We arrived in Hope Town in the Abacos section of the Bahamas in mid-February and received a warm welcome from our friends Al and Michele on Kindred Spirit. They decided to make Hope Town their home for the winter and were based out of the lovely harbor since before Christmas. We called them on the radio as we were coming in and they came out and met us in their dinghy to be our pilot boat. They had reserved us a prime mooring ball next to their boat, then gave us an orientation to the town and fed us dinner. What better welcome could we get? They even took us racing with them on our 2nd full day . . . a light air “race” where, at times, we were doing as little as 2 knots. When you can sit and eat your sandwich and never flinch, it is a very slow, light air race!
But I’m having a hard time talking about any of that very enthusiastically at this moment because we are preparing for a second trip (second for Ems, first for Frank) back to New Jersey. My brother-in-law, Frank, lost his battle with cancer this past Thursday and my sister, Christine, lost her husband. He was a wonderful man who loved our family immensely – and we loved him. He and my sister have housed and cared for a couple of us siblings through various stages of life – for jobs we had in the area, but more meaningful to me, they helped care for one of my sisters during her (successful) battle with breast cancer a number of years ago. Knowing that his end was nearing, I flew back to New Jersey for twelve days to be with family while “My” Frank stayed with the boat in Hope Town. (When you have multiple Franks in the family, you have to have these designations!)
In our family, we have often done “sister shifts” after surgeries or treatments or hospital stays – the advantage of having a large family. My sister, Caroline, has practically moved in with Christine and Frank during this period . . . I was able to come home and give her a little break, and other sisters have jumped in to help as well. Frank remained at home under hospice care until the end where he died peacefully with family at his side. He was a retired police chief in a suburb of Princeton, NJ and was beloved in the community. He had a certain brand of humor that was classic. When I was staying at their house several nights every month for work (back in the 90s), he would get home from work first, me second and Christine third. I would find him sitting on their bed watching the local news – their room kind of doubled as a living room, without that sounding weird. I would go plop down next to him on Christine’s side and watch the news with him . . . but his favorite line that never got old was when we’d hear Christine come in the door and he’d shout down to her, “Hi honey! I’m in bed with your sister again!” Christine and I would have been SO disappointed if he didn’t do that each time. Although he was born and raised in the Princeton area, he spent a LOT of time in Cape May during the summers. The two Franks have shared many stories about Layers Dutch Kitchen or people that they both know from Cape May.
Being a police officer and then chief was the great joy of his life (after my sister, of course!) He was the kind of police chief you wish they could clone. He was about integrity and his officers being role models in the community, and he totally demonstrated that. Good police work was critical, but on top of that, God forbid he caught his officers double parked somewhere in a non-emergency, or pulled up in a handicap spot, or not using their turn signals during a normal cruise through town! The whole department was expected to conduct themselves respectfully and professionally. The new police building in West Windsor Township is named for him in honor of his work in building the department over many, many years. When it was time for me to leave their home last week, I said, “Okay, Frank. I’m getting ready to go home now,” (trying my best to sound non-plussed about it and not break down.) He quietly answered, “Honey, your home is upstairs!” And that’s how he made us feel, always. I really didn’t set out to turn this into a blog about my brother-in-law, and yet I find I can’t help but write about him today.
Frank (MY Frank) stayed in Hope Town and took care of Eleanor Q, a difficult but necessary decision. There is an AMAZING community of people here and we love it here. So let me turn the subject now to more about our time here. Hope Town and the Abacos strike us as being a little more developed and civilized than the Exumas. There are more restaurants and resorts and nice homes here than the other areas we’ve been to, but it doesn’t feel overdeveloped or “too fancy” or obnoxiously commercial. It is lovely and fun and has been a great respite. It is higher on that “Outward Bound-Jimmy Buffet Scale” I’ve referred to before. It is also the perfect place to be able to leave the boat on a mooring ball and know it will be looked after.
There is a true community of cruisers who stay here for a good part of the winter. They are kind and welcoming and help watch out for each other. Frank had a chance to meet and get to know many of them while he was holding down the fort here. We will fly home knowing that the boat will be fine sitting here for a week – there are so many watchful sets of eyes. Also, our water family on Magnolia arrived in Hope Town a couple of days ago and will keep an eye on Eleanor Q while we’re gone. It has been great to be reunited with them. We have also been reunited with the “B to B Fleet” or what is left of it. That is the group that we got to know in Bimini and did the overnight passage with to Nassau. What a lovely group and we’ve enjoyed being part of the fleet again for the past several days. Sadly, they will be moving on today.
So, we will board the plane on Monday and return to New Jersey to attend the service and to be with family again. I am so impressed and proud of my sister, Christine, for the grace and strength that she has shown through this period. She acknowledged that one of a handful of people who could really understand what she’s been going through is “my” Frank. It is not a good club to belong to, but he was able to talk with her on the phone and share what words of wisdom he could muster. We will return to Hope Town soon and continue our travels, heading back to the U.S. before the month is out. When we knew Frank (Cox) was not doing well in December, we hesitated to leave the country where travel back and forth would be much more challenging. When discussing that with my family, I can’t remember exactly how the conversation went down, but the message was something to the effect of “Frank will kick your asses if you don’t go!” He was very excited for us and our adventures. One day recently, I almost sent him a picture of our “skivvies” hanging outside to dry on the boat because I knew it would make him laugh . . . and because I like the term “skivvies” which I adopted from him! The world does not stop turning because you decide to jump on a boat and run away from life for a while. Life still happens. Family tragedies still happen. But the good news is that family ties don’t get any weaker with distance.