William “Buddy” Wood tells it like it is and how it was

Caymanian William “Buddy” Wood is a man who has done it all by most standards but he says he is still getting the most out of life.

“If they buried me now, I would be the happiest man in the whole cemetery,” he professed.

An ardent family man, entrepreneur and farmer, Mr. Wood explained that he never spent a lot of time doing nothing and was always on the go all his life.

Like many Caymanians of the seafaring era, Mr. Wood spent time working with National Bulk Carrier – the largest shipping company at the time, with over 100 ships – during a career as an engineer that would last some 13 years.

Ever the hard worker and filled with an infectious enthusiasm for life, as could be witnessed in my time with him, Mr. Wood was promoted 5 times in 18 months, before going to New York to sit for his certification to become a third engineer. He did his schooling for the exam at Bulk National Carrier’s school, which was housed where the National Museum is today.

After that it was smooth sailing for sure and National Bulk told Mr.Wood he could choose which ship he wanted to work on, as a result of certified engineers being in extremely high demand. The year was 1957.

Mr.Wood would spend several more years at sea however, and returned to his beloved Isle of Grand Cayman somewhere between 1968 and 1970.

“I got to see the whole world free of cost,” said Mr. Wood, who chronicled some of his more poignant experiences in new lands, some of which registered quite an impression on the young sailor.

“One thing I can recall to this day……They talk about Haiti being poor now, but back then, in the fifties and sixties, I remember seeing people living in caves with cut up cardboard used for doors and beds and that was home for them.”

He said in those days you could get 20 lobsters or trade a bar of “sweet soap” for all kinds of fruits and goods.

“We would get sweet soaps as part of our allowance every week and of course we couldn’t use all of them, so we would have them left over in piles,” reminisced Mr. Wood.

During his time at sea he also began screening films, after purchasing a 16mm projector. He would charge the other sailors a small stipend to come to his films and when National Bulk Carrier heard of this, they decided to outfit all of their ships with a projector for watching films.

This interest in films would serve William well later in life.

Upon returning home in the 1970’s, Mr.Wood found a different world than he had left.

“Day’s work or money? You didn’t have to worry about that ma son,” he declared, adding that the place was booming at the time.

“You didn’t need any permits or anything and all you had to do was hire people, pick them up from the airport and be responsible for them. It was a different time.”

Mr. Wood said he felt what had changed was that the whole world economy was now connected and globalisation meant that everyone had to face the same fate at the same time.

“I mean back then police had nothing to do and if someone got killed, you knew who did it, why and probably how too.

“Then the cars started coming as a result of the money that was passing through the place. We had all these expensive cars coming in to drive on roads of sand, filled with potholes.”

Back at Home
Once settled back in the Cayman Islands Mr. Wood opened the Pease Bay Drive-in Theatre, where hoards of locals would gather to watch the latest Hollywood Blockbusters.

Mr.Wood says he can remember waking up the next morning after two to three hundred cars had been parked there the night before and finding ten dollar bills, hundred dollar bills and other notes.

“Everybody had money and if it would blow away people didn’t bother with the hassle of chasing it I guess,” he explained.

The drive-in theatre served as the backdrop for many a Caymanian’s childhood memories and there was nothing like getting all dressed to go watch a movie at Buddy’s place.

I can recall all my cousins and myself sandwiched in the back of my mother’s hatch-back ready for a night of antics and entertainment of course.

The drive-in movie theatre closed in the mid eighties, as the Cinema on the West Bay Road opened and could get better quality movies faster than Mr.Wood.

However, Mr. Wood realised that once the show stopped running he could bring it back to his drive-in and get the business from people who had missed the showing at the Cinema. This did not last very long and once news of his innovativeness spread, Mr.Wood says his competitors then started running shows longer and “really milking the movies”. He said they would bring the films “back by demand” and that was the end for his drive-in movie business.

The irony of life will take no prisoners though, and almost thirty years later, the cinema faced a similar fate, when Hollywood Theatres opened and put them out of business. And who says God doesn’t have a sense of humour? Mr.Wood says it best however: “Them old people used to say if you spit in the sky, it will fall in your eye and that’s what happened with that.”

Then and Now
Mr. Wood said several things played a role in why Cayman became so successful, one being the political advent of Jim and Haig Bodden, whom he lauded as genius’ blessed with the foresight to set the Islands on the right path.

He said he did not like what he saw going on with party politics and surmised that things had become too personal while neglecting a national perspective.

“You are always going to have an opposition but it must be cordial and not as venomous as this recent display has been,” he lamented.

Mr. Wood said another thing that had changed about the Cayman Islands from the time he was a young man, was that back then everyone had a gun and there was no violence. He added that it was not the situation of guns being here that had changed but rather the people and their psyche.

“When I was a boy I learned to shoot using my father’s gun and that was how we all lived. We all had to know how to farm and each man had to fish and grow food for their families to eat, as there was no Hurley’s of Foster’s.”

He said donkeys and horses were everywhere, because that was your transportation and when it came to the topic of mosquitoes, Mr. Wood said that might have to be a separate story for another day, as the tale was too long to tell.

“I can clearly see it now in my mind, the days when cattle would be smothered by mosquitoes. We would be in the bush looking for one of our cows and when we finally found them and were wondering what happened, we would simply cut the throat of the animal to reveal the enclave of mosquitoes stuck in the animal’s windpipe,” said Mr. Wood.

He added that to go into the bush men would have to put screen mesh over their heads and getting rid of the critters was crucial for Cayman to get off the ground as a financial and tourism mecca.

Still at It
Mr. Wood is showing no signs of slowing down and still runs the Everglow Bar and Restaurant as well as Buddies Fresh Farm Produce and says he still loves to work and have something going on.

At 76 he is still the picture of health and at times seemed even more nimble than I when climbing in and out of my truck for a show and tell of his property.

Any time spent with such a treasure of a man is truly encouraging and inspirational and even when the dollars and visitors are gone, the wealth of the Caymanian people, such as Mr.Wood Wood is cause for hope.