Music, music, music–by Gertie’s friend, Miss Lynn


EMA (Earnest Methodist Adults) hard at work in Tarpum Bay

A week ago the earnest Clemson Tigers departed TBay. The last evening they held a 90 minute sing a long in the Methodist meeting house across the alley. Now these students were GOOD,comparatively speaking. In fact, I'd give them a 9 in the "carry a tune" category. They were replaced by 40 earnest Methodist adults from S.Carolina, here to do good works too. The EMAs were the "tech" gang: their major task to assist in the two restoration projects currently underway in South Eleuthera. They were divided into two groups, the more skilled were dispatched to Bannerman Town where restoration of an old building to be used as a community center is almost done save for electrical and plumbing installation. Hence the need for some real skill. Tarpum Bay got mostly the women who wielded paint brushes on the Methodist church and helped in the conga line down at Old Prep passing cement bags up to the few men left in TB who were "browning" or "plastering", the Old Prep walls. These EMAs were full of song, before and after every meal, and again at night. I'd give them an 8. They piled noisily into buses at six a.m. to catch their charter back to SC. Such was the music of the visitors. Because my part of the Old Prep restoration involves taking down the oral history of people, old and young who were connected as students, teachers, headmasters, and parents to Old Prep, I was treated to some of the songs they sang. One man told me how each day began and ended with a hymn. The closing hymn was "Now the Day is Over" He reported with a grin, "Boy! could we sing that fast!" Another lady sang the times tables up to 100 for me. This was how students learned in the days before Royal Readers, the text series that covered everything from arithmetic to geography. During the days before electricity came to TB in the late 50ies, students learned by repetition, recitation, and rote, They wrote on slates, did their homework on pressed brown paper bags and used oil lamps on dark days. My favorite of all the Prep songs I heard was written by one of the headmasters, Mr. Stevenson. The words are wonderful: "If you go to Tarpum Bay any night or any day You will see them all, doin' the Tarpum ball. Every little Tarpum gal has a little Tarpum pal You will see them all, doin' the Tarpum ball. Everyting's bright an breezy Do as you darn well pleazy Why don't you make your way there, Go there, Stay there, Doin' the Tarpum Ball Hoo" Last night Paul, who arrived Tuesday, and I wandered down to the park where, it was advertised, that the homecoming committee would have a festival. There would be live music, and the usual island fare of conch fritters, fried pork chops, ribs, fried fish and sides of mac n cheese, Cole slaw and peas n' rice. This time, in addition to the food, there was a beer tent, similar to the one at the Traverse City Cherry Festival. When we arrived about five, the music was LOUD and recorded, featured was traditional rake and scrape, Bahamian love songs, and Junkanoo music. As we were walking home loaded with styro plates of food we heard "Kumbaya" played as a Junkanoo march: lively and loud. This was followed by a Junkanoo version of "Rock of Ages". Just last Sunday Brother Ian had chosen "Rock of Ages" as one of his hymns. I much prefer the Junkanoo version. In between the singing Methodists and Saturday night festival there are bits and pieces of music which fill the days: Will, the Bible Man aka "God the Fourth", walks up our alley evey morning between 7 and 9 stumming his make shift duct tape guitar and singing/chanting (?)something unintelligible. Then there are the endless choir practices of the Methodists led by their unmusical, but enthusiastic director, Brother Ian. There is a children, a youth and an adult choir. The best by far are the children who are able to drown out Bro. Ian with their energy. Of the three, I'd give the kids the top score of 5. The few teens who have cars, blast their loud music, windows down, as they drive through the streets. No different than teens universally. This morning we were awakened at SIX THIRTY a.m! It was She of the White Robes of last year's Easter week. This time she chose the end of Adelaide Street on the Bay as her podium. There are no houses at the end of Adelaide except for the Conch Shop which doesn't open til noon. But choosing this spot ensured her words, shouted by bull horn up the narrow walls of our street, would wake even those at the opposite end: US!! She shouted many holy and unholy things. I could catch "Repent!, SIN! Redemption! Hallelujah! and BE SAVED IN JESUS!" The preaching lasted long enough to make sure we were fully awake before she and her merry band of six ended with an off key hymn, unrecognizable and unmusical. This is Palm Sunday, and here come the Anglicans in their red and white robes waving their palm fronds and singing, "All Glory Laud and Honor" as they pass by our cottage, circling the block before entering their church. And thus another Holy week begins and the music plays.

