By Glen Herbert
“We call it the Big Rock,” says Carmette Gooding, “but it’s the only rock.” She recalls jumping off of it into the surf when she was growing up on Bequia. “We’d wait for the biggest wave to come, then we’d jump in it. When the wave was breaking. We loved that, I loved that as a kid!”
I say that it sounds like a fun place to grow up. “Fun place?! Not in my day. It was hard work!” She remembers walking across the island to get milk for the family. “I used to go there every morning before school to get a bottle of milk. I would get up so early, it was dark you could barely see through the bushes. I had to go through all those gullies, and up the hill and down, before you go to school. To get the milk for our breakfast. That was the only milk we had then. We didn’t have any can milk or powder milk, or all of this kind of stuff. We had to go for it every morning.” I ask if she ever felt like saying, forget this, get your own milk. “Forget?! You forget and your mom and dad knock your head off!” She bursts into a laugh, then adds “You couldn’t say no in those days.”
Still, it does sound like fun, and in truth she admits that much of it really was. She recalls making banana and fish dumplings, and long days at the sea. “In those days you’d never even feel the sun, either. You’d be on the beach all day, all day sitting in that sun waiting til people finish the cooking, and then you go back in the sea again.”
I spoke with Carmette in Solana’s, the shop in Port Elizabeth she runs with her daughter. Sitting there, it feels like being in the thick of things, and perhaps you are. Spend long enough and perhaps the whole island will drop in. “My mother’s the kind of person, everybody knows her,” says Solana. “Everybody feels comfortable coming in and telling her their problems. They know her and they can relate to her, and she will sit down and talk with them.”
“She could get carried away sometimes,” says Solana. “If she could help everybody, she would. She doesn’t like to tell people ‘no.’ She likes working with people who are just as passionate as her about taking care of things that need to be taken care of.” She’s got lots of opinions, as well as a brilliant way of expressing them. When I once asked her about the value of volunteerism, she said “the more you pay, the less work you get.” There’s a lot of wisdom in that, borne of her decades of experience on various committees and initiatives.
Apart from work in the shop, Carmette is the FedEx agent for the island, and sells real estate. Since the 1990s she’s been treasurer for the Bequia Mission, a role she continues today with the Grenadines Initiative. It’s been years of raffles, and repairing homes, delivering food and supplies, selling books at the book sales beneath the almond tree. “I always enjoy meeting people,” she says. “And why not? I love doing that kind of work.” I ask if she’s game to oversee the book sale tables on Hero’s Day again this year. “Why not?! Of course.” And she means it. She’ll be there.