Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Characters of the Caribbean - Peter Morrison

Peter Morrison was one of our earliest and closest friends on Statia. The story of how he came to be there emerged in bits and pieces over the years we knew him.
Born in England in 1943, Peter spent his earliest years in war-torn England. After the war, his family moved to Canada with Peter’s older brother and his baby sister Olive, leaving Peter behind in the care of relatives. It was a time of deprivation in the British Isles. Peter seldom spoke of that period of his life, but I was told he was often hungry and neglected.
The family finally brought Peter to Canada, but once there he could hardly be said to have had a normal childhood. He had difficulty in school, where he was teased and bullied about his English accent, and then his father moved back to England, deserting the family.
Somehow Peter got through school and began working as an apprentice with a boat builder at Niagara on the Lake in Ontario. He married and for a time it seemed his life was on track. Then his wife ran away with his best friend. When he told me about this, Peter said he hunted them down with a gun with thoughts of killing them, but when he found them, he discovered he really didn’t care. I think violence was foreign to his nature even then. He was a gentle man.
That’s when he decided to build a boat and leave everything behind him. A more classic instance of running away from a harsh reality could hardly be found.
The 'Artful Dodger' in the foreground
Between 1972 and 1974, along with three friends who were looking for adventure, Peter spent all his spare time working on his dream, a three hulled sailboat, a trimaran. When it was launched, the four young men named it The Artful Dodger, after the Dickens’ character.
Over the next two years, they sailed their way down the St. Lawrence River, down the coast of the United States via the Intracoastal Waterway, through the Florida Keys and the Bahamas, and into the Caribbean Sea. Accompanying Peter on this odyssey were Douglas Logan, who remained his life-long friend, and two others I knew only briefly, as “Whitey” and “A.J.”
They worked, mostly for beer money, when and where they had to. Peter was a craftsman carpenter, Douglas, a trained plumber. I have been told their two companions were equally skilled. It was never difficult for them to find short term work when they were short of funds in the various ports they passed through. When they didn’t need money they didn’t work. It was a life style that suited them and became the pattern for Peter and Douglas for the rest of their days.
Douglas was short and wiry. He was the perfect image of an Irish elf. I rarely saw him without a Heineken in his hand. “Greenies,” he called them. Whitey was taller, and had pale eyes, and white-blond hair.  I have no clear recollection of A.J.
The four adventurers sailed their way two thirds of the way down the chain of Caribbean Islands, to the Netherland Antilles, to St. Eustatius, “Statia”.  It was at this point that A.J. declared he was tired of the vagabond life and departed by air for Canada. Whitey followed not long after.
Peter and Douglas stayed. Peter said to me, “We saw this island and decided to stop in for
St. Eustatius bar with goat peeking in
"Anybody seen Pete?" Goat peering in doorway of Cool Corner Pub
a short beer.”
He had been there six months then. Those six months stretched to a lifetime for Peter and Douglas. And the Old Gin House, an inn in the process of being built, was very much their headquarters. It was a work in progress and the owners, John May and Martin Scofield, were greatly in need of the skills these two erstwhile navigators brought with them.
I first met Peter when my husband and I stopped in for lunch at the Inn. There he was, standing at the bar, gazing at the sea. He’d been working on a hutch cabinet – a beautiful period style serving piece for the outdoor space that was at that time the Inn’s only dining room. He’d taken a break for a “greenie”. Dressed in elderly, sea-washed jeans that hung low and rather loosely on his slim hips, kept in place only by a wide, worn leather belt, he was an eye-catching sight. His leather sandals had seen better days. Above the waist he was covered in fine sawdust. But his face was one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen on man or woman. He looked like a Michelangelo painting, or perhaps the idealized Sunday-school picture of Jesus. His uncombed hair almost touched his shoulders, brown streaked with gold from days in the sun. And he sported a well-trimmed beard to match. But most of all it was the eyes that captured and held. They were sea blue, with laugh lines at the corners, and they sparkled with life. It was as if Peter knew some great joke about which the rest of us could only conjecture. One had the impression of light coming from someplace deep inside Peter, and showing through his eyes.
Characters of the Caribben, Peter Morrison
Peter at home on the Artful Dodger
Of course I asked him to do all the woodwork on the house my husband and I were building. The kitchen shelving, twelve feet of floor to ceiling bookcases for the living room, a bathroom vanity and veranda railings. He demurred at first, but I assured him he would have complete control. I might suggest, but the decisions would be his. That hooked him. It is a testament to his craftsmanship that forty years later, when we rebuilt out kitchen we chose to keep Peter’s shelving. He was a master craftsman.
In those days there was no treated wood on Statia. To build cabinets and veranda railings and bookcases of untreated wood in this termites-ridden environment would have been foolhardy. So we sailed on the Artful Dodger to St. Barts and St. Kitts where there were real lumber yards in which Peter could choose his materials. I remember the way he selected each board, examining it from end to end, checking that each piece was properly treated, that it was not warped.
On one of these trips there was a minor problem, somewhat typical of Peter and Douglas. Peter assumed Douglas had filled the gas tank, Douglas assumed Peter had. We were half way to St. Barts when we ran out of gas. It was one of those rare Caribbean days when there was no breath of wind. The sails fluttered limply, we were becalmed. We tacked for hours. What should have been a six hour trip became a sixteen hour one. Finally we were in sight of St. Barts tiny enclosed harbor, with no way to get into it. Douglas jumped overboard with a gas can and swam ashore. He returned an hour later with just enough gas to get us into the harbor and tied up at the pier. It was then we discovered they had been butchering a cow on the pier. The blood and entrails dumped into the water had attracted sharks in some number.
Peter’s and Douglas’ reactions at Douglas having swum through such shark infested waters? They laughed. How sure we all were in those youthful sunny days of our immortality.
We expected to spend only one night on St. Barts, but arriving so late we had to spend two. Back on Statia, people worried when we didn’t return as scheduled. On a small island people look out for one another. On day three, Pipe, the Winair pilot, diverted on his St. Maarten-St. Eustatius run to search for our small ship. When he located us on our way back to Statia, he flew low and dipped his wings. We all waved our Heineken bottles at him to signal we were all right, and he radioed back to Statia that the lost had been found and were on their way home before he continued on his way to St. Maarten with his passengers.

