Interviewee: Ceceil Fleming
Interviewer: Jeffrey Boyce
Date: June 24, 2016
Location: Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands
Description: Ceceil Fleming is a school cook in the Virgin Islands.
Jeffrey Boyce: I’m Jeffrey Boyce and it is June 24, 2016. I am here in Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. This morning I’m talking with Ms. Ceceil Fleming. Welcome Ms. Fleming and thanks for taking the time to talk with me today.
Ceceil Fleming: Thank you.
JB: Could we begin today by you telling me a little bit about yourself, where you were born and where you grew up?
CF: I was born on a little island called Anguilla in the British West Indies. I grew up there, and I came here when I was twelve years old. I didn’t go to school as yet though here, and I stayed for a while and then I went back home and I finish up, I graduated, I get my certificate. We had two sections in the high school. When I came here I went to typing school, and I finish up my typing school with a gentleman from Saint Martin, Mr. Reed, and I finish up that. Then I started working in the restaurants, Crazy Cow Restaurant; Yez; Arian’s; Restaurant Yez; Leslie’s Restaurant, Soup and Things; Vintage Cafe. I worked in every restaurant you can name in here. I learned a lot from that.
JB: Were you working in the back of the house in the kitchen?
CF: In the kitchen, that’s where I always was, in the kitchen. I do bartending, waitress, and cooking everything in one. And as I got older, my mom, she came behind me, she say, “Bonnie, you work so hard. It’s time for you to get something with benefits.” I sign up with the government and I used to update, but I didn’t finish. And after she died in 2008 I decided I’m going to, and I went and I update and I go sit my test and I pass and I got my job. First place I work was at Dober Elementary School cooking, and then after that we had to end up cooking down here at Cancryn School and carrying the food up. So I’m here, so I cook for Dober, I cook for Tuitt, I cook for Calvary School, and Cancryn, four schools.
JB: Wow. What are some of your favorite things to make?
JB: Everything? So you just like to cook?
CF: Everything, um-hum.
JB: Was there a lunch program when you went to school on Anguilla?
CF: No. We used to go home for lunch.
JB: So you broke in the middle of the day and went home for lunch?
CF: Yes. We used to go home for lunch and then we go back.
JB: And what about on St. Thomas in high school.
CF: Oh they serve lunch in the schools. It’s different. This is America. That was the British.
JB: What were some of your favorite menu items in high school, do you remember?
CF: Well, in the days back, we used to have real good food. We used to have boiled fish and fungi, and johnnycakes, we used to have that.
JB: What was that first thing you said?
CF: Boiled fish and fungi. We had chicken soup. We had red pea soup. We had ALL the local foods we used to have. But then afterwards it changed to a little of the fast foods like hamburgers and stuff like that. We have ground beef. We makes ground beef casserole. We have the turkey. We have that meatloaf, we does that. In different forms we changes up the food for the kids. The kids don’t eat the vegetables. They don’t like the vegetables like that, but we have to make them eat them. We do make them eat.
JB: Why do you think that is that they don’t like them?
CF: Children. And rice. The rice is something that they don’t really crazy about. That rice. The different rice is what they would like. But this one, they don’t really crazy about it, but we just try and change it to different forms, and sometimes they eat. But they do enjoy the foods, they do. They love the meats.
JB: Are there some dishes that are particularly Virgin Islands, something that you eat here that’s not known maybe on the mainland?
CF: Everything’s the same you have over there.
CF: Macaroni and cheese, oh yea. Everything.
JB: Do you have pizza?
CF: Pizza. Everything. What’s in America over there is right here.
JB: Has there been anyone like a mentor who helped guide your career as you got into child nutrition, someone who helped you out?
CF: A manager?
CF: Yes we do, Ms. Packet, very nice. And let me tell you, she’s a lady – she don’t stay in her office. She comes out here and she puts her hand in everything. I was like, “Can’t you let me do something by myself sometime?” She’s very helpful, very, very helpful. A very nice manager, very nice, and I know stuff, but I learn a lot from she still, and that’s what we want. That’s what we want. Very good. Good communication. She’s very nice.
JB: That’s important.
CF: Very, very, very.