The Goodbye Feast

Po and Gertie waiting for dinner

It’s 9 AM in Tarpum Bay. The sun shines, the sea is calm, and the bird that lives in the guava tree is singing his melodious and complicated song. “It’s a ‘treasure bird’ “, Kervin tells me. “No,” Brenda says, scornfully. “Kervin, it’s a TRASHER”.

An argument follows: “Brenda, you don’t know nothin’.”

“Kervin, I does know my birds. What do you know, anyway? Nothing but FISH.”

I’m at my computer, so I Google. Nothing for ‘treasure bird’. Nothing for ‘trasher’ either, but Google asks, “Did you mean thrasher?” We look at the photos. Yep — that’s what we meant.

At any rate, the bird’s song is indeed beautiful and despite Google, Kervin probably has the correct description — the bird is indeed a treasure. It’s brightening this perfect March morning as I sit on the deck, watching the sea and the children in their navy and white uniforms heading off to elementary school.

Brenda’s plan for today is to cook a feast, a farewell dinner for me. “You don’t worry, Miss Judith,” she tells me, “you will like everything.”

I know I will: Eleuthera is carbohydrate heaven. She explains the menu: fried red snapper, baked macaroni and cheese, yellow rice, pork chops, slaw, and vegetables. In addition (there’s more???), Lynn is constructing her version of the Coconut Lane Cake we experienced on our trip to Spanish Wells— and that involves a cookie-crumb crust, and mounds of fresh sweet whipped cream.

All of this is an all-day project, of course. Brenda and Kervin are both excellent cooks, but Kervin is critical. He comes by our house about noon to offer suggestions. “Brenda”, he says, “Number One, you is too slow. Number Two, you use too much salt. Number Three,” he examines the mound of finely chopped vegetables, “You chop too big. Number Four…” He tapers off, sensing the mutinous gaze of the three women in the room. “I be back later.”

‘Later’, of course, does not mean dinner hour for Kervin. At 5:30 we are all assembled — the grandchildren, Brenda, Lynn and I. But no Kervin. “He fixing the car,” Po explains.

And so we gather for the feast…and it is indeed wonderful. Brenda gives me an elegant necklace with a red coral pendant and black beads, and we cry a little: I won’t be back again until next year.

Kervin interrupts any sentimentality with his explosive entrance. He’s followed close behind by his grown son, Calvin, and Calvin is followed by Brenda’s grown son Tario — feasts, after all, are for family. The mound of food rapidly diminishes and we are left with only a few vegetables and a pile of fish bones.

And me, I am left with memories of warm and friendly people, sunshiny days, a treasure of bird song, and a lovely red coral necklace.

A Quick Trip to Spanish Wells

“I be there! 8 AM sharp. Miss Lynn, Miss Judith, you be ready!” Kervin cautions, his Thursday parting words.

Of course, 8 AM came and went on Friday, and finally — about 9:30– we were off, dressed for a trip to North Eleuthera. Water bottles, comfortable shoes, cameras — and plenty of money.

Now North Eleuthera is not many miles away from Tarpum Bay, maybe 70 or so, I’d guess. But by car on the single highway that traverses our 110 mile island, it’s well over 2 hours, maybe more. Then you come to the end of Eleuthera island and located off its tip are two small island which are settlements in themselves: the upscale Harbour Island, and the quirky settlement of Spanish Wells. It was Spanish Wells that was our destination.

Spanish Wells is approximately two miles long and a half  mile wide. The geography of Spanish Wells is extended, however, by a bridge that links it to neighboring Russell Island, which is just over three miles long and has become an integral part of the community. The island is known for its lobster fishing. But perhaps most interesting is its history: this old island village got its name from sixteenth-century Spanish galleons filling their water casks before sailing back to Spain. Most of the people indeed are European – true blond-haired, blue-eyed descendants of the original Eleutheran settlers. Some later residents arrived as British refugees fleeing the American revolution. Today, the island is one of the most prosperous of all the Bahamian islands outside New Providence because of modern commercial fishing fleet specializing in Bahamian lobster for shipment to restaurants in Florida, Nassau, and Freeport. The Red Lobster chain is one of their biggest customers.

I’d always heard stories that the residents were almost all white, very aloof, and inbred. In fact many island residents do have an extra little finger on one hand, but we found most people very friendly and welcoming.

Getting there is half the fun. The highway north from Tarpum Bay takes you along the edge of the island, through several small towns and through some undeveloped “developments”. The latter are a hallmark of the island: large glossy signs pointing the way down wide stone roads which quickly narrow into rocky two-tracks which meander to the sea. Chances are you won’t find a single structure under construction, nor will you see an electric line or fire hydrant. But these are a developer’s fantasy— and a property owner’s money pit.

