Resurrecting Ma May’s Garden

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Several members of my extended family are enthusiastic and successful gardeners. Me? I’m no expert on growing things but I love flowers, particularly tropical varieties, and I’ve developed a bit of an obsession with photographing them.

Marion Mayfield “May” Curry

Turns out we may all have inherited our interest in gardens and gardening from my great-grandmother. According to my cousin, Alton Lowe, Ma May had a passion for growing things, and her garden was one of the most beautiful on Green Turtle Cay. Any time you passed, Alton says, you’d see her outside, tending her plants.

Along with roses and carnations, Ma May grew fragrant gardenias, several types of jasmine, pomegranates and grapes. She even introduced shrimp flowers to the island.

That she was able to keep such a lush garden surprised me, given how rocky the yard is at Fish Hooks. But apparently the hard ground was no match for my great-grandmother. She simply cut holes in the rock and filled them with soil.

A Day Trip in Time

Having spent much of my childhood in Nassau surrounded by hotels, cruise ships, duty-free shops and sunburned foreigners, I’m not keen on touristy things. I have zero desire to parasail, jet ski, have my hair braided or shop for made-in-China souvenirs. With apologies to the organizers, and those who wouldn’t dream of missing it, I’d rather be stranded naked in a swarm of jellyfish than attend the Stranded Naked beach party.

During our recent trip to Green Turtle Cay, I wanted to do something different for Tom’s birthday. Several friends suggested a day trip with local guide Lincoln Jones, and though I secretly suspected it might end up being a rum-soaked, reggae-blasting booze cruise (nothing wrong with that – just not my thing), I decided to give it a try.

Turns out – and my husband will love this – I couldn’t have been more wrong. The day was lovely and low-key, and, given that boating, fishing and beach cookouts are practically built into the Bahamian DNA, as authentically native as it gets.

The entire day evoked fond memories for me: conch diving with my cousins in Hope Town, hand-line fishing from the seawall opposite Fish Hooks, Sunday beach picnics and public holiday cookouts with my extended family in Nassau.

Lincoln collected us from our cottage around 9:30 am. In addition to Tom and me, there were three other guests. We headed north in the Sea of Abaco before veering right between Munjack and Ambergris Cays and into the Atlantic.

Fifteen or so minutes out, Lincoln shifted the boat into neutral and tossed a line overboard. When he landed a mutton fish in less than a minute, we dropped anchor and baited the remaining lines. Despite competing with a shark and a barracuda, both intent on stealing our fish before we could reel them in, we had a productive morning.

Shortly past noon, with the cooler stocked with yellow tails, snappers, grunts and mutton fish, we puttered into the clear shallows at the north end of Munjack Cay. A welcoming committee of young sharks trailed casually behind.

The braver souls, including my husband, hopped overboard off the stern. The saner members of the group waited for the crunch of the hull on sand before scrambling over the bow and onto dry land.

While we explored “Lincoln Park,” our captain retrieved a giant cast-iron skillet from the bushes and kindled a fire. He mixed a batch of Goombay Smashes (a pineapple-based rum drink invented on Green Turtle Cay), cleaned and floured much of the morning’s catch, sliced and seasoned potatoes and set out a fresh salad.

Before long, the six of us were gathered at two weathered picnic tables, enjoying our fresh-from-the-sea lunch.

It was great to get to know Lincoln – turns out that as kids, he and his brother used to go fishing with my two uncles when they’d come to Green Turtle Cay on school holidays.

The other guests – a married couple, both psychologists, and a country music publicist – were interesting and intelligent and much fascinating conversation and laughter ensued.

It felt so much like the family outings of my childhood, I could almost hear my dad and uncles debating politics, and my grandmother warning we’d get cramps for swimming so soon after eating.

Not that we swam after lunch. Once we were done, Lincoln marched a pan of fish carcasses down to the water. A dozen or so small sharks swam lazy circles in the shallows. Lincoln tossed in a fish head and the sharks darted simultaneously toward it. Two stingrays hung back, waiting for the sharks to clear out before gliding in to nibble the leftovers.