JB: What’s a typical day like for you, or is there such a thing?
CF: A typical day, like a heavy day? Like if we have the chicken. Sometimes we do baked chicken. The WHOLE school is in there. Sometimes we turn it into curry. When it’s chicken and roll, no matter what kind, the whole school is in for this chicken. So we do chicken and macaroni salad, or macaroni and cheese, they love that. And they eats everything. They eats everything. They love it. When we have tuna fish, our tuna fish casserole, we have a lot of different dishes, a lot of different dishes, but that chicken, OH, that’s the whole school, even the teachers, everybody.
JB: What’s your secret to the baked chicken?
CF: Oh, I can’t give it away, can’t give it away. Then we have curry, curry chicken. Sometime we have barbequed chicken, um-hum, and stew chicken. We put it in different forms, different kinds, you know? They loves it. They love it a lot. That chicken they love. They surely do, um-hum.
JB: What time does your day start? What time do you get here in the morning?
CF: We comes in – we supposed to be at six o’clock, but we are like 5-5:15.
JB: So you serve breakfast?
CF: Yes we do. We set up for breakfast for Dober, Tuitt, and Cancryn School. Calvary we don’t do. They do their breakfast, but we cook the lunch.
JB: OK. And then after you finish breakfast I guess you have to move right in to getting ready for lunch?
CF: Yes, we start to get ourselves preparing for lunch, because the delivery guy comes to pick up the satellite 10:30 to carry out for Tuitt School, and then he’ll come back and he’ll pick up Dober School and he’ll carry that out. Calvary’s right there at 10:30 too for theirs.
JB: That’s the church school right up the street?
CF: Yes. Um-hum.
JB: OK. And then do you have an afterschool program or anything, or are you finished after lunch?
CF: We have to clean up, clean the skillets, the kettles, clean the kitchen and everything for another day. And then we’ll set up our stuff, depends on what we have to cook, and then we put the milk and things in the cooler so that can keep cool. So when tomorrow comes we have that chiller ready just to open up and you know.
JB: What changes have you seen in the program over the years, like do you still bake your own bread?
CF: No we don’t. We get our bread from wholesaler. Wheat we use mostly, but you need to put in a little white in between, we used to do before. But now they just have all wheat, and sometimes children don’t really – they look. I think it’s too much of wheat for them. I know we’re in a healthier thing, but –
JB: Do you face any challenges? Is there anything particularly difficult about the job?
JB: What do you think has been your most significant contribution to the child nutrition programs?
CF: Feeding the kids. Cooking and taking care of them and them enjoying that. It’s a lot they enjoy their food and we continue doing our best to make it taste very good so they can enjoy.
JB: Do you have any memorable stories about people you’ve worked with or children you’ve served over the years?
CF: Oh yea, we have a good bit of them. I have some that eat very well. Sometimes I haven’t seen them I say, “Oh here comes my Joyetta now.” He eats a lot. He comes back two or three times. Sometimes I ain’t see Joyetta. “Did you all see him today?” “No, he ain’t come yet, but he’s coming, surely he’s coming, he’s coming.” Some of them eat very well. We know who eats good. But I always call him. I say, “Honey, I could give you the whole pan of food and you eat it.” He say, “Yes Ms. Fleming.” Oh my God. He’s sweet, but those children, they’re good; some of them naughty, but that’s children, that’s children. But they eat the food. We know whoever eats their food. And we put little extra, you know. They’ll come back, “Can I get two burgers?” I say, “Go and eat that and then come back.”
JB: What advice would you give someone who was considering child nutrition as a profession today?
CF: Advice – do the best you can.
JB: So what would you tell someone who was considering getting a job like yours today? What would they need to know or what would they need to do?
CF: They have to learn to understand the kids. Children is hyper up and down, but you have to learn to understand them, to work with them. Sometime they go through moods and things. You have to be very, very careful. They can trigger off too. You have to learn how to DEAL with them.
JB: Anything else you’d like to add today?
CF: Just do the best you can like always, like always. Love the kids. Try the best of ability and guide them in the right place. That’s all you can do.
JB: Well thanks so much for talking to me today.
CF: You’re welcome sir.