In Memory of Oral Bethel

Tom and I are deeply saddened to hear of the passing today of Oral Bethel.

oral bethel, bahamas, abaco, green turtle cay

Oral Bethel

One of the best things about our project to restore the little house by the ferry is that it brought Oral and Jason Bethel into our lives. They have given us much more than foundations and a porch.

If there is such a thing as an aura, Oral Bethel’s was filled with dignity and goodness. These qualities were plain to see in the way he carried himself, in his words to others, in the skill and care of his craft, and in the character he instilled in his son. Simply put, to know Oral was to respect him.

And our respect for him only grew deeper as we saw how courageously he faced his illness.

It goes without saying that Oral’s life was too short. But a man who has the love of family and friends and the admiration of his community has not left any work unfinished.

Our love and condolences go to Arlene, Jason, Jennie, Alyssa, Christian, and Hailey, and to Jason’s sister Amanda and her family as well. For you, we hope there is comfort in the thought that Oral is in the arms of another carpenter tonight.

For Oral, we hope there is Yoo-hoo in Heaven.

Rest in Peace, Miss Shirley

“You see all them?” Shirley Roberts gestured toward the dozens of cats lazing outside her front gate. “Only two are mine.”

“Then why do you feed all of them?” I asked.

“Well,” she scattered a fistful of kibble on the ground. “They look so much alike, I can’t tell which ones belong to me. And I can’t let the rest go hungry.”

Green Turtle Cay lost one of its most intriguing characters yesterday. Shirley Roberts (affectionately known as “Shell Hut” Shirley, to differentiate her from the other Shirley Roberts in town) passed away unexpectedly in Nassau.

Abaco, Bahamas, Green Turtle Cay, Shirley Roberts, Stray Cats

Sadly, some local folks — particularly the younger generation – only knew Shirley in her later years, when her mind had begun to wander and it was sometimes difficult to separate fact from fiction in her stories. But Shirley Roberts was feisty and independent, a woman of many talents who lived a remarkable life.

In addition to being a shrewd businesswoman, Shirley was the first female commercial pilot in the Bahamas. For years, she flew a twin-engine charter plane, transporting tourists, local residents, dignitaries and sick people in need of emergency medical care. Everyone who flew with Shirley recalls her amazing aviation abilities, especially her smooth and gentle landings.

And she didn’t just pilot planes. My cousin, Alton Lowe, tells me that during the years she lived in Nassau, Shirley was part-owner of a private yacht, which she captained singlehandedly.

Alton says Shirley was also musically inclined, a talented singer who often participated in the charming New Plymouth tradition of pre-dawn caroling in the weeks before Christmas.

From as far back as I can remember, Shirley owned The Shell Hut, one of Green Turtle Cay’s original gift shops. In recent years, however, she opened the store less often. Some weeks, she didn’t go in at all. As the souvenirs in her shop window grew dusty and faded, so did her memory. And Shirley became known as the lady with the cats.

Many afternoons, I’d see her at one of the local grocery stores, buying cat food. A local resident once told me he’d counted thirty-eight cats gathered on Shirley’s wall and around her gate, awaiting her return.

bahamas, abaco, green turtle cay, shirley roberts, stray cats, potcatsbahamas, abaco, green turtle cay, potcats, stray catsAnd it wasn’t just felines who benefited — Shirley made sure the local pigeons and gulls got their share, too.

Green Turtle Cay, Abaco, Bahamas, Shirley Roberts, Pigeons

German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer wrote, ” Compassion for animals is intimately connected with goodness of character.” I think that’s absolutely true. You can tell a lot about someone by the way they treat animals. And as Alton said of Shirley, “If she had to, she would give up her own food to be able to feed those cats.”

Shell Hut Shirley was spirited, generous and kind. Until her last days on the cay, she remained sprightly and outgoing, caring for the birds and cats and regaling tourists with her colourful tales. Green Turtle Cay will be a shade less bright without her.

Canine Distemper Outbreak in Nassau

The Veterinary Medical Association of the Bahamas has issued an advisory about a severe outbreak of canine distemper in Nassau, Bahamas.

bahamas, potcake, dog

Healthy Bahamian potcake at a Marsh Harbour spay/neuter clinic.