Douglas with Barracuda
Douglas with tonight's dinner
Some of the happiest memories of my life are of the Sunday afternoons we spent out on the Artful Dodger, snorkeling in the clear waters of Jenkins Bay. After a day in the sun and sea, drinking more gin and tonic than we should have, Peter would jump off the boat one last time with his spear gun in hand to hunt for our dinner. It was usually Barracuda. Now Barracuda can be poisonous if it’s fished from the wrong site, but they are territorial and Peter assured us that those from Jenkins Bay were safe. They must have been since I’m here to tell the tale.
We’d take the day’s catch back to my kitchen and Peter would cook them in his own special beer batter. I’ve never before or since tasted fish as delicious. Peter was adventurous in his cooking and eating. Together, we cooked iguana, sea turtle, and conch. He made a special conch pounding tool for me. Without pounding, conch meat is too tough to eat. We didn’t have much choice of ingredients on Statia, but somehow Peter always managed to turn nothing into something wonderful. He used whatever ingredients he could find on land or in the ocean.
One evening as we were wending our way home, four of us, my husband and I, our friend Karen, and Peter, Peter shouted “Stop!”
He jumped out of the car and pointed to a strange creature crossing the road. “Land crab,” he informed us. “Good eating, but not enough meat for four of us. You have to be really careful when you pick them up to grab them from the back or they’ll get you with their claws.” So saying he picked the crab up the wrong way. It planted its claws firmly in his hand. He tried to use the other hand to free himself and the crab used his other claw to fasten that hand. Peter was as effectively put out of commission as if he’d been wearing handcuffs. He stood there laughing like a fool and we laughed with him. It took the other three of us and considerable manipulating with a stick to free Peter. The crab then continued his even stroll and we went home to apply alcohol to Peter’s wounds. I never ate land crab without remembering Peter’s encounter with one.
The Old Gin House on St. Eustatia
The Old Gin House
Sunny days followed sunny days. We always gathered at the Old Gin House for sunset, to watch and wait for the elusive green flash of the sun as it settled into the sea. They were halcyon days and we thought they would last forever.
As I came to know Peter better, I discovered he had an innate sense of fair play and a natural kindness such as I’ve rarely encountered in another person. I saw Peter as a kind, gentle person, one who would certainly have had difficulty coping with what we who live in big cities refer to as “civilization”.
Peter rapidly became the finishing carpenter of choice for everyone building on the island. When it came to building his own life he was not so skillful. That he was woman-bait goes without saying. When the tourist sailing ship Polynesia was in port, Peter used to lean against the Gin House beach bar until he saw something that interested him. Then he pounced. The prey never ran very fast or far.
One day a woman came off the Polynesia who was different. Jana Mason jumped ship for Peter.  Although she flew back and forth to Oregon several times, she eventually returned to Statia, to marry Peter in the ruins of the Old Dutch Reform Church.
The marriage lasted some ten years, but it was doomed to eventual failure not because of other women—Peter loved Jana and I believe he was faithful to her. Jana’s rival was alcohol. Like so many old Caribbean hands, Peter slipped almost imperceptibly into alcoholism. He tried to stop. At one point he even went back to Canada for treatment. But when he returned to the island he fell back into his old ways.
One of the last times I saw Peter, he was sitting in the bar at the airport. My husband and I had just returned after an absence of some months.  I went over to speak to him. What I noticed immediately when he looked at me was that the light had gone out. That miraculous inner light that used to shine through his eyes was gone. I was looking at the shell of a man. I felt pain at the loss.
He died soon after. His ex-wife Jana saw to everything. He was buried on the hill overlooking the sea that he so loved, beside his life-long friend, Douglas.
When I spoke to Jana, she said simply, “I loved him. I couldn’t live with him, but I loved him.”


