In Bodden Town, garden parties of today and yesteryear

For many decades, the Webster United Memorial Church has welcomed in the New Year by celebrating Caymanian cultural traditions with fun, fellowship and food at its annual garden party for visitors and residents. 

Donna “Sally” Grech-Baxendale, who hails from Bodden Town and who has been a regular attendee at the annual events, remembers fondly the garden parties of old. 

She recalls that in years gone by, 20 or more stalls constructed from coconut palm were set up in front and around the sides of the church house on Manse Road seafront, with people selling fruits, produce, food and crafts. The event was, and remains, a fundraiser for the church. 

There were many activities for people to enjoy. There was a junkanoo street parade; quadrille and maypole dancing to the sounds of fiddle music; sack, egg and spoon races; donkey rides; skipping; and spin the bottle. 

“No garden party would have been complete without the junkanoos,” Ms. Grech-Baxendale said, adding that costumed participants signaled good laughs and scares for everyone. Dressed in old clothes and masks, their job was to go around collecting money for the church fund. 

Ms. Grech-Baxendale also recalls ladies in the community making the trip to Goat Hill in Pease Bay long before New Year’s Day to pick sisal leaves to make craft items that were sold at the garden party to raise money for the church.  

“Sisal baskets, slippers, fans, table mats and pot holders were hot items during the live auction,” she said. 

Prizes were also given for the best heavy cake, bread, jam, candies or craft works.  

“My aunt Rebecca Barnes won the title several years in succession for her cassava cake,” Ms. Grech-Baxendale said. 

Also included in the garden parties were the ever-popular baby shows, Miss Garden Party and Miss Teen competitions. There were also fun dances, such as ring-a-roses and cake walk. Wooden swings helped visitors pass the day chatting and relaxing. 

Ms. Grech-Baxendale recalls people coming to her house to get changed into their Sunday best after walking all the way from East End to attend the dance in the town hall in Bodden Town. The dance attracted people from all over the island and the town band was joined by musicians from the other districts to play music from the 1950s and ‘60s. 

She said even the children got in on the dancing during the earlier part of the night, and when the children eventually were sent home to bed, the adults got to partying. 

Although Ms. Grech-Baxendale lives in England now, she always looks forward to visiting her hometown during the New Year to enjoy the celebrations, she said. 

While she still attends the garden parties on her visits home, she is saddened to see the disappearance over the years of some of the more traditional aspects of the celebrations.  

“The only thing that was there from the past [at the last garden party] was the maypole. Everything else was aimed at people eating food,” Ms. Grech-Baxendale said, adding that she hopes to see a re-emergence of some of the events, like the baby show or a Miss Garden Party. 

In years gone by, 20 or more stalls constructed from coconut palm were set up in front and around the sides of the church house on Manse Road seafront, with people selling fruits, produce, food and crafts. 

Donna

Donna ‘Sally’ Grech-Baxendale, left, brought hula hoops to the last garden party in Bodden Town. – Photo: Jewel Levy
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