ST CROIX, USVI -- We travel the road and it is not always clear where we are headed or why. I have been coming down to this island in the Caribbean since 1989, in the aftermath of Hurricane Hugo. After all of these years it's beginning to feel like a second home. I owe that feeling, in large part, to Norma George.
Norma owns a bar on the west end of the island called the Mont Pellier Domino Club. It is serendipitous, for a Vermonter, that the bar and her home are in a neighborhood called Mont Pellier.
There is something about the island and the weather that seems to make one want to dilute one's plasma with constant doses of rum. Thankfully, I do not feel this way in any other place.
Norma is a mother figure in many ways. She is a rotund black woman from Trinidad who wears a smile that penetrates your soul. It is a smile that also gives you a clear view into her soul. Whether you meet her for the first time or the fortieth time, the gift of Norma George radiates toward you.
I think that is why her bar has been so popular. It is not that easy to find and there are no signs along the road. Yet, without giving in to the pressure of too much of conventional advertising, Norma's special kind of genius has made it possible for her to sustain a profit off of beer drinking pigs. Check out the video on her bar's web site at: http://www.stcroixtourism.com/montpellier-domino-club-st-croix.htm.
When I arrived in St Croix this time I was looking forward to seeing Norma. When I sat down at the bar and did not see her I knew that something was not right. I tried to get some information out of the two bartenders but it was like trying to grab a can of O'Douls away from a thirsty pig.
"Where's Norma?" I asked.
"She's up at her house," was the terse reply.
Sensing something amiss, I asked if Norma was OK. Then I finally got some sort of an answer. "Her husband died and she doesn't come down much now." I tried to find out more information about her husband's death but it was clear that was not going to happen.
I felt like someone had just told me that they were going to rip out a piece of something precious to me. Norma's house is just up the road from the bar, but I did not want to intrude on her. I did find out that her husband had died about a month or so ago.
I asked for a piece of paper and wrote Norma a note, a condolence message of sorts. I told her how sad I felt about her loss and then I explained to her about my loss of a year ago. Norma knew my wife, Susan, as well as she knew me, so I told her about the circumstances of Susan's death.
It was a quiet night at the bar until I started talking to a guy next to me who had a solution for all of the Virgin Islands corrupt political ways. Instead of having 30 Senators he said there should be 10 appointed people to run the islands and if even one of them did something unethical, illegal or showed signs of corruption all 10 would be executed and they would start over with 10 more appointees. That's how hopeless the political system feels to too many Virgin Islanders.
As I was about to leave the bar, I handed the bartender my condolence note and then she told me Norma was sitting on her porch and that it would be OK to visit. Norma's husband of 15 years had died on October 25, 364 days after Susan's death. I told her about Susan's passing and she gave me details about George's death from liver and pancreatic cancer. He died at home in the care of Norma and with help from the local home health agency.
I can't help but think that there is some great meaning in the fact that Norma's husband and Susan died a year apart, almost to the day. I don't know what that meaning is, but I do know that my lingering sadness and my efforts to deal with major life changes have changed in ways that I may come to understand as I travel down the road.
Richard Davis is a registered nurse and executive director of Vermont Citizens Campaign for Health. He writes from Guilford and welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.