Christmas morning, a steady rain. A hushed good-bye in the dark while the Little One sleeps. A drive through Miami up to Lauderdale on empty freeways, roads that are usually bumper-to-bumper madhouse, a sort of LA Lite.
This morning, though, clear sailing, and a nearly empty airport for the puddle jumper over to Abaco.
I had booked a rental car, envisioning packing it to the gills with tools and construction supplies and making multiple trips to the freight boat, part of a rebuilding effort for Hurricane Dorian, which sorely flattened the cay in my wife’s homeland, where we like to spend time. The cars in the “Full Size” row all looked pretty dinky, definitely smaller than they looked in the photos. “Take any one,” the fellow said.
The row of cars was regarded until my eyes lighted on a Ram 2500 pickup at the end of the line. “How about that pickup truck?” I asked. The fellow shrugged: “Sure, if you want it, take it. Nobody ever wants it. It’s too big.” I drove out of there in a brand new rancher’s truck, on top of the world, looking down on creation. I understood right away why those guys don’t really bother making way for anybody.
The next couple days were spent happily loading up that big ole hawg with table saws and chop boxes, tools and hardware, generators, roofing supplies, gutters, pressure-treated plywood and lumber, and eventually finding my way down to the Seacor freight yard. Semis and container trucks snaked out of the entrance, stacked up around the block. Waved forward by a couple drivers at the back of the line, I scooted up the shoulder, not a big dog anymore, just a small fry among the behemoths, and cozied up to a loading bay for loose freight.
Organizing everything onto a couple pallets and wrapping the whole shebang with plastic shrink wrap was a familiar exercise from hurricanes past, and soon my stuff was weighed and hauled away by a forklift.
Joined by the family, we headed to Miami, where a brother-in-law is in a hospital, fighting for his life after a stroke. This wasn’t part of the plan, but it happened and you deal. All the inconveniences of the previous week, the running around, traffic jams, the hectic-ness, faded to insignificance, to nothing, in the face of this new reality, people facing life and death in the ICU, a loved one hanging by a thread.
Steven’s condition improved after a couple days, and he grew stronger, able at last to eat. My Better Half told me I might as well go get the ball rolling in Abaco, a lot of work to be done, trees blown over, a moldy cottage to scrub, a roof to re-shingle, an outhouse and outdoor shower to locate. They’re somewhere in the bush.
We dive through a hole in the clouds and touch down. News outlets were saturated with images of the damage caused by the storm right after it happened, but until your feet are on the ground in the middle of it, the carnage is hard to digest. The drive through Marsh Harbour, which in recent years had cleaned up its act and was becoming an attractive place, is somewhere in between oh my god, really grim and Holy Jesus. Complete and utter destruction. Imagine a town the size of Montrose reduced to rubble, devoid of life, completely disintegrated, with big boats thrown in, mostly upside down.
We get dropped off at the makeshift docks the ferryboats use and the realization hits me that it’s Christmas and there won’t be any ferries. It starts to rain. Nothing to do but wait.
Presently, a small craft rounds the point from the direction of Hope Town. It looks like a jet ski. Turns out to be a 13-foot Whaler, dropping a lady off. Francis the boat driver says jump in if you want a ride, but it might be a little wet. The rain comes down harder.
I throw a garbage bag over the guitar, tighten the drawstrings on the hood of the raincoat and away we go. Once out of the lee, the waves and wind hit us and the skiff starts slamming and things are a little rowdy until we approach the harbor, but the conditions are somehow appropriate. The salt is tasted and felt.
The cargo of the Bounty, when her famous mutiny took place in 1789, was breadfruit seedlings, bound for the Caribbean slave plantations. After William Bligh’s epic open boat journey and survival, he returned to the South Pacific for another successful breadfruit mission. One of these trees, yielding fruit through the generations, stood beside the Hope Town Post office for 225 years.
Now the grand patriarch of the island is on his side, in pieces, his great spreading root ball withered in the air, surrounding concrete wall crushed, his long reign over at last. The post office is gone, too, along with all the docks and half the houses. What lasted for centuries survives no longer. I catch a ride to the surf shack and start scrubbing mold. Night falls, and I scrub.
Now the generators are turning off for the night all over the island, one by one, and the sound of the ocean takes over, an onshore wind driving waves that crash and mark the minutes and hours of a dark, dark night, a bowl of ramen noodles by lamplight for Christmas dinner, grateful for it, and for companionship a little pink stuffy bunny, a gift from the Little One, to make sure I wouldn’t be lonely, and to all a good night.
Sean can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.