The settlements are small, usually with some brightly painted small concrete houses, several churches, and a couple of ‘take-away’ restaurants which feature the same menu: hamburgers, ribs, baked- macaroni, and the ubiquitous ‘beans and rice’. Now and then there will be a vegetable stand or a small ‘art’ shop, usually closed.

Kervin is a madman behind the wheel. He’s driving our somewhat questionable rental car and I’m sitting in the passenger’s seat because Lynn has insisted she get the back. She misses a lot of the scenery because her head is buried in a beach blanket, her screams of “Kervin, SLOW DOWN” muffled by the fabric. But Kervin knows this road well, having driven it for most of his 47 years, and living in many of the settlements. He delights in pointing out houses he built, places he lived, restaurants where he ate, and the beach where he got his first kiss. “She was beautiful, Miss Judith,” he says. “But she was bossy. I don’t want no bossy woman in my life.”

We make a quick stop at The Island Farm: Tuesdays and Fridays are the days for fresh bread and rolls, and most of the white part-time residents and tourists show up early in the morning. The “good stuff” is usually gone by noon, but we’re there in time to get some cinnamon buns and small loaves of ‘cheesy bread’, and we much happily as we head north. Kervin’s not a frosting lover, but I am, and this mid-morning snack is just perfect!

When we reach the end of the island, we climb aboard a small ferry boat to Spanish Wells. We’re there in about 10 minutes, and the captain doesn’t take our money. We can pay him on the return trip: how else are we going to get out of there? We hire a golf cart, which is the main mode of island transportation and we set off on a tour of the brightly colored houses and immaculate yards. As we have traveled north on Eleuthera the vegetation has become greener and it’s clear why Eleuthera was once called “The Garden Island”. Abandoned stone grain elevators and old pineapple fields appear on the North Eleuthera landscape. Banana bushes and orange trees are in everyone’s yard. Here on Spanish Wells, there’s grass, too — not just the stone outcroppings we find in Tarpum Bay.

Spanish Wells has some beautiful beaches and parks, as well and almost every house is immaculate and freshly painted. Most seem to sport murals of sea turtles, fish, and other tropical subjects as well as lush plantings of bright grasses and flowering shrubs.

Kervin knows everybody, it seems. “Hey, Belly!” is a shout that frequently hails us, and he’s busy shouting back, waving, and occasionally stopping the cart and shaking hands with someone lounging against a shipping crate or a street sign. Lynn and I haven’t been fooled, of course, by his willingness to take the day off and squire us on this trip: Kervin has a little ‘boat talk’ with a variety of men down at the dock. I explain to him that in the US this is called ‘kicking tires’, and is a favorite activity of many real estate and automobile shoppers. “Well,” he says. “Everybody knows you don’t buy a boat on an island if you want a good deal. You can buy something in Miami for three times less.”

Kervin kicks tires

Our other highlight is lunch: we find a restaurant and go inside, Kervin leaving the golf cart keys and his cell phone in the open vehicle. The restaurant is small (4 tables) and the menu predictable. Kervin and Lynn spot some really delectable baked goods and both order a piece of “Coconut Lane Cake”, which they devour before their sandwiches arrive. It’s a truly sumptuous dessert, a cross between a cake and a coconut cream pie, but when we ask, the cook refuses to share the recipe. Kervin understands: “Miss Lynn! Why should she? It’s how she makes her livin’!”

A little more tire kickin’ and we are ready to head home. The ferryboat captain remembers us and collects $8 each. We find our car, Lynn crouches down in the back seat and buries her face in the blanket, and we are flying south to Tarpum Bay.

Miss Brenda Takes On the Principal

As a parent, I was not an enthusiastic advocate for my children when it came to fighting the school system. There were, of course, a few notable occasions: once I kept both children out of school until the principal could understand my point of view, and I reminded him that some of my best friends were newspaper reporters. (I won that one) Another time I went to the school board when the high school principal insisted that my daughter’s grades in the US Senate Page High School would not count toward her Honor Society Membership. (We lost that one.)

Generally speaking, though, I always felt that an important part of learning was understanding that power is power, no matter whether the people who have it are good and kind, or bigoted and dumb. I think children need to know that. “The hand that wields the pencil over the grade book is the hand that wields the power,” I said. “Learn to live with it.”

