A lifetime passion for writing
Cecille Snaith-Simmons’s grandson left for school and she began mailing him handwritten letters every two weeks.
She didn’t realise what she was letting herself in for.
When Nasir came home on a break from his studies at United World College, he not only wanted her to continue but to write to his friend also.
“She didn’t get letters and was jealous,” Mrs Snaith-Simmons laughed. “I could have FaceTimed him but I went to boarding school myself and I remember how great it was to get a letter.”
The 75-year-old added Nasir’s friend to her long list of pen pals. She was already posting a handful of letters to friends every day, and e-mailing between eight and ten more.
“I had to start using e-mail because the cost of postage was getting to be a bit much,” she said.
She does it to stay connected to her loved ones and brighten their days.
She gets her love of writing from her father, the late Charles Snaith. The former headmaster at East End and West End Primary Schools came here from Jamaica in 1927.
“Some of my earliest memories are of watching him sit at his desk in the evenings and write in his diary,” she said. “Every day he wrote an entry.”
Some years are now missing, but she still has decades worth.
“I keep a diary myself,” she said. “I’m just obsessed with writing.”
This summer she took part in a memoir writing class at the Bermuda National Library taught by local writer Florenz Maxwell.
Asked to write about a single event in her life, she wrote about visiting Jamaica for the first time as a nine-year-old in 1951.
“When my father came to Bermuda his parents had a home,” she said. “No one lived in the home so he asked someone to live there rent-free, and take care of the house.”
It was only when they visited that they discovered the person didn’t live up to their promise.
“It was a mess,” Mrs Snaith-Simmons said. “I remember going down the path and him seeing it. He just cried. I was only little. I didn’t know what to do so I just held his hand. Then we just turned around and we walked away. He never went back to the old house again.”
She’s hoping work from the class will be published which will allow her to add to her résumé of authored books. Thirty years ago she published The Bermuda Cookbook, a collection of recipes and cooking advice mostly from her mother, Edith.
“When I was in nursing school in England, she would send me recipes,” Mrs Snaith-Simmons said. “They were for things like cassava pie.”
The cookbook has been through multiple reprintings over the years. In it are traditional Bermuda recipes and a few nods to her Jamaican heritage, such as jerk chicken.
“I think I’ve probably sold about 30,000 books,” she said. “But I think this will be it. There won’t be another printing. I last did it two years ago.”
She grew up on Wefo Road, Sandys, at a time when Bermuda was heavily segregated.
“We were the only black family on our street,” she said. “You really noticed it when we went to school. All the white children would head in one direction for Somerset Primary School, and me and my brother would head in the other for West End Primary.”
At St James Church, the front pews were all reserved for white people. There was a line through the middle and black people had to sit behind it.
Curious, Mrs Snaith-Simmons asked the minister if that was the order in which people went to heaven.
“He called my father and said I was rude and obnoxious,” she said. “But I said, ‘No, you need to give me the answer.’ It was all of those things that made life difficult.”
Her parents eventually sent her to high school in Jamaica.
“It was a lot less segregated there,” she said. “You didn’t have to stop and think whether you could go into a restaurant or not. Everyone sat together in church.”
Once she graduated, she returned to Bermuda and worked briefly as an assistant teacher, and then decided to become a nurse.
“At least they paid you to work while you studied,” she said.
She studied at St Mary’s Hospital in Portsmouth, England and worked in the hospital’s premature neonatal unit.
Many of her patients went home with vision impairments due to exposure to too much oxygen.
“We just didn’t know any better then,” Mrs Snaith-Simmons said.
She returned to Bermuda in 1967 and met her future husband, Lionel Simmons, a short time later.
“These were the days of Disco 40,” she said. “I think I met him at a party.”
They were married on June 19, 1969, and have two children Jamahl Simmons, the Minister of Economic Development and Tourism, and Alisha De Medeiros.
During her long nursing career, Mrs Snaith-Simmons worked at the Health Department and as an on-call nurse at doctors’ offices, the Mid-Atlantic Wellness Institute and Lefroy House. Along the way, she was heavily involved in helping to unionise Bermuda’s nurses.
“I was a real nuisance,” she laughed.
She retired as Packwood Home administrator 20 years ago. Today she loves cooking with her four grandchildren, and writing.
“I often sit at the table and write while my two youngest grandchildren do their homework,” she said. “My eight-year-old granddaughter will often copy me and write too. I love that.”
• Lifestyle profiles the island’s senior citizens every Tuesday. Contact Jessie Moniz Hardy on 278-0150 or firstname.lastname@example.org with their full name, contact details and the reason you are suggesting them
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