I was born in the farming village of Crooked Tree, in Belize, then known as British Honduras, the second of twelve children. There were six boys and six girls, enough of us to field a home team in most sports, including our own umpire.
Life was tough but we didn’t know it at the time: there was always enough to eat, a lot of hand-me-downs and we learned early the importance of team spirit. Daddy was a builder, a cattleman and a farmer. Mom was a housewife, the very best mother around. She could sew anything, and our house always had the finest curtains, and our dining table covered with the prettiest home-made tablecloths.
Yep! I grew up as a farm boy, milking cows, riding horses, fishing, and splitting wood. Being a second child in a large family is a strain but occupying that spot in the pecking order counts for something.
I left home at thirteen to go to high school in Belize City, the capital, on a scholarship to a technical school operated by the government. The syllabus did not include courses in Latin, Chaucer and History. Those would come later. Instead the emphasis was on Woodworking, Art and Chemistry; about Metalwork, Physics, Technical Drawing and generally, learning how to fix things that broke.
But there was always a yearning for college, and this led me to begin distance learning studies from a British university specializing in that field. I did History because I liked it and English Literature because I was somewhat good at it. I got into Logic because I had no idea what it was. I saw the title in a Belize City bookstore, thought it sounded highbrow, and bought the book. My goal was to enter the University of the West Indies [UWI], to study History, and to matriculate I needed to pass three subjects at the Advanced Level, from the University of London (external examinations), plus pass the UWI entrance examination. I did all that but then opted to attend college in Canada instead.
In 1967 I was admitted to Carleton University in Ottawa, to study not History or English Literature nor Logic, but Economics, with a minor in Accounting! I graduated with an honors degree, worked for the next fifteen years in banking and the financial services sector, before getting into insurance. Along the way I acquired degrees (by examination), in banking and insurance from British professional bodies.
I don’t watch a lot of movies now, and when I do, it’s by instalments. Blessings on the guy who invented the DVR. But I will sit (alone), through an entire hour of a Hee-Haw reruns, or watch the Antiques Roadshow with ‘Freda, my wife, for two straight hours. She likes watching golf, and I will share the excitement of the eighteenth hole with her on a Sunday evening. Baseball for me is the last three games of the World Series, and I don’t understand football, nor feel any pressing urgency at this time in doing so.
I’m a cricketer and believe societies would be much more functional if everyone played some cricket. I represented Belize against the renowned Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) of England on their visit to Belize in the sixties. Around that time the St. George’s Old Boys Cricket Club from Jamaica also came for some matches against the national team. I was on the Belize team again as well as the team that travelled to Jamaica for return matches.
I got my “open water” certification in scuba diving a little over twenty years ago, and I can truly say that what’s below the surface is as beautiful as what is above it. Anyone wishing to get one hundred percent from their tropical vacation can do so only if they learn to scuba. My maximum dive has been to 120 feet just outside the reef in Belize, and I know sharks won’t bite if you leave them alone, and don’t splash about.
Growing up we listened to a radio station from Harlingen, Texas, on our wet cell battery-powered AM radio, and we all got to like C&W music. Then after a hurricane devastated Belize City in 1961, I found one of a two-volume set of Milton Cross’s Encyclopedia of the Great Composers and Their Music, lying in the mud. (I got me a clean set later on which I still turn to from time to time.) It was a huge lift to my music appreciation, and today I will listen to de Falla’s Noches en los Jardines de España symphony, or a 4-hr rendition of Messiah, and follow it with the rich voice of Larry Gatlin doing Broken Lady, and be touched artistically by each.
I’ve always liked the violin, and a few years ago a violin teacher joined the staff of one of the local high schools and started taking in privates students. I was over sixty at the time but this was going to be my one-shot opportunity, so I bought a violin and enrolled along with a couple of eight-year olds and a few teenagers. Of course I had to get my music theory and practise going also, so I enrolled with another teacher for that. Before the year was over, the violinist returned to Germany, and my violin endeavors ceased. I still have my violin, and every so often I take it out, chalk up and bow away until ‘Freda exercises her veto.