Truth be told, getting up close and personal with rays and sharks isn’t typically Bahamian, but perhaps more locals would take conservation seriously if they could experience these amazing creatures up close.

After a few minutes, I was more fascinated by the sharks than scared of them, and by the time we were leaving, I was comfortable enough to wade out into the water to board the boat.

Of the many things I enjoyed about our day with Lincoln, one of the best was sharing it with the foreigners in the group, all of whom seemed to really enjoy the trip. It was terrific to see tourists have the opportunity to experience the real Bahamas, rather than some generic, manufactured facsimile.

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Happy 40th Birthday, Bahamas!

“Lift up your head to the rising sun, Bahamaland.” Thus begins the Bahamian national anthem, first sung 40 years ago today by the 50,000 or so Bahamians who gathered in Nassau’s Clifford Park to celebrate their country’s independence from Britain.

At one minute to midnight on July 9, 1973, the Union Jack was lowered for the last time. One minute past midnight on July 10, a new Bahamian flag, black, turquoise and yellow, was raised and the celebrations continued past sunrise.

To commemorate the dawning of that first Bahamian Independence Day, a few of my favourite Bahamian sunrises.

March on, Bahamaland.

Putting Names to Faces

A few years back, while visiting the Albert Lowe Museum in Green Turtle Cay, I shot pictures of some of the many photographs that line the museum walls. No special reason. I just love old photos from the cay.

Later, while editing the photos I’d taken, I came across the picture below. One face in particular — the girl in the back row, second from left — caught my eye. She looked a lot like childhood photos of my mother and I wondered if she might be a relative. One of my mom’s aunts, perhaps, or maybe even my grandmother. I asked around and emailed the image to various family members. Nobody could identify her.

Fish Hooks Update – The Inspection

“You know,” said our contractor, William Lowe. “If this were my house, I’d move it back on the property and add a porch at the front.” And just like that, the scope of our restoration project broadened significantly.

Tom and I had already planned to build a modest porch in the six feet or so between the house and the road. What we hadn’t planned on was the law that says we can’t build within five feet of the property line.

Front of Fish Hooks

Front of Fish Hooks

There’s lots of space behind the house, though. The property is more than twice as deep as it is wide. Not only would moving the house allow for a decent-sized front porch with an unobstructed view of Settlement Creek, it would also give us more elevation — a huge plus during hurricane flooding.

My Happy Place

Next to Fish Hooks, my favourite part of Green Turtle Cay is Gillam Bay. It’s where, as children, my grandmother and her sisters gathered Panama shells and hunted for buried treasure. It’s where, on summer vacations, I picked tart sea grapes, swam in the warm, shallow water and picnicked under the palms. It’s where, years later, Tom and I were married, surrounded by friends and family and serenaded by a Junkanoo parade.

There’s something restorative about walking this beach — seeing the sunrise over Pelican Cay, feeling the noon sun on my head, breathing the salt breeze or watching a late-afternoon thunderstorm gather on the horizon.

We've Hooked the Small One

Tom and I now have something we’ve wanted for years – my ancestral home in Green Turtle Cay, Bahamas. It’s a small cottage on the New Plymouth waterfront, located next to (where else?) the ferry dock.

This property has been in my family for nearly 100 years. Prior to September 1932, my great-grandparents Herman and May Curry and their three daughters lived in a large, two-story home on the property. It had four bedrooms, including two upstairs, each with large dormer windows.

Below the house was a stand-up cellar where Pa Herman cleaned fish. And, as was customary at the time, to protect against fire and provide relief from the heat, the dining room and kitchen were situated in a separate structure behind the main house.

The Curry House (far left) Pre-1932

Herman and May Curry’s house (far left) prior to 1932
(Photo courtesy of the Albert Lowe Museum)

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