Following are my published novels. Go to my Goodreads page, to find more info and reviews.  

To purchase one of these books, just click on the book link below and select the vendor of your choice.

 • The Memory of Roses ~ The story of a secret and how it impacts two generations of the McQuaid family.  It unfolds on the beautiful Greek Island of Corfu and is a tale complete with beautiful and passionate women, handsome and fiery men, and an intriguing mystery.

"The Memory of Roses by Blair McDowell is simply an incredibly lovely story. It’s also a love story, and a story about finding yourself, and about closure. The theme running through the book is “all’s well that ends well.”  --  Marlene, Reading Reality


 • Delighting In Your Company ~ Delighting In Your Company is a paranormal romance set on an exotic Caribbean island, featuring a handsome ghost and an adventurous heroine who travels back in time to solve a mystery!

"Delighting In Your Company is a unique paranormal romance that brings together island folklore, history, and mystery with an unlikely romance between the past and present that had me going through a torrent of emotions and made it impossible to put down." -- The Romance Reviews


 • Sonata ~ Sayuri McAllister has just arrived home to Vancouver to find some shocking situations 
~ A robbery has taken place at her family home, and it is being investigated by her old flame;
~ Alyssa James who she barely knows, is about to become her new stepmother; 
~ and Alyssa’s brother, Hugh James, is a charming Irishman who is intent on bedding and wedding the rich and beautiful Sayuri. 

It’s a confusing and difficult time for Sayuri, especially when dangerous accidents happen to her father and herself – or are they accidents?

“I found Sonata to be a charming novel that left me laughing out loud in parts and gnawing nails in others. It was a delight to read.” – Night Owl Reviews


 Abigail's Christmas (short story) ~ An enchanting tale of love and romance, with a magical touch of fantasy.
Abigail's Christmas is a holiday story about Abigail who goes looking for a tree on Christmas Eve, and ends up with the man of her dreams in a sleigh in the Rockies --- with a wedding in the offing! Is it real?  Is she dreaming?  Or is it just Christmas magic?


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Blair McDowell