If you plan to bring your dog to the Bahamas in the near future, you may want to bypass Nassau altogether.

If you must bring your pet to Nassau, or if you’re currently there, be sure your dog is properly vaccinated, and adhere to the following guidelines:

  • Do not transport dogs of any age from Nassau to other Bahamian islands, as it appears that the latter remain distemper-free.
  • Keep dogs on your property or vessel. Limit walks and avoid contact with other dogs for at least the next three weeks.
  • Use a mix of 30 parts water to 1 part bleach to disinfect surfaces, shoes, feet, etc.

The good news is that, in warm climates and sunlight, the distemper virus is killed off within a few hours. During that time, however, it’s highly contagious.

More than half of all distemper cases are fatal and there is no known cure.  According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), distemper is passed from dog to dog through direct contact with fresh urine, blood or saliva. Dogs can also contract distemper by sharing food and water bowls, or by being nearby coughing and sneezing dogs. Early signs of distemper include sneezing, coughing, running eyes or nose, fever, lethargy, sudden vomiting and diarrhea, depression and/or loss of appetite.

The Veterinary Medical Association of the Bahamas says the disease is NOT a risk to humans or cats.

For more information, or if you suspect your dog may be infected, contact a local vet or the Bahamas Humane Society. Authorities ask that, to avoid infecting other animals, you do not bring the animal into veterinary waiting rooms without advance arrangements.


ASPCA Pet Care – About Distemper

About Canine Distemper – Pet MD

Abaco Life in the Early 20th Century

bahamas, abaco, green turtle cay, autobiography, history, geneaologyIn  the years before she passed away, I’d sit with my grandmother in the evenings. She’d rock back and forth in her creaky glider chair and reminisce about her childhood in Green Turtle Cay.

She’d talk about picking sea grapes and digging shells at Gillam Bay, cleaning conchs before school to feed the family’s hogs and farming watermelons on Black Sound with her father.

My grandmother told me about the day her six-year-old sister, Mirabelle, suddenly took ill and died, and about surviving the 1932 hurricane, which demolished her family’s home, along with most of the New Plymouth settlement.

Though she often couldn’t tell you what she’d had for breakfast that morning, she could describe – in surprising detail – events from many decades before. More than seventy years later, she could recite the full mailing address of Molly Mayberry, her British childhood pen pal.

Though my grandmother shared her memories informally, a number of her contemporaries have published their memoirs, creating a valuable source of historical information and providing fascinating insights into Abaco life in the early to mid-20th century.

Floyd Lowe,  A Man of Many Firsts, Green Turtle Cay, Abaco, BahamasSome of my favourite Abaco autobiographies include:

A Man of Many Firsts, by Green Turtle Cay’s Floyd Lowe (available at Curry’s Foods or the J.S. Johnson Insurance office in Green Turtle Cay.)

My Life – The Abaco Boy Story, by Marsh Harbour’s Jack Lowe (to order, email or write to Jack directly at Box AB-20042, Marsh Harbour, Abaco)

I Wanted Wings: The Autobiography of Leonard M. Thompson, and Sea to Sky: From Island Boy to Flying Man, by Hope Town’s Leonard Maurice Thompson

Jack Lowe, The Abaco Boy Story, Bahamas, Marsh Harbour Man-o-War, My Island Home, by Haziel L. Albury

The Fledgling: A Bahamian Boyhood, and The Long Day Wanes: A Memoir of Love and War by Hope Town’s Chester Thompson

Island Captain: The Memoirs of Earnest Dean by Sandy Point’s Captain Earnest Dean and Gary Woodcock

Out Island Doctor and My Castle in the Air by Evans W. Cottman. (Though Cottman wasn’t Bahamian, he was certainly a prominent figure in Abaco in the mid-1900s, and his memoirs offer a vivid glimpse into local life at the time.)

Most of these titles may be purchased at Green Turtle Cay’s Albert Lowe Museum, or at book and souvenir shops throughout the Bahamas.

No doubt there are other Abaco autobiographies out there. If you know of any I’ve missed, or you have historic family stories or photographs you’d like to share, drop me a note. I’d love to hear from you.

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