Recently, on a Saturday evening in July, guests filed all the tables in the small banquet hall on Avenue L in Brooklyn, by 11 p.m. Most patrons were sipping (drinks) and chatting, while listening to selections of Caribbean and American music. Some late arrivals were hugging and shaking hands. A few were still enjoying some tasty pudding and souse. Clearly, for some, the birthday party was also a grand reunion.
Without any prompt or command, Sarge rose from his seat at the head table, walked towards the centre of the room, started to dance, and, then cheerfully said:
“Why aren’t you dancing? Come on, let us go. But when you go down, you must get back up.”
Sarge, a former bugler and drum major in the Barbados Regiment, was in his element — leading, showing off routines and entertaining audiences. He rocked and twisted to the sounds of a popular Bajan calypso. He did more. He held his hips, and went down (as in “lowton”). Then, as he rose up, he received a standing ovation as he raised his hands high in the air.
It was a signature act for a 90-year-old and one of the many highlights of his birthday party. Indeed it also posed these questions about a long life: Is it a gift? Is it an art? Is it created by a mindset that includes enthusiasm, discipline and, maybe, a desire for perfection?
Halbert Clinton believes that his practice of excellence came from his father who he always watched closely. His father did many things. He was a carpenter, a baker and a mason. Halbert says that his father told him that the eye is the best teacher.
It was therefore no surprise that part of the evening’s activities included the circulation of a copy of his signature and the playing of last post.
Clearly, Halbert enjoys life and is a consummate story teller. At one point in the evening, he joined with his childhood friend, Winslo Seale, who celebrated 90 in March of this year, and painstakingly explained to persons at a table the difference between a lorry (has only a platform) and truck (sides or uprights).
Included in the story was the number of times they played truant from school, so that they could make money loading a truck with canes and ride to Vaucluse Sugar Factory.
Halbert recalls that he got permission from his mother to hold the table for the three card men and for which he was paid. He was nine years old and it was at that time he heard someone playing the bugle and later persuaded his mother to send him to lessons — two shillings a class — at the home of a sergeant in the regiment.
In an after-dinner presentation highlights of his life, which included his experiences as a bandsman during the war, as a pressman at the Barbados Advocate, as the official bugler for the Barbados Turf Club for 28 years, among other things.
Halbert Carlisle “Sarge” Clinton attended Wesley Hall Boys. He is married to Marie Elean (nee Yearwood) and has seven children. Currently, he spends summers in New York, and Winters in Barbados.