“I been livin in this same house for 37 years,” Miss Barbie tells me. “Been home to my kids, my grand kids, and my rest’rant. Now I turnin’ my old place over to my daughter, and movin’ to my new home!”
And with this statement, she invites me to her housewarming party, to be held on Sunday, after church.
Shortly after one o’clock on Sunday, my phone rings. “Miss Judy!” Brenda shouts (she always shouts on the phone when she’s talking to me). “Miss Judy! Kervin pick you up. We go to Miss Barbie’s party!” And within a few minutes, Kervin’s white pickup is outside my door, horn honking, his two grand children in the truck bed. Brenda, Kervin and I squeeze ourselves into the truck cab and we careen down the road at 50 miles an hour.
Just beyond Mr. Kinky’s service station, we turn down a two-track, coral crusted road which winds through the scrub thickets and stops in a clearing containing a few houses. One of them is brand new, blue and white and shining in the sun. Several cars are parked in front: clearly this is the location of the party.
Kervin, who doesn’t like parties, drops us off and we enter it through the back door, into the kitchen. Miss Barbie, as you may recall, is the proprietress of Tarpum Bay’s finest dining establishment which, coincidentally, is just across the street from my cottage. I am devoted to her coconut tarts and her barbecued chicken and her spotless little restaurant with its four tables covered with shiny plastic tablecloths. In her own new home, Barbie’s kitchen contains a beautiful large stove and a large counter loaded with food: ham, chicken, lobster salad, fruit, and the ever-present Bahamian national dishes: platters of baked macaroni and bowls of “peas and rice”.
I am immediately handed a plate and told to help myself. Barbie gives me a verbal tour of each selection on the counter, including the contents and the cooking method. “That ham, we brought it from Miami when we was there for Christmas. We came back with that ham and lots of cheese in our cooler on the ferry. Ham only cost $26 in Miami. It was twice as much in Eleut’ra.”
I fill my plate and find a seat at a table next to my old friend, Mr. Tim Bert Carey, who is nattily attired in his Sunday suit (where do they find dry cleaners on this island, I wonder?). Mr. Tim Bert did the electrical work on my cottage, and on Miss Barbara’s house as well. He pours me a large glass of cranberry juice (it’s Sunday, of course) and we settle in for a long talk about the unseasonably cool weather in Florida.
There are about 30 guests squeezed into the living room. The noise is tremendous: there are as many different conversations as there are people, most are shouted across the room. Before much time passes, the children come in from outside and cluster around the two tables, bringing board games to play. The adults say goodbye, carefully thanking Miss Barbie and her husband Peter for their generosity and congratulating them on their new home.
Brenda shows no desire to leave, however. Bahamians love games and cards, and she’s is no exception. She’s totally consumed by a board game called “Trouble”, and she’s the center of a group of whooping, clapping children. Friendly but spirited arguments erupt over whose turn it is, and whether the proper number of spaces have been navigated. “Brenda,” I remind her, “Don’t fight with the children!” They collapse in laughter.
“Well, I’m tired,” Miss Barbie confides in me. “Me, too,” I say. “Way too much excitement…and good food. But we’ll never get Miss Brenda away from the children and their games.”
“Oh, yes we will,” Barbie says. And she grabs Brenda’s jacket and knit cap and says, “Brenda! I’m taking y’all home.” And she leads us out to her car.