“We couldn’t still be living here if it wasn’t for all of you.”
Gratitude. Complete and total gratitude. Usually it is heard in a voice. Sometimes it is sensed in body language. Occasionally it is seen in one’s eyes. But on the rarest of times is gratitude, complete and total gratitude, heard in a voice, sensed in body language, and seen in one’s eyes.
Darkness comes quickly in the lower latitudes during the winter. It is an abbreviated twilight as the low sun rapidly disappears over the North Atlantic. Departing the one room Bahamian Customs and Immigration cabin, I crossed the gravel driveway and walked along the marina bulkhead looking for Kyle in the last of the fading light. His is a familiar face upon arriving at Old Bahama Bay marina, the Dockmaster of a popular first stop for mariners after leaving Florida and crossing the gulf stream for the Bahamas.
The unmuffled sound of a gasoline engine caught my attention just as Kyle came around the corner on an ATV, relying on a handheld flashlight rather than headlights for guidance. I waived him down to complete the registration forms and pay for the overnight dockage since we were departing at sunrise for an anchorage on the Little Bahama Bank.
As he started to fill out our dockage forms, I asked how his family was after Hurricane Matthew. He was still holding the flashlight, pointing it down upon the clipboard, the light reflecting off of the papers and illuminating his face in what had become total darkness. Without looking up, he started talking. This is Kyle’s story, told as faithfully as I remember:
“Oh man, that was a bad storm. I don’t ever want to be in a storm like that again. I mean that was a really bad storm.
I was here for Hurricane Frances and Hurricane Jeanne, and they were only 12 days apart, and this was a lot worse than those storms.
I don’t ever want to be in a storm like that again.
My family, and my brother’s family, and my cousin who lives down the street in the settlement, we were all in my Dad’s house. He built it in the 1980’s to withstand a hurricane. It has hurricane straps and all to keep the roof on. So there were 14 of us in his house.
And the storm was loud, you cannot believe how loud it was. They clocked wind at 180 miles an hour. Can you believe that?
My Dad was sawing. I stood there watching him saw, and I said give me that saw, I’m gonna saw.
Why was I sawing? Because the kids were yelling and screaming in a couple of the rooms. The rain and wind was coming in. The windows had blown out. So Dad took a bathroom door down and was sawing it to nail it over the two broken windows. But I wanted to saw. He shouldn’t be having to do that. I should do it.
And so I’m sawing. And it’s really loud. Loud! And the rain and wind are screaming into the house. And it’s so loud you cannot believe it.
And then it was silent!
Just like that. In one second it just became silent. The eye of the hurricane passed directly over us. With Frances and Jeanne I remember it getting quiet when the eye came over, but not like this. This time it just got silent immediately.
So we went outside and I remember thinking why am I at the marina? There was three feet of water in front of the house, just like at the marina, but my Dad’s home is two blocks back from Main Street. That’s the street in West End that goes along the waterfront. The storm brought that much water into our streets.
So we all went down the road checking on everyone. The homes on Main Street were terrible. You could see right through them. Doors and windows and garage doors – they were all gone. There had been a surge of 8-9 feet of water and the water just ripped it all wide open.
For the first part of the storm, we had 14 people in my Dad’s house. After the eye passed over, we had 40.
But everybody in town is okay.
We lost all of our electricity. And our drinking water is desalinated so we don’t have any of that because there’s no electricity. So we don’t have drinking water either.
We couldn’t still be living here if it wasn’t for all of you.”
Kyle was still looking down at his clipboard, reliving the terrifying experience one word at a time, the flashlight still held in place and reflecting the light onto his face. Confused, I asked what he meant by “all of you”, as in all of us boaters?
“No, the United States.
They said we weren’t going to have electricity until February. We can’t live here that long without electricity and drinking water. We couldn’t stay here. We couldn’t live here.
This company from Tampa sent people over here.
Man, those guys worked hard. They never stopped working. They worked all day. They worked all night. All they wanted to do was get our electricity back up so we could live here. They were here for six weeks. And all they did was work all day and all night.
In Freeport they said that this company from Tampa was going to have to leave early. The local employees wanted to drag out the repairs until February so they’d get more overtime. But we said no, we can’t live here that long without electricity. So we called and said you can’t make them go back to Tampa now. So they stayed. They were here for six weeks. And now we have our electricity. And we can still live here.
On their second to last day here, we had a fish fry for them. Right here in the marina. We got a couple of Greyhound buses and brought all of them out here, and had a big fish fry.”
For the first time since he began reliving the storm, Kyle looked up at me, a big smile came across his face, reflected in the beam of the flashlight, and he said, “man, we made friends for life that day!”
Gratitude. Complete and total gratitude.
There are many remarkable aspects to this story, but I was struck by how he thought of the men and women who came over and worked so tirelessly to bring power back to the people of West End and the other towns and settlements of Grand Bahama Island. He didn’t think of them by their individual names, or by what company they worked for, or what state they were from. The reason they could still live here was because of the United States.
To the hardworking men and women from “this company in Tampa”, thank you. You are the best of America, and the Bahamians will forever be grateful.
The Bahamas during nicer weather: