Whaddyadoallday? Real Life on a Desert Island Rotating Header Image

April, 2013:

The Good Ol’ Days

A lot has changed in Anguilla since I moved here and even more since I first came here on vacation. As is usually the case with growth and advancement, some things are good and some things are not. Or I guess I should say that some things seem to be good and some things seem not; and the perception of any individual change as being either positive or negative is certainly subject to personal interpretation.

Take the paving of roads, for instance. When we first came to the island paved roads were few and far between – literally. You had to drive really far on bumpy, rutted, dusty roads to reach the few paved thoroughfares. Plus, no matter the nature of the road, goats ruled. Those adorable yet flighty kids were everywhere. Over the years, however, the infrastructure of the island has been ‘improved’ resulting in the paving of the majority of roads. (though not our road, of course.) And grocery stores have come a long way in providing more selection and quality and the convenience of buying plenty of frozen or fresh, packaged meats. (No, all those goats were not pets.) As a result, you can now turn plenty of corners on this island’s paved roads without (nearly) hitting a goat. Those of us who live here and have to drive around every day appreciate the paved roads and the option to leave our front gate open occasionally without finding goats grazing on our lovely, landscape plants. Tourists, on the other hand, have been known to bemoan the fact that these changes resulted in the island losing some of its charm. Luckily, though, one can always retire to any one of the island’s 30+ gorgeous beaches, sip a rum punch or two, and put unhappy thoughts of mundane paved roads out of their minds.

I do think everyone would agree, however, that losing commercial air access to this island from the U.S. was a bad thing. OK, see there, probably that’s not even true since the ferry operators that shuttle folks back and forth from the airport in St. Maarten likely see this as a good thing; but going from three American Airlines flights each day to zero was a tough blow to the island. Finally, a regional airline has partnered with American on a flight to San Juan connecting on in the big jets. So after many years of almost NEVER visiting the airport in Anguilla, I found myself there twice in the last week as Michael flew out on Saturday and my friend, Dianne, flew out yesterday.

During the early morning drive in to see Dianne off, I passed a herd of goats that they’ve recently brought to the airport to ‘mow’ down the grass, and I had to smile at the thought that they now have to round up goats and transport them someplace for this purpose. Then when the restaurant at the airport wasn’t open yet and we had to go in search of a cup of coffee in the Valley in Anguilla at 7:30AM, the memories really started coming as we ended up at an old, established, local place right across from the post office called Nico’s. I see Nico’s every time I pass through the Valley, but I haven’t been in there in years – not since the days of first visiting an architect’s office next door and later visiting an attorney’s office upstairs in order to sue the architect. Nico’s is where we’d stop for a drink before or after appointments. It’s where we parked my stepdaughter one day while we went to a meeting and where she was subsequently hit on by a little bit of local color called Raggamuffin Jimmy. It’s also where all of the politicians hung out back then and apparently where they still come together today at a long stretch of tables pushed together  on the side drinking coffee and tea out of self-service urns and, from the looks of it, eating a hearty breakfast of bull foot soup.

As we drank our coffee, Dianne (who’s been on this rock for almost 30 years) and I found ourselves sharing stories. Stories of the old grocery store nearby where you could hardly get past the flies to nab a mostly rotten piece of fruit or some local salt fish and how exciting it was when fresh milk or diet Coke showed up on island. She remembered one time when she and her sister-in-law went unsuccessfully in search of more ice for their drinks (probably NOT diet cokes) until someone at some tiny grocery store suggested that they get some from the lady down the road. Off they went to the indicated building that was not another store but just somebody’s little house. They tentatively knocked on the little front door and told the little woman who answered that they were hoping to buy some ice. Sure enough, she ushered them out back, opened an old, rusted freezer, moved a pile of fish aside, and started hacking off a nice, big chunk. Now, years later, Dianne doesn’t remember if the ice imparted a particularly fishy flavor to their cocktails, but she still does fondly remember the experience. It’s like the days when the gas station often didn’t have any change, so they’d offer to pay you back in Chicklets.

Yup, Chicklets for change. Those were the days.

Milestones

I’ve been remiss in writing. I apologize. I’ve been distracted and busy with things. Not entirely ‘I’m living on a desert island’ kind of special circumstances things (though there have been the usual suspects of internet problems and cable issues and trying to get a wee retaining wall built). These have just been general living things and planning special occasion things. In addition to the minor milestone of this week marking the 12th anniversary of our coming to live in Anguilla, Michael and I will be celebrating a big wedding anniversary in May and are planning an indulgent one-month holiday in Italy. Coincidental to that, I wanted to send Michael on a special (we won’t mention the year) birthday bonding trip with his children. So he is just finishing up a week in Scotland with his son and a week in Italy with his daughter.

It’s always funny and sad how time gets away from you. Michael’s kids are grown now, really grown, married adults with grandchildren thrown in, living their own adult lives. Shockingly, my stepson is now as old as I was when we moved to Anguilla with a son of his own who’s going to be a teenager himself this year; and my stepdaughter is right at that point in her mid-thirties where she is exuberantly happy in her career. She’s feeling competent and challenged and appreciated – that perfect trifecta in one’s professional life. She loves where she is living. She loves her husband. She’s enjoying her life.

I can still remember being at that stage – vividly, in fact. I actually remember my specific moment of clarity. I was driving home in Northern California after a long but fulfilling day saving little animal lives. I was in my used but treasured red, convertible Mercedes 380SL. I was stopping at the dry cleaner’s to pick up my husband’s freshly pressed, Nordstrom suit. And it hit me. This, THIS, was my real, grown up life. All those years spent actually growing up and working towards getting there, and wondering what it might be like…how it would turn out…and suddenly there it was, clear as day, right in front of my eyes. I was in my mid-thirties, I was happily married, driving my dream car, living in California and feeling competent and challenged and appreciated in my career. That was my grown up life. And it was fabulous.

Then just a few, short years later, I walked away from all of it….from the car, from the house, from the job, even from a dry cleaner’s. (Well, not from all it. I still have the husband! ) It turned out, however, that on the other side of that inspiring pinnacle was the gnawing desire to do something else -to turn around and to create another kind of life. And that life, this life, certainly has its own kinds of challenges; but thankfully, it also has its own unique rewards.

For instance, the other day I was going to work in St. Maarten. I woke up in my oceanfront bedroom with my refreshing tropical breeze. I ate my breakfast of fresh papaya from my trees. I threw on my Bermuda shorts and sandals and drove my nearly twenty-year old, beat up, rusted out jeep to the harbor. Then I took the ferry from my British island across a channel in the Caribbean Sea and cleared immigration into French St. Martin. I strolled along the quiet, early morning streets of Marigot past the little café where Frenchmen were drinking coffee and smoking tiny European cigarettes to catch a public bus full of people speaking three different languages in order to travel over the hill to yet a third country to arrive at work (saving little animal lives).

And that’s when it hit me. This is my real, growing older life. This is it. It may not always be easy, but it certainly is interesting- my fabulous, uncommon, growing older life.

(Thank you, Michael.)