Memories and stories contain a beginning, a middle and an end. Today is always a beginning, but so was yesterday, and so tomorrow will be.
The Hermitage has stood for almost four hundred years, largely because of the remarkable wood, lignum vitae, from which it is built; but also, just as much because of the generations that have supported it.
Mr. Williams was a carpenter who came to work at the Hermitage when I was little. He built the first Hermitage cottages, which he framed on the lawn without the use of power tools. He set up his shop underneath one of the cottages (Blue House), from where he worked for the next 20 years.
Without the deafening din of power tools, his presence was largely unnoticed, although, sometimes, guests could hear him quietly working, or softly singing while he sharpened his hand tools. His tools were very old, from his youth, but they had the gleam of looking new. They were polished and cleaned and packed in a special box he built when he was an apprentice.
He was trained as a shipwright, a tradition from 100 years ago. He started his trade on a beach called Gallows Bay. The last vessel he launched still floats and is called “Alexander Hamilton.” Mr. Williams told me he stopped building boats because the sun, and the sand, and the sea, were too hot. So, he climbed the mountain to become a joiner beneath the mango trees. He framed houses and built jalousie windows, cabinetry and, even, wooden boxes.
His many houses have outlived him, and his wooden boxes still hold the precious contents of the past. Earlier this month, Mr. Williams passed away and at his funeral was honored by the children of the dead for whom he had built coffins. Longevity is marked by duration and remembrance, and these are the bones upon which our house is built; the oldest wooden house in the Caribbean.