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If you like Sidney Poitier's story, you might also like:
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Sidney Poitier
Sidney Poitier
Profile of Sidney Poitier Biography of Sidney Poitier Interview with Sidney Poitier Sidney Poitier Photo Gallery

Sidney Poitier Interview (page: 5 / 8)

Oscar for Best Actor

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  Sidney Poitier

You were very close to nature as a child on Cat Island, weren't you? You've described it as an Eden.

Sidney Poitier: Yes, it was. But that's in retrospect. I hadn't seen the rest of the world. It wasn't until I saw the rest of the world that I grew to understand that it was a very, very interesting setting.

What was life like on Cat Island? You didn't have a lot of modern conveniences.

Sidney Poitier: No, we didn't.

We didn't have any electricity. We had no roads. We had roads, but they were pathways in a way. We had very little. I mean, we ate from the sea, food from the sea, and what they grew in their subsistence farming, in a particular way. Their main crop had to be tomatoes, 'cause that's how they made their living, and that money was spent in Florida, some of it, some of it in the capital, on the capital island which was Nassau. And they would bring certain hard groceries with them, mostly from Nassau. And hard groceries, I mean canned goods. There would be canned milk that would be shipped into the Bahamas from England. And there would be salt pork and salt beef and lard. We ate a lot of lard. There was no such thing as olive oil and all the good stuff, you know. We used lard to cook with. And we ate from the land and the sea.

No cars?

Sidney Poitier: Oh, no. I didn't see a car until I was ten-and-a-half years old. And when I did see a car, whoa! I was on the boat with my mother, a sailboat, going into Nassau harbor. This is the first time I'm leaving Cat Island.

The state of Florida was encouraged -- that's the proper word, I think, was encouraged -- by tomato farmers in Florida to stop importing tomatoes from the Bahamas and I suspect from other areas in the Caribbean. And it fell like that, whatever body was making the determination. And my father's business just went, "Phew!" There was no place else to sell the tomatoes. So that's all he'd ever done in his adult life. So he had to go and take the family to Nassau, which was a tourist island, and he would have to find a way to support his family by working there, doing whatever he could find, because he didn't have very much money. He barely had enough to move the family to Nassau where he would look for a job.

Is that where you saw your first car?

Sidney Poitier: My first car. I'm coming in on a boat, and I'm just wild-eyed as I see the island coming up. It looks like a regular island at first, but it's the first island I'm seeing other than the one I grew up on.

So I'm looking at this place, and then I saw what appeared to me to be a beetle, but it was massive. It was huge. And, I was fascinated looking at this thing. We are still quite a distance from Nassau. But there were obviously these beetle things. I said to my mother, I said, "What's that?" And she said, "That's a car," because she had seen them in Miami and in Nassau before. And I said, "A car?" And I said, "What is that? What does it do?" And she tried her best to explain it to me until, of course, we got to the docks and I got off and I saw this thing up close, you know, and I was fascinated. I wondered, "How does it move? What is making it move?" It was just amazing. But so were so many other things, amazing for me, for a long time on Nassau, because there were windows. There were paved roads. Never seen a paved road. There were windows along the streets on the main thoroughfare which was near the docks. And there was glass. But it was glass you could look through, like you can look through a glass bottle. And there were many things in the window. There were goods and stuff in the window. And I couldn't understand it. I didn't know what glass was.

Had you ever seen a mirror?

Sidney Poitier Interview Photo
Sidney Poitier: I hadn't seen me in a mirror, of course not. There were no such things on Cat Island. I had seen my reflection in the pond, because my mother used to go to wash her clothing and the rest of the family's clothing in a pond in the woods. It wasn't really a forest, because the trees were never that tall. They were six, seven, eight feet tall. Not much taller than I was. She would take me with her when she did her laundry. She would add a little Octagon soap to a garment, and then she would beat the garment on a stone. That would get the dirt out of it. That's how she did her washing.

So you had seen yourself in the pond but never in a mirror.

Sidney Poitier: Never in a mirror. I didn't really see myself in the pond, because you can't see yourself in a pond. She's washing our clothing in the pond. With every movement, wherever she touches the water, it ripples. If the wind is ever so slight, there's a ripple. So you can't make out anything.

I didn't know what a shadow was. You ready for this? I saw my own shadow, and I didn't understand it. Mind you, I'm a kid. I'm a little, little kid. Eventually, my shadow became my best friend because it imitated me. Every time I do that, every time I do that, I could see my shadow doing the same thing. So my shadow became my friend. I used to race my shadow down the beaches, and depending on where the sun was, I would win sometimes, and my shadow would win sometimes. Oh my God.

Sidney Poitier: I'm glad psychiatry wasn't around then. They probably would have put me away.

Where did you start school? Was it in Nassau?

Sidney Poitier: No, I was in school on Cat Island.

On Cat Island, there was a school house. The school house was a "multiple," meaning that there was one room. And the children, I don't think there were more than grade one to three, maybe four. And I went on Sundays. Other days I went to the farm. I was going to the farm to work at five years old. Not every day, certain days I went to the farm. When there were available days for the school, I went to the school house.

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This page last revised on Dec 10, 2013 01:20 EDT
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