A month or so ago, I said farewell to you and to the readers of The Daily Herald, a decision that I still stand by, but please allow me here, one last time, to express my nostalgia and my grief in memory and in praise of a dear old departed friend, the late Roger (Roro) Petit. For the last three years or more, ill health, hurricanes, the pandemic and other storms of life had forced Roger to relinquish his outings: his boating and fishing. I presume that he was hoping, waiting for better weather to come his way when he could get back out to sea the way he used to do, some years earlier, before the ongoing calamities, the debilitating storms began.
The old seaman may have grown tired of waiting for the storms to lift, for the bad weather to go away. On January 25, 2021, he left all of his fishing gear at home: his rods, his reels, all of his lures and, very out of character for him – all alone – he headed out and away from everyone and everything; away from all of us who already miss him; all of us who loved him. He cast off and headed straight into the sunset. But if we cannot find him there, we can search for him elsewhere; he may be down by the old sandbox tree on that tiny beach over the retaining wall in front of his grandfather’s shop (later La Vie en Rose); there, or maybe mid-way down the wharf, or at the very end of it where the water is deeper, the fishing is better and there are steps going down to the sea.
Roger was not one of the “Boys from the Sand”, he was not from Sandy Ground; Roro was from Marigot and, every school day, he was driven (with others) to his classes in Great Bay. More to the point, Roro resided on the wharf, in Marigot; that is where he lived, not at his grandfather’s or at Mr. Luke Peterson’s next door. He lived on the wharf and on that tiny beach, the sand of which used to come and go with the tides. The beach is still there, I guess, trapped underneath the parking area and online, there forever for viewing at the “Museum van Wereldculturen” in the Netherlands. Last night, in my grief, going back in thoughts, I tried to imagine Roro on the beach in that Boy Lawson (1964) black and white photograph “Straatbeeld van Marigot”. The color version of the photo is sharper; the image is clearer, more detailed, but only a bit less depressing and drab looking.
Roro is nowhere to be seen, of course, in that sad, that somber snapshot that looks like it was taken after a hurricane. But how could that be when the leaves of the sandbox tree are so plentiful, the foliage so dense? This picture must have been taken following a powerful “ground-sea”. In November 1964, wherever he was, Roger would have turned 17, and, by then, he would have changed residence; he would have moved indoors – off of his beach and his wharf. That year or shortly thereafter he would leave to study in Holland with friends and schoolmates; if I am not mistaken, with Henri Brookson, Josianne Artsen, and a few others. Three years later (in 1967) he was there when Leonard Cohen released his first album with his hit song, “So Long, Marianne”; Roger told me how much he loved it when it was released and he first heard it in Holland.
Back in the late ’50s and the very early ’60s, before I went abroad and Roro left for Holland, when he was not in school, morning, afternoon and, sometimes, in the early evening, he was on his wharf or on his beach with his fishing cane, the only person we knew back then who fished with a cane! He was a master at catching little “silver fishes” he would give away to others who used them for bait. Roro and I were not close back then: he was not from “the Sand,” and he was my junior; I was a big boy: our three-year difference mattered! But I remember him lecturing me and others at length on fishing and other things having to do with the sea. Roro had a master tutor: his grandfather.
Later, in Holland, Roger studied economics and history, two subjects that, along with politics, never ceased to interest him; he was an avid reader of books and of a number of magazines. Roger was a gifted teacher; he could have been a great university lecturer.
When we met up again back in the early ’80s and got closer, our three-year difference no longer mattered. Roger was then a young businessman involved in the then-booming restaurant business on both sides of the island with his older brother Ray whom he worshipped, to whom he looked up with the greatest of deference, modesty, discretion and of brotherly love. It was a relationship that has always struck me as special, exemplary. Roro had moved on, long ago, from his fishing cane; from those “redmen,” (squirrel fishes), and the “silver fishes'' to angling for marlins, tunas, and swordfishes among other game fish. Sometimes, when I watched Roro wrestling some of those monsters, I would remember him standing on the wharf, casting the line on that strange fishing cane of his.
With much discretion, Roro Petit was always ready to assist his friends and others; he was a judicious and most important contributor to the development of the Saint Martin community; he was a behind-the-scenes key person in almost everything of importance that came to fruition, to actualization in his community over 45 years or more. Some of Roger’s actions or of his words may have hurt or offended some folks; he was not without reproach. He was like most of us, and maybe much less blameworthy than many of us. Who will cast the first stone? Who among us is blameless?
My friend Roger was a sensitive man, a caring person; some years ago, I saw him weep like a child while telling me how the young son of our friend, Dr. F. Anaïs had taken ill suddenly and died. Roger was a loving, caring father to his daughter Tamara and to his son Stephan; he was a dedicated companion to Robin and Marjolein. He was also a doting grandfather to Lyla and Luke; I extend my heartfelt condolences to Marjolein, Stephan and Tamara, to Ray, Robé, Patrick, and Caroline; to Robin and Chemaine; to all of Roger’s cousins (too many to list here) and to all of his many friends in Saint Martin and abroad. I deeply regret not being able to be present to pay my respects at the Funeral Home in Galisbay.
I must end this long “remembering” of mine; I return, online, to Boy Lawson’s “Straatbeeld van Marigot” (1964) photograph now, seemingly a “Cultural Treasure”, and I persist. I concentrate on the image; I try to find Roro in the picture; I am sure that he is there, somewhere. Now the scene is animated, the day is bright and promising; white clouds in a blue sky with green hills in the background. Folks are milling around on the wharf and assembling in the shade of the sandbox tree. I gaze beyond the green vehicle and the man standing by it, beyond the ribbed bars and the rusty oil barrels; I survey the scene. Roro is nowhere to be seen, he is not there, he is nowhere anymore, except in our thoughts. In my “remembering”, Roro is standing on the wharf; he has cast his line, he is looking towards the Bluff, waiting for a bite. He is waiting there for us.
Gérard M. Hunt