The culture of St. Martin comes from its people. Every life and every experience is part of culture. Every memory tells us something about a moment, a person and an island.
In an interview in 2018, 99-year-old Cynric Griffith told a story of the first time he met the Queen of the Netherlands. Griffith was born in St. Kitts, and was recruited to work on St. Martin in 1956. In his words, “from then on, many other things has been happening.” Griffith’s “many other things” includes the entire modern era of life on St. Martin. It includes the rise of tourism in the region and immense changes to the island and its people.
When he was working at the Pasanggrahan Hotel, his boss told him “The Queen is coming!” Although she was staying in the newly-built Little Bay Hotel, Griffith’s help was still needed. His boss said, “I need you to serve her, and you have to have a white coat, and a black tie and a black pants.”
At the same time, Commissioner Claude Wathey was enlisting Griffith’s skill as a painter. He told Griffith, “You’re going up in the hills and you’re going to paint a picture of the area where the Queen is going to cut the ribbon for the new airport.”
Griffiths made the painting, and he recounted “When the Queen came, I was asked to serve her coffee…Mr. Wathey came by and gave me the picture to deliver to the Queen. I think that was a couple hours after I gave her coffee. She looked up at me and said, ‘What? Haven’t I seen you somewhere before?’ and I said, ‘Yes. I served you coffee!’”
It’s a story that tells a lot about St. Martin at the time. It was an island looking to the future, with a new hotel and a bigger airport. But it was also a small place where anyone might be called upon to fill a role. A place where one might become a friend of the Queen: “From that day on, they always, when she’s comin’, invite me to receptions and so on.”
That St. Martin is long gone. Somewhere along the line, receptions with the Queen ended, too: “At this time here, they don’t bother to honor the sick people around here, so they haven’t bothered to invite me or anything like that.” He said it with a laugh and politely pivoted to mention that he still has his Prins Bernhard medal of honor.
Griffith went on to tell of his time as an art teacher at St. Maarten Academy, where he brought students up Sentry Hill to draw landscapes. Perhaps this work brought the greatest rewards: “Today, I get some surprises. When I am sometimes sitting outside on the porch, I hear a voice. ‘Is that Mr. Griffith?’ So I look up and say, ‘Yes! Who are you?’ ‘Don’t you remember? You used to teach us and take us all up in the hills to draw.’” Remembering these simple encounters brings a smile, “it makes you feel good, you know? I have achieved something. I have given something.”
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