A Lady with a Smile Reflects on the Past
Mrs. Catherine Delilah Dilbert Tatum was born on the Hill in Diamond Hill on May 26, 1926. She was the seventh and final child of her mother, Belkis Tatum, from Diamond Rock. Her father, Nicodimus Dilbert, a farmer, was born in the Cayman Islands in 1882 and sailed to Roatan with his parents when he was just three years old.
When her mother passed away from pneumonia in 1933, seven-year-old Mrs. Catherine, along with two other young siblings, had to go live with relatives. She moved to West End to live with her mother’s relatives.
A neighbor, a young boy named John Jay Wood, taught young Catherine the alphabet and how to read and write. Less than ten years later, Mr. John Jay would marry Mrs. Catherine. She received three years of primary education from Victor Stanley, who taught children at the Auntie Blanch Hill Schoolhouse.
Life was simple but filled with work and sadness for young Catherine, as she saw very little of her father and siblings. To earn her keep, she had to grate 50 coconuts a day, working alongside others. Once everyone else was in bed, she would unroll her plantain trash mattress and sleep in the corridor of the small house. These simple mattresses were used throughout the island and made from recycled burlap sacks filled with soft and dry plantain leaves.
In 1941, the family that took her in purchased a store in Coxen Hole, and young Catherine followed them to work there. However, her mind was already elsewhere. In 1943, at the age of seventeen, Mrs. Catherine eloped. She traveled on a night boat to La Ceiba and married her 24-year-old neighbor, Mr. John Jay Wood, who had just finished working at the United Fruit Company in La Lima, Cortés.
Mrs. Catherine offered her help whenever she could.
The couple returned to Coxen Hole and took on the responsibility of managing the Litrico Store. Mrs. Catherine’s young husband managed the store, and every few weeks, he embarked on a round-the-island three-to-four-day journey to buy coconuts and plantains from farmers, some as far as Saint Helene. Litrico owned boats named Melly, Blanquita, and Seven Sisters, which were used to transport the produce from Roatan to Tampa.
The young couple rented a house a few hundred meters west of the store in Goat Hill, Coxen Hole. They were blessed with three children: Mary Lynn, John Wilmer, and Dainie Marie.
The municipal clock tower served as a reminder of the passing time, chiming every quarter of an hour. Sam Webster, the clock keeper, diligently oiled and wound the clock every few days. However, due to his occasional indulgence in alcohol, the clock would sometimes be neglected and stop.
In 1961, the couple acquired the Litrico store located across from Juan Brooks school, and they expanded its offerings. At Catherine D General Store, one could purchase not only foodstuffs but also gasoline, building supplies, and more. Mrs. Catherine also offered a unique service, capturing people’s photographs with her Polaroid camera.
There were five Coxen Hole stores that carried food staples, but only one was a general store. In 1950, the streets of Coxen Hole boasted five stores: the Catherine D Store, Warren Grocery, Litrico Grocery, Pollard James Store, and Maud Wilmuth Store.
Mrs. Catherine offered her help whenever she could, expecting nothing in return. Sometimes, it was during a medical emergency when Doc Polo was off the island; other times, it was when someone passed away, and the family had little money for funeral arrangements. In the 1950s, a young boy named Jack “Seven” McField suffered extensive burns from an explosion on a boat. Mrs. Catherine cared for his burns, applying burned motor oil with a chicken feather, and remarkably, the wounds healed well.
After her husband passed away in 2000, Mrs. Catherine carried on with running the store until 2006. “For some reason, I am still here,” she reflects in her soft, quiet voice. Since 2006, she has resided with her daughter, Dainie, and her son-in-law, Bill, in a property next door to where she lived back in 1933.
Today, she sits on a porch, gazing at the bustling and busy streets of West End, just across from Sundowners Bar. Her connection with West End dates all the way back to 1933.