I celebrated Father’s Day two days earlier this year. It was last week Friday and my son Amani had invited me to his graduation ceremony following ten weeks in a Sandals Hospitality Training Programme. He and a few dozen others had just completed special training to do basic hotel work in various departments. They were all 18-and-under and hadn’t any previous hotel work experience.
I was a man of and in many moods that morning, most nostalgic. The ceremony took place at Sandals Halcyon, mere metres away from the original ‘Fisherman’s Wharf’ restaurant over the beach front, which my late father, C.V.E. Bousquet, had helped build. He was captain of a tug named Lundy Gull, hired by Court Line, the British company that built the then largest hotel on the island Halcyon Days (now Coconut Bay) and the Halcyon Beach (now Sandals Halcyon).
Daily back then, my father would tug the equipment and supplies from Castries to the Choc Bay construction site for the over-the-water restaurant. I would accompany him on Saturdays, being allowed to steer the tug all the way from Port Castries to Choc while he tended to deck duties securing cargo.
From my seat inside the conference room during the graduation ceremony last Friday, I frequently stared across the room and down Memory Lane as I watched the existing restaurant with a new name at the same old place.
I looked across through the glass door across from the graduating class at the large swimming pool and remembered dipping into it every Sunday after purchasing a Bentley beverage at the bar after a couple rounds of lawn tennis (on a concrete court) at nearby Palm Beach.
(Buying the Bentley – a soda-based soft-drink with a couple peppermint leaves for taste — for EC $1.05 qualified ‘little boys’ like me to jump into the pool back then, when locals could access any hotel pool.)
I listened to the words of advice, praise and encouragement from the trainers and the managers from the three Sandals hotels here. The training module was a mechanism created by Sandals Founder Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart ten years ago to train future staff on the very premises they would first work at. Unlike total newcomers, they will have got the feel – and the hang — of the job way ahead of time.
The new Sandals graduates were also counselled by others who had travelled their path. One who much appreciated the difficulties of that journey told them that “a journey without obstacles probably leads to nowhere.”
They learned that their learning journey didn’t end after school, but continues thereafter into the future, with the course they just passed being the beginning of that longer lifelong journey to come, with the sky as the limit.
Alexie Cruden, one of the young female graduates, summed-up the common experience of all her peers, when she sang a song popular with her generation to the effect that: “Today my life begins; Just as all the seasons, I will break the chains that bind me; and happiness will find me; and I’ll leave the past behind me; as a whole new world is waiting. Today our lives begin!”
Their applauded response alone told me how much all her fellow grads shared her sentiment.
As always with Sandals ceremonies I attend, there’s also that other nostalgic moment I always re-live: having known ‘Butch’ Stewart before Sandals.
Back in the mid 1970s, I was an ulcer patient at the Kingston Public Hospital (KPH), a unit at the UWI’s Mona Campus in Jamaica. Sporting dreadlocks at the time, I lived for several weeks at 36-and-a-half Halway Tree Road’ and daily I bought ‘Cremo Milk’ and ‘Hardo Bread’ from a Rasta vendor with a mobile cart under a public kiosk across the road.
One day, I saw the rare sight (back then) of “a white man working hard, in overalls.’ He seemed to have been fixing part of an air conditioning unit, but his overall was spotlessly clean. The journalist in me asked the elder Rasta vendor, “Whodat?’ He replied, ‘Me nah know ‘im name, but ‘im is one white man does work hard. Me can tell unno, cause me know. Me see ‘im regular, regular. Yeah man!’
The signboard on the small building from which ‘Mr. White Man’ emerged and returned to read: Appliance Traders Ltd (ATL). Long years and many moons later, ATL became the parent company behind the Sandals hotel chain.
There were other sentimental Sandals memories that Friday morning, including that my very first son, Samora, had also worked for several years at both Sandals Grande and Sandals Regency, doing his best at just about the same things his youngest brother had just learned – until extracted by holy matrimony.
My wife and I married in Guyana, but we spent our honeymoon at Sandals Montego Bay in Jamaica one year later — the very first flagship hotel in the Sandals chain.
After lunch, I ended my special private Father’s Day celebration by going into the Sandals brand shop right across from the reception desk to ask about a black felt hat with an ‘Ites, Green and Gold’ ribbon stitch right around the base, featuring a yellow bunny pin. I’d seen it in the showcase over a year ago and thought it was all gone. But I still asked about it.
Lucky me: one of the two ladies behind the counter was pleased to retreat into the back of the store and returned – mere seconds later with my dream hat. I didn’t ask ‘How much?’ I simply handed her my plastic – and my ID. Before looking at them, she asked me: “Can I have your travel document?”
I told her, “I’m not traveling, I’m a local…’
She looked at my ID, then raised her eyebrows in near shock. She watched me — again — and asked (in very expressive disbelief): “You’re the Earl Bousquet on my TV?”
I replied, “Yes, don’t I look like me?”
She replied, laughing: “No, I does more see the one on the ID…”
She took the details, processed the sale, then handed me my brand new dream felt hat.
I put my prized headpiece on and flicked the tip down. (I wasn’t sure if I was trying to do Jimmy Cliff in ‘The Harder They Come’ or like Al Capone in the gangster movies, or even Dick Tracy from my cartoon and comic days…) Laughing, the two sales ladies jointly pointed me to a life-size mirror near the door.
Watching how the hat matched the gear my son and his girlfriend chose for my appearance at his graduation ceremony, I tightened my shirt collar one button up, as I bade the two ladies “Thanks and goodbye!”
Amani had no idea he’d given his father a most wonderful Father’s Day gift: seeing my last son graduate from a course of study with absolutely no help from me, entering a new job at an old place built by his grandfather at a hotel frequented by his father as a child. There he was, having chosen a job not requiring academic papers, but loathed by many – and at the only Sandals hotel in Saint Lucia his oldest brother didn’t work at for long.
Yes, my last son had given a good first start to my 2015 Father’s Day weekend. Only, he had no idea!