Sight: kids jumping into the harbour during a full moon high tide.
Smell: wafting night-blooming jasmine on a summer’s night.
Touch: jumping off a boat and diving a few feet below the warm surface, hitting the hidden cooler water beneath as you look for your first crawfish of the season.
Taste: a spoonful of stew just how your grandmother used to make it; the kind where no matter what fish she used, you called it “blue runner stew.”
Sound: cicadas (singers as I knew them growing up) chirping a vicious melancholy in the waning months of summer.
From one tip of this island to the other the memories of spent summers linger; awakened by the uncomfortable heat and with a cicada soundtrack humming persistently. We’re reminded each year this same time about your childhood, about the summer you fell in love, about the summer you spent as a fresh high school graduate, about last summer and summer memories that have nearly faded into the haze. Many times it is these memories that we can’t grasp, like steam rising from the pavement after a summer shower, that most affect us.
Some generational differences exist, certainly. You don’t have to go that far back in island time for a cohort that grew up without central air conditioning. In fact, many homes in Abaco still don’t enjoy the relief given by a unit cranked down to 70 degrees. But then again, my great grandmother used to say air-condition spoiled us. There might be some truth to that.
Times aren’t easy now. But they were even less so just a few short decades back. I sometimes deliver this newspaper myself along the North Abaco / Little Abaco route. Making stops in Little Abaco is like stepping back in time. Of course Blackwood to Coopers Town are similar to what many Abaconians know in Central Abaco, but it’s when you cross the Little Abaco Bridge that you appreciate simultaneously what we have… and what we had.
I sometimes pick up hitchhikers during those paper delivery trips. This last issue I picked up an older gentleman in Coopers Town. When he got I learned he’d be joining me for the entire ride: all the way to Crown Haven.
I’ll admit, for the first part of the journey I merely respectfully listened while quietly discarding what this older man was telling me. He told me his family connections throughout The Bahamas, what he thought about the weather and things like that. But I began to listen closer.
He started to admonish the younger generations and pass on advice, nothing I haven’t heard before, but he didn’t do so spitefully. He did so with hopeful buoyancy. He knew just what could be accomplished.
I was amazed, as we ended the road trip, as he told me about his time as a youth. How his family cleared forests and settled Fox Town and Crown Haven. 1937 he said he was born. He went on about leaving The Bahamas as a young man to pursue work all across the United States on contracts to pick fruit.
This old man from little old Crown Haven, Abaco, had seen more of the world than me. What at first I considered a dismissible act of charity, giving a ride to an elder, I discovered was an endearing lesson. I had been schooled.
The memories this man had and the memories many of our elders share are invaluable. Cicadas serenaded their long, hot summers too. They grew up in difficult times. We have bad roads. They had no roads. At the end of August they braced for hurricanes as we do, though blind to the atmospheric movements west of Africa. And though our worlds, separated by decades, are different: they are the same.
We face challenges now in this country. But if we could build communities scattered across these islands in challenges our grandfathers faced, we can overcome these challenges of present day.
It’s not going to be easy. Going forward in this country we will be tempted to just go lay inside and “soak up the AC” – to let those in charge do what they deem best for us. But this country won’t succeed on autopilot: too many hidden reefs. Air condition may have spoiled us, but we can remember the rewards that come from the sweat of our brow. We can repair what is broken in our country.
And we can do so even in the summer heat, while the cicadas cheer us on.