By Agnes Aventurin
I am the eldest daughter of Clementina Ursula Aventurin Powell – a visionary woman, businesswoman, entrepreneur, caring wife, mom, grandmother and friend; a freelancer, saleswoman and leader (1933 to 1992).
An orphan since she was about 15 years old, Clementina, aka Clem, was born on the island of Nevis and went through many hardships growing up. As a young girl, she travelled to St. Kitts for a better life. She later came to Sint Maarten in her early 20s, leaving two sons behind on the island of St. Kitts. After getting settled in Sint Maarten, she was able to bring over one of her sons to St. Maarten, while she continued caring for the other son she had left in St. Kitts.
When Clementina first arrived on Sint Maarten, she had no place to stay, so Mr. and Mrs. Theophilus Kruythoff, who lived in the village of Cole Bay, took her in to live with them until she got settled. (This seemed the norm in those days, because Clementina did the same thing for others after she herself was well settled-in on her own.) Meanwhile, Mrs. Kruythoff died and left her husband behind. Clementina never stopped caring for him, until his family migrated from Aruba to St. Maarten.
Clementina worked in various people’s homes in Cole Bay, the Lowlands, and the Beacon Hill area, cleaning, washing, and ironing. She later obtained a job with the government at the first and second Princes Juliana International Airport buildings, as a cleaner for over 35 years. As she had her children to feed, Clementina could hardly make ends meet; so she started building coal keels from cushaw trees and stumps from other trees. She sold the coals to natives in Cole Bay and the surrounding parishes. (People in those days used coals to cook outside on coal pots and they ironed their clothes with a goose which got the heat from the coals.)
Clementina was a young visionary woman whom nothing could keep her back. The wife of Arthur Aventurin of Bus 2; she was also the mother of 10 children – four girls and four boys, plus two adopted. Clementina loved dancing, among many other things, and one of her hobbies was smoking. She woke up one day and had a box of cigarettes; but had no sugar to sweeten her children’s tea, so she swore to God never to smoke again. True to her word, she destroyed the cigarettes, and never smoked again.
St. Maarten began booming in the early 1960s. Hotels and Chalets were going up and natives were building houses all over the island. In the late 60s early 70s, three young women on the island went around construction sites to sell food – and my mom was one of them. She learned the art of cooking, baking, and selling from the other two women (Mrs. Elmira Bell and Ms. Marie Brooks) who taught her the ropes. They also encouraged her to get her driver’s licence, which she did.
Once Clementina was on the road, she used the opportunity to make extra money in many ways. She sold lottery tickets, and catochi/numbers, which was considered an illegal act in those days. (If the police caught persons selling numbers, they would be locked up or fined.) Clementina raffled devices, with numbers from 0 to 100 (Pool). If someone won, she'd purchase the appliance from the store, and the money difference belonged to her; if no one won, all the money stayed with her.
Clementina also played partner hands. She was contracted to clean the KLM and ALM airlines whenever they landed at Princess Juliana International Airport. She couldn’t do it alone, so she’d bring other women on board to work with her. Another venture of hers was to purchase piglets and raise them until they got big enough to be butchered; she’d then sell the meat, or would sell the entire hog to the Japanese boats. One might wonder how one person could have done so many things – good planning. Clementina dropped whatever she felt was not working well, and moved on.
Clementina had only made it to the fourth grade, but could read and write well. I was very flabbergasted by her. By doing these things with her little education, she could purchase a small car to take her around to sell food on her own and build her home and apartments in Cole Bay. This enabled her to stop working as hard as she did. I remember people telling her that building the apartments was a bad investment, but she proved them wrong. These are the same apartments that sustained her when she became very ill until her departure.
My deceased cousin was always amazed by my mom. She once told me: “If Aunty had the education we have, she would turn up the world.” Mommy use to say, “Work doesn’t kill anybody.” Unfortunately, she got ill and died before reaching 60.
Mommy believed in God and sent all her children to church and Sunday school every Sunday. She stayed at home to prepare for her family to be ready for the week. She taught us to pray and used many proverbs and sayings in certain situations. We had to report to her what we learned during church and Sunday school. To make sure we understood what we had learned, she questioned us on the subject. She found time to sit outside on the steps when we were little children to play games with us. I remember her teaching us older ones, to count in song while we were skipping rope in the yard.
Later on, she started attending church at St. Simon and Jude Anglican Church on the Back Street. In the early 1980s, she worked hard along with other members, putting on BBQs to raise funds to reconstruct the chapel that is still standing. She was a sincere giver. My sister, Elmora Aventurin Pantophlet, calls this “the principle of giving”.
Mommy never forgot where she came from and the hardships she endured, so I believe that’s the reason she always looked out for people and extended a helping hand to many. She took into her home people, who were stranded at Princes Juliana Airport, and ensured they returned the following day to catch their flight. She prepared meals and always had extra in case someone hungry might pass by.
Oh! During the Christmas Season, she felt everybody should enjoy Christmas. She would prepare ham, baked chicken, tarts, and pudding, cut them into halves, and send her sons to deliver Christmas parcels to the homes of people she was certain could not afford to but these things. She also made and sold these goodies to those who wanted to purchase them for their family. Mommy's motto was: "Whatever you want, you must work towards it; it's not going to land in your lap.” Her other famous sayings were: “Don’t envy anybody for what they have; you do not know how they got it.” “Do not hang your hat higher than your hand can reach.” “Save for a rainy day.”
With Mommy's direction, leadership, and wisdom, her children have accomplished much in life. I can see the fruits of her labour and intelligence in her children and grandchildren. I am proud to be one of Clementina's children. We were led by example and we followed.