Second Home – Ruth Hodge’s Place

Actually, the second home was a condo at Sapphire Beach, but it was a tiny handful of months, so it’s getting tossed in with “Ruth Hodge’s Place”.

Keep in mind that we landed on the island of St. Thomas back in the day when the internet didn’t exist, and if you looked something up in an encyclopedia, it might very well have been 10 years out of date.  So we went with our fistful of dollars knowing the island was 13 miles long and 4 miles wide.  Surely one could ride bikes to get started.  Ha!  As the plane landed our first words were “We’re gonna need a car!” 

Our house payment in Portales had been $145 a month, and we landed in the Virgin Islands to find that rent was going to be closer to $1000 a month.  (And this wasn’t for the luxury spots… just some old apartment to share with geckos and roaches.)  Our teaching salaries were laughable, and our first Sunday at church the preacher told us that sometimes new teachers had to wait months for their first paycheck, so the church could help us if we got in a bind.   Welcome to paradise!

Thankfully we found this condo on Sapphire Beach where we could stay until tourist season kicked into high gear in November.  It’s a gorgeous beach, and when St. Thomas fits into our travel plans, we always have to take some time to stand on that sand and reminisce about the kids who rolled into that spot when they fell off the proverbial turnip truck in the 80s.

The principal at the school where Gary taught had a sister-in-law (Ruth) who was just getting a brand new apartment finished up, and we got to be the very first tenants.  It would eventually have a second story, but at that point it was a lovely one bedroom spot with a big porch and a big cistern.  So that’s where we learned the valuable lesson of water conservation.  It rarely rained, and since the only water coming into those faucets came from the cistern… you learned pretty quickly about short showers and necessity flushing!

So that was home-sweet-home for a year.  We bought parakeets to help me get over my deathly fear of birds.  We drove an old beater car up and down those steep and winding roads.  To supplement our meager paychecks we went to work for a high end furniture store repairing damaged pieces and hanging blinds.  One of our favorite lifelong memories is from the very first set of vertical blinds we hung, struggling with the instructions and the trick of drilling into concrete walls to make it all happen.   As we were finally loading our little tool box at the end of the day, the owner had stuck a $20 tip in there to surprise us.    We were so honored!

We ate a lot of burritos and jalapeno chips in that house.  Family and friends came to visit.  Communicating was a trick.  No phone lines in that area.. but wait.. when a boy from church needed math tutoring, and I couldn’t give his mom a phone number to reach me, and she happened to work for the phone company, phone lines magically became available on that hillside.  (Oh good grief.   The memories.   It was not an easy place to live.)  Our thanks again to all the family members who paid for the collect calls we made on Sunday afternoons from the cruise ship shopping center payphone.   Every month I wrote out a letter on carbon paper, then cranked out copies on an old mimeograph machine and mailed out an update of our adventures.

Well, anyway.. we spent time in that house talking each other into finishing out the school year.   We had a count-down calendar of when we could finally leave the rock.  We did our best to enjoy the beautiful beaches.  And then, at the end of that school year we were becoming friends with some couples our age through the Bible Book Nook… a bookstore we enjoyed going to.  It really seemed like such a shame to leave the island when we were finally learning our way around and finally making some real friends.  So we signed teaching contracts for another year, we headed home to Portales to shingle roofs for the summer and be with our families, then we flew back down to the Virgin Islands to live in our next home for two more years.

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