Shubert’s Ave Maria heads my list of favorite classical songs, and from the pop world, Just Look at Us as done by Vince Gill. My two favorite hymns are I Sing The Mighty Power of God written by Isaac Watts, and Leonard E. Smith’s Our God Reigns.
Ali McGraw and Ryan O’Neil made me and a room full of theater goers sob audibly when Love Story premiered in Ottawa, Canada in 1970. I still regard it as one of the best movies of all time, both for structure, theme, setting and superb acting. Who can ever forget the thought-provoking one-liner, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry!”
I’ve also had some experience on the stage. I was about twelve, I recall, when the Nazarene missionary in our village tapped me for the part of President Woodrow Wilson in a play for Mother’s Day. Then after high school, I joined The Arcadians, a drama group of the Belize City Methodist Church in whose school system I was employed. For the four years 1957-1961, the Arcadians dominated the Annual Festival of Arts with their acclaimed presentations in which I had the good fortune of playing leading roles, plays like Campbell of Kilmore,Flame In the Forest and Jephthah’s Daughter. Hurricane Hattie, referred to above, roared through in 1961, destroying the Bliss Theater where it had all been happening, and with it the aspirations of our small, closely knit fraternity of young stage hopefuls.
I am a member of the Oklahoma Writers Federation and also the Oklahoma City Writers Inc. In 2015, I entered a story titled “YOLI” in the “Nostalgia” category in the OCWI’s annual writing contest. It placed “second” and represented the benefit that my time spent in attending writing courses/workshops had brought..
in that same year I was part of the cast of the Listen to your mother show, in Oklahoma City. Click on the following link to see my presentation. .http://listentoyourmothershow.com/oklahomacity/2016/04/14/2016-cast-spotlight-meet-hart-tillett/
My favorite author is James Michener. The two books of his I like the best are Chesapeake and Caribbean.
I have had two short stories published in 2017. Both appeared in anthologies of stories by Creative Quills, our El Reno writing group. The first collection was entitled Tales and Trails: A Western Odessy, while the second, The Way We Were—Adventures In Childhood, was dedicated to Mothers’ Day.
My first full length novel entitled EXILES NO MORE is to be published shortly, and will be followed by two sequels, the first of which is due out by next spring. A publication date for the third book has not yet been set.
I like travelling, and have had my share of visits to other countries both far and near. One of our daughters lives in London, so we have been there. The bank in Belize where I worked sent me to Tegucigalpa for training so we’ve been there too, surviving the hair-raising experience of flying into the Tincontín airport. Mexico City, with its crush of traffic and air pollution; New Orleans in its pre-Katrina days, and pre-9/11 New York City, where another daughter lives, are all places seen and enjoyed. We lived in Ottawa and can’t forget the annual display of tulips that ringed the parliament buildings each spring, attracting tens of thousands of visitors each year to see this wonder of nature. Miami, Mérida, Houston, Oklahoma City…
For many years I was Secretary to the Board of the Organization of Insurance Companies of Belize [ORINCO]. As such I attended the annual meetings of the Association of Insurance Companies of the Caribbean [A.I.C.] which were held in a different member state each year: Jamaica, Trinidad, the D.R., Saint Lucia, USVI, Dominica—I’ve been to them and many more. Two memories, not insurance related, stand out in my memory from that time.
First is the Port-of-Spain-based Trinidad Hilton known in the tourism world as the Upside Down hotel of the Caribbean. The hotel is built into the face of a cliff overlooking the sea, but the approach is from landward, not the beach, so that “Ground Floor” is at the top of the hill and one takes the elevator down to reach the top floor! Confusing? It is, and it takes a day or two to re-set your internal GPS.
The other was flying from USVI to Antigua in a twin-prop cessna at 10:00 o’clock at night. Nothing strange about that except that the lights for the instrument panel were out and the pilot—a skilled one I must admit—had to rely on his flashlight to maintain his bearings!
And believe when I say—I’m not done travelling yet.