But yesterday I found myself in another one of those battles I thought were over when my children were grown and graduated. It seems that Miss Brenda’s granddaughter, Dera, had been kicked off the school bus. Now Dera is a smart and beautiful 12-year old, and in the 6th grade she had won a scholarship to a private middle school some 45 minutes away. Brenda recognized the prestige of this honor, and encouraged Dera to attend, despite the added expense to the family (which they can ill afford).

Picture a busload of smart, energetic 12-14 year-old children on a rickety school bus for an hour in the morning and again in the evening. Add to it an illiterate immigrant school bus driver who doesn’t know the language and can barely keep the bus on the road. Recipe for disaster? You bet.

So whether or not Dera bonked the boy with the shoe is not really the issue, though for the school principal it was. And Dera had no way to get to school, as there is no working car in the family at the moment — and even if there were, Kervin would be using it for his fishing and construction businesses. Further the high cost of gas on the island (over $5 a gallon) would make a twice daily drive financially impossible for this family. Off we went to Deep Creek to reason with the principal.

We found the principal was adamant, in the way that only PhD’s in education who don’t much like children can be. “I’m sorry,” she told Brenda. “There will be orderliness on the bus. That is non-negotiable. Dera will learn self control before she can ride the bus again.”

Brenda asked, politely, about the other five children who had been banned from the bus during the last two weeks. “That’s not my concern,” the principal said. “We will not have children in this school with no self-control on the bus. The parents must find their own way to get the children to school until I say they can ride the bus again.”

“How long will that be?” Brenda asks.

“I can’t say,” said the principal. “Whenever they demonstrate responsible behavior.”

“How can they do that,” Brenda asks, “if they can’t ride the bus?”

Answer: “That will be up to me to decide.”

By now, Brenda is furious: I can see it in her eyes. She argues, respectfully, not that Dera is innocent, but that the boys do tease her unmercifully and she gets angry. No, that isn’t right. But kids are kids, and they are on a bus unsupervised for long periods of time, and these things do happen. Isn’t the punishment a little unreasonable? Doesn’t it hurt all the children to be out of school for that long? Because there really is no transportation alternative.

“Non-negotiable!” says the principal (her favorite word today).

Now Brenda is angry. “I am a Christian woman!” she says. “I am 46 years old and I grew up with 8 brothers and sisters. I tooks care of them and my children and Kervin’s children and now these grandchildren. I bring ’em up right, I do.” Her brown eyes are snapping. “But I tell you, Miss, if other children be raggin’ on me day after day, and if they be teasin’ me about my breasts and such, I tell you I beat the piss out of ’em! That’s what I do!” Tears are running down her cheeks.

“That,” says the principal, her pale skin gone even whiter, “is certainly not socially acceptable behavior.”

“Come on, Brenda,” I say. “Let’s leave. There’s no point in further discussion.”

Dejected and angry, the three of us head back to Tarpum Bay.

Goodbye, Monkey

Monkey. Pencil sketch by Judith Lindenau

A couple of Saturdays ago, the Tarpum Bay community buried Monkey.

Everybody on Eleuthera seems to have a nickname—Kervin is “Belly”, my neighbor is “Carwash”, and Kevin’s grandson Renaldo is “Po”. And so it goes.

Monkey’s birth name was Kimsley, and he was 24 years old when he died. The very ornate 12-page memory book handed out at his funeral explains that “he gain (sic) the nick name Monkey because of how fast he could climb a tree.”

His obituary tells us that “With firm guidance and much love he was groomed into an affectionate, and mannerly child….No matter where he went or who he came in contact with he would talk jokes with people or tease them, but he didn’t mean anything by it.” Monkey never married, but he was a well-loved part of a huge extended family which spread throughout the Bahamas and was centered here in the Tarpum Bay settlement on Eleuthera island.

Monkey was at work on the island of Exuma when the boat on which he was working blew up. He and another man were severely burned and flown to Nassau. Monkey was in the hospital for over a month and then received outpatient treatments. The obituary tells us he was often in pain but “reading his bible and seeking God deep in his heart…he thought he was getting better, he was making plans to come home for Jr. Junkanoo, but the Lord was on the other side making other plans for him….two weeks later his body took a change for the worst and he was readmitted…” Family and friends visited him in the hospital and sang and prayed, and on January 25, 2010 “he went on home to be with his sweet Jesus.”

Life in the beautiful settlement of Tarpum Bay will never be the same,” the obituary concludes. “Sleep on Monkey take your rest we love you, Jesus loves you best.”

