner for over an hour with the professional interrogators never revealing what it was they were talking about. Finally, he was summarily dismissed. As he reached the door, however, one of the agents added, “And, I wouldn’t talk about this to anyone if I were you, do you understand? This is not over. We’ll be speaking to you again”

Intimidated and bewildered, the fireman returned home and to his dismay found his house full of friends and family invited by his wife to celebrate her husband’s recognition. Totally chagrined, he was forced to explain to the well-wishers that far from being commended he was the subject of some sort of investigation the subject of which he did not know.

Several weeks after the shooting, during a meeting with his supervisor, the supervisor told him confidentially what happened. Sometime during the triage process, a pair of gold and diamond cufflinks and a tie clasp worn by President Reagan were stolen. They were a gift from the first lady, Nancy Reagan, on his inauguration and were worth $30,000.

It turned out that almost everyone in the emergency, triage and operating rooms were considered suspects and were questioned in the same manner as the fireman. Then, a week after the interrogations, the missing items miraculously appeared behind a file cabinet in the triage room stuffed in an envelope. As the room was cleaned and sterilized on a daily basis, it was unlikely that the jewelry had simply been misplaced. The most plausible explanation was that someone committed a crime of opportunity and then, fearful of the ruthless perseverance of the secret service investigators returned it to take the heat off themselves.

The fireman was relieved to finally learn the reason for his interrogation and to know that his ordeal was most likely over. Yet, he was disappointed the thief was never identified and that there might be some lingering suspicion about him. He felt like he had been put through the wringer. Having experienced the elation of having helped the President of the United States in a moment of need that so quickly yielded to the harrowing experience of being treated as a suspect in a crime he did not commit. And so it was that this son of the Caribbean found that life in the land of opportunity is not without some trying moments.

Note:
Some years later, after being promoted to the position of supervisor, the fireman from the Caribbean accompanied a friend of mine who was the producer for the TV show Emergency Call. It was during the making of one of the episodes that the fireman shared this story with my friend.

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