Niagara Gazette

June 29, 2013

LETTERS FROM THE ISLAND: Parade confirms we're all in step

By Doug and Polly Smith
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Dear Mainland Neighbors — About 35 years ago, several lucky bounces landed us on the island of Saba (pronounced Say-bah), about 500 miles east of Key West. It occupies less than five square miles, mostly vertical. Order a double scoop at Adrian’s, drop it upside down and until it melts, you’ve made a scale model of Saba. Compared to Saba, we’re Australia.

About 2,000 people live on Saba, in four little communities, one named The Bottom. The phone book consisted of four loose-leaf pages. Once each year somebody would come to the door and update it in ink.

Visitors arrive at a little airport with terrifying runways resembling the universal symbol for female. The planes are called STOLs, officially Short Take-Off & Landing but colloquially Sure To Overshoot Landingstrip.

We hired a driver for a figure we recall as $25. Sabans produce a dynamite moonshine they call “Saba Spice,” and distinctive decorations made of Saba Lace. We still have the lace. The Spice is lost to memory.

But in the day we invested in Saba, we couldn’t help noticing the isolation of the four little settlements. Residents of Windwardside, for example, regard folks in St. Johns as “not from around here.” And don’t even THINK about how they describe the denizens of Hell’s Gate. We couldn’t ascertain any social order, it’s just that four clusters of about 450 each in an area the size of Beaver Island State Park define each other as “others.”

Saba’s population distribution reminded us of Grand Island, ‘though we’re six times as large and about twice as populous. We’ve got our Grandyle and Falconwood and Sandy Beach and then that 25-mile strip of “river people,” some gritty, some grandiose. We have our zoning battles, but we’ve never gotten the sense of any community of Islanders considering itself functionally different from any other.

The proof of this melting-pot pudding steps off next Thursday about 9:30 a.m., our nearly unique town parade, inspired by the Kennedy family more than 50 years ago, patterned after their own New England hometown. (Different Kennedy’s). People may be setting up chairs right now. Almost anybody who isn’t in the parade will be watching it. Some with lower numbers manage both.

We have fire trucks galore, a few marching bands, Irish dancers, twirlers, dogs, clowns (other than Town officials, usually good-naturedly jeered) and the occasional jet boat. As sometime participants we can confirm that there’s nothing like hearing that reclusive gent across the street cry out, “Hey, that’s my neighbor!”

Generally, it runs about two hours, and most then head home for partying and picnicking. We have never, ever, seen an incident beyond reckless bicycling. We are one and proud of it, and not only on the Fourth of July.

Come visit. Bring a flag and a folding chair.

Contact Polly and Doug at