Roatan’s Beauty, Truth & Wisdom

Doña Eufemia’s Lifetime of Wisdom

Mrs. Eufemia Caballero near her home.
Doña Eufemia Caballero Meléndez gets up at 5:00 AM on most mornings. Sometimes she stays in bed but no later than 7:00 a.m. Three days out of the week, she bakes buns and coconut bread in a mud stove at the Mamery Garinagu Center where she sells them to tourists visiting the establishment in Punta Gorda.

She was born on the third of September 1931, 88 years ago. Doña Eufemia is quite independent and gets around with no difficulty at all. She lives with one of her daughters, but up to a few years ago, before the roof of her small home deteriorated, she lived alone.

Miss Eufemia is quite healthy, even though the findings of an Ophthalmologist she visited recently were not that reassuring. “According to the eye specialist, my mother only has five percent of her vision left,” says her daughter Maria Lopez. “But she could still thread a needle, and she sees everything.”

Miss Eufemia’s memory is as clear as her vision, and she remembers her childhood days with fondness. “We were poor, and our parents couldn’t afford to buy us toys, so we found ways to have fun,” she says. “There was a type of grass that grew at the edge of the sea, we would cut it, wash it and use it to make dolls, that how we played.”

Miss Eufemia had a strict mother who taught her how to show respect and salute the elderly or suffer the consequences. “I was an obedient child and showed respect to my elders, but I was scolded for walking about,” she says.

As a child, Miss Caballero attended Juan Brooks primary school on the west side of the island for six months. At the beginning of the week, she would paddle to Coxen Hole and spend the weekdays at school before paddling back home on the weekend.

She grew up at a time when there were no roads, electricity, wooden or cement homes. “When I was growing up, we would walk bare foot on the edge of the sea, because there was no road, and we had to be home before sunset because there were no lights,” she says. “The houses were made of mud walls and cohune leaf top, but we were safer and happier back then.”

Miss Eufemia’s father took care of his family by sailing to Belize in a dory where he’d purchase provisions for a small shop that was run by her mother. “My dad would leave for three days and return on the fourth day with a drum of chicken, corned beef, powdered milk and such for the shop,” she remembers.

She had her first daughter at a young age and had planned to marry her first love, but her groom-to-be ran off to the mainland and married someone else. She eventually met and married the second man in her life, and they procreated 13 children, 12 girls, and one boy, of whom she has outlived all but five of her girls.

‘Our parents couldn’t afford to buy us toys.’

To help take care of her family, Miss Eufemia washed clothes in Oak Ridge and grated coconut in Jones Ville. “I would grate from 100 to 200 hundred coconuts a day for them to make oil,” she remembers.

In addition to washing clothes and grating coconuts, she also baked. “I had my ground where I planted sweet cassava, sweet potato, and coco (Taro root), which I would use to make bush cakes to sell,” she said. “I still bake Johnny Cakes and buns, and when I can’t do it, my daughter does.”

As another way of making ends meet, she would get up at 2:00 a.m. and paddle to Sandy Bay, where she would sell conch at five cents a pound.

Miss Eufemia is the mother of 14 children, grandmother of 33, great-grandmother of 36, and great-great-grandmother of 4. She remembers when neighbors and friends would share what little they had. “Today, you could give your neighbors all you have and never get anything in return,” she says. “The Bible says you should not only open your hands to receive but also to give.”