Monkey’s death did indeed shake this community. He had many friends — his funeral book lists over 120 names categorized as Mother, Father, Stepfather Grandfathers, Grandmothers, Brothers, Sisters, Adopted brothers and sisters, Nephews (lots), Godchildren, Mother Like No Others, Father Figures In His Life, and Numerous Other Relatives and Friends including various places where Monkey shopped and hung out.

In addition, Monkey’s family was lacking resources to ship his body home to Tarpum Bay for the funeral. Rumor has it that the undertaker wouldn’t release the body until the family could pay cash, so the community held a fund raiser to help out: Monkey’s portrait was printed on white t-shirts which were sold to everyone. Many men attending the funeral wore these shirts under their dark suits in remembrance of their friend.

I didn’t know Monkey, although he was a very close friend of Kervin’s son Mano. Tarpum Bay takes its funerals seriously, however. Monkey’s passing was announced by a slow and somber tolling of the church bell right next to our house. People gather at the sound which, the slow, hollow toll which seems to go on forever. They stand in quiet groups in the middle of Lord Street, heads bowed, murmuring quietly.

Once the money was collected and the body brought back from Nassau, a Friday night visitation was held, followed by an all night vigil. Since the church is next door to our house, we were able to watch the huge floral arrangement being brought in for the Saturday service, and the church entryway decorated with garlands of plastic flowers.

The service itself was over two hours long. People were dressed in their finest: women in somber church suits and dresses and solemn hats, children in pressed white shirts or blouses, men in dark suits and – often– their memorial t-shirts. A shiny black hearse was parked in the alley between our house at the church, and the overflow crowd leaned against it in the hot sun. Often children and men would escape and run to Berts for the Best for a cool soda, and then return to the singing, preaching, and eulogies. When it was over, the coffin loaded in the waiting vehicle, and the five block processional began.

The settlement  cemetery is located down by the sea, right next to the cottage I rented the first time I stayed in Tarpum Bay. Because of the winds and tides and shifting sand, many of the concrete vaults are exposed, and grave tending is a futile task–but for one or two days the huge, garish plastic funeral wreaths will mark Monkey’s final resting place.

Crime in Tarpum Bay


(photo from Officer.com)

My readers who live in Northern Michigan are undoubtedly familiar with Leelanau county’s weekly paper, “The Leelanau Enterprise”–also known as “The Surprise” to those of us who eagerly await our Thursday news source.

Here in Eleuthera we have our own periodic paper, “The Eleutheran”, the Caribbean’s answer to Leelanau. In both instances, readers anxiously wait for the police report section: it’s where you find out everything! For instance, in the “Surprise” I found out my son was getting married, and that a good friend tried to drive home after having too many beers at a Superbowl party.

Here in Eleuthera, the paper performs the same function. The difference is that in the Bahamas the paper doesn’t name names, and doesn’t give anyone’s exact age. The magnitude of the crimes are pretty much the same as in Northern Michigan, however—except that Bahamian journalistic style is a little more flamboyant:

“Accident with injuries reported at Tarpum Bay. There was an accident with injuries on Eleuthera Main Road Tarpum Bay involving a blue 1990 Chevrolet Siverado being driven by a man (over 40). The driver infomed police that while travelling south along Eleuthera Main Road in the early afternoon, with a cargo of a Mattress and a passenger (over 35) from Rock Sound on the back of the vehicle the wind got under the mattress and blew the man off the truck while in the area of South Eleuthera Emergency Partners. As a result of his fall, he sustained face, forehead, shoulders, and wrist injuries. He was also unable to explain what happened as he was knocked unconscious…”

We also have drug dealers here in our little island. Check out this report:

“Search Reference to Possession of Dangerious Drugs. Police while on early evening Mobil Patrol in Tarpum Bay conducted a searchof a Ford Explorer Jeep occupied by men from New Providence. The men were searched for possession of Dangerous Drugs and on one found foil wraps in the pants pocket a grassy like substance susected of being marijuana. The suspect was arrested and cautioned and transported to the Rock Sound Police Station where a Name Check was conducted, and revealed that there were two (2) outstanding warrants for him. The suspect was charged with possession of dangerous drugs with intent to supply.”

And finally, there’s violence—in this case, finger pointing:

“Arrest ref Disorderly Behavior, Threats of Death, Obscene Lanuage & Resisting Arrest. Rock Sound police reported that while supervising a Tarpum Bay man (over 30) in the area of Tarpum Bay Ball Park on community services as ordered by Magistrate’s Court Rock Sound for about 30 minutes he became hostile towards the supervising officer and began pointing his finger in the officers (sic) while threatening and swearing at him and his family. As a result the officer placed him under arrest… He was later charged with disorderly behavior, threats of death, obscene languqage & resisting arrest.”

Whew. No wonder Miss Brenda insists that we stay in at night and lock our doors! She knows how threatening life on this island can be! I keep telling her that we have people who fall out of pickup trucks and point fingers at policemen (and even carry foil-wrapped leafy substances in their pockets) where I am from in Northern Michigan…but she just shrugs and says, “No, Miss Judy. You gots to keep all your doors locked up tight.”

“OK, Brenda,” I tell her. “I’ll just lock myself in tonight and read ‘The Eleutheran’ for excitement.”

Note: quoted passages from “The Eleutheran”, Feb/Mar 2010, p. 27.

Lynn and Gertie at work!

Lynn painting

“Hand me the yellow,” Lynn said. “And some more water.”

“Ok,” I say, agreeably—Lynn, after all, is on the top step of a ladder, which teeters now and then as its legs sink deeper into the sand.  Me,  I am most content to be Michelangelo’s water girl with my Keene sandals firmly on the ground.

Well, the comparison is a little inflated: we aren’t doing the Sistine Chapel ceiling. What we are doing is restoring the wall mural on the street side of the elementary school in Tarpum Bay, Eleuthera, Bahamas. It’s the second time we’ve done this project: the first restoration was about three years ago. Back then we used hardware store enamel and cheap brushes that textured the paint with bristles. The school, which sits by the Caribbean shoreline, is vulnerable to onshore winds and saltwater spray—no mural can last long under those conditions. Our work had faded after two years in the elements.

This mural is special, though. It’s an underwater scene, complete with coral, bright fish, snails, a lobster, and a swimming turtle. Even more importantly, it was painted by one of Tarpum Bay’s most famous residents, artist Mal Flanders. Flanders came to Eleuthera in the early 1970’s and lived and painted on the top of Bernard Hill in Tarpum Bay. Though he died in 2004, residents remember him fondly as a quiet, unassuming man who loved film as well as painting, and who used to gather the residents together in the elementary school to show Three Stooges and other classic comics.

The mural on the elementary school wall is one of Flanders’ many gifts to this community, and it is much loved by children and adults as they slow down to make the sharp curve on Queen’s Highway and head inland from Tarpum Bay.

This year we came prepared. Lynn toted about 10 pounds of acrylic paints, as well as brushes and fixative, when she traveled from Michigan. The new school principal was delighted with our offer to paint, and as soon as we got over our obsession with lounging on the beach every day, we organized for the restoration. Our plan was to start fairly early in the morning, as the wall is in full sunlight by late morning and the temperature begins to climb quickly.

It took us about three mornings, working 3-4 hours each day. Because the original was so faded, we found ourselves getting creative—a new angelfish here in the middle, and some pink and green plants in the corner. I hoped Mal forgave us our creative license, but the original was long gone in some faded sections.. Besides, the first mural had been painted on wood and attached to the wall: I envisioned Flanders in his studio under the palm trees sipping Kalik beer as he painted. Lynn and I, on the other hand, were dangling from ladders in the hot sun, working to finish before the paint dried and caked.

Part of the fun of this project is working outside the classroom windows. We were privy to third grade math problems: “There are 18 slices of bread. How many sandwiches can you make?” Most lessons were conducted verbally, with teachers asking questions and students chorusing their responses. Students also stood by their desks and chanted “Good Morning Miss Smith”, and repeated together “God is great and God is good, and we thank Him for our food” before the mid-morning snacks and recess. The children wear school uniforms: starched white shirts and navy pants or skirts—except for Fridays, which is physical education day. Then jeans are allowed, and tennis shoes.

The children were most admiring as the mural took shape. “Ooooh, look at the lobster. And that black fish!”

“What’s your favorite fish,” asked Lynn, ever the teacher.

A chorus of replies: The red one! The black one! The little yellow ones!…until every fish was named and exclaimed over.

The teachers seemed to like it all, too: they would stop by and chat briefly. And the ever supportive principal would appear quietly behind us several times each morning. “It’s coming,” he’d say. “Looking good!” One morning he made sure someone brought us a plate of steaming conch fritters as a mid-morning snack, much to our delight.

But I think the highest praise came from the proprietor of the grocery store across the street from the school. “Sure is real nice of you to fix that painting,” he said to Lynn. “Makes everybody proud.”

Completed Mural