Part 1: Harly in the Drink
Harly may or may not be an actual electrician. He is, nevertheless, the man on whom we call these days when our wiring needs attention. He has replaced our former person, Glenman. Glenman may or may not have been an actual electrician as well, but it was he who did all the original electrical work in our Nevis home. And he may also be the reason that the wiring in our house so frequently goes on the blink. Things tend to short out for no reason and the light switches make no sense. There are multiple switch plates around the great room – some of which turn on the same lights. Finding the right switch for the light you want to use is not easy. It’s not a major flaw, but it does make turning off the lights at night into a project.
One big problem we have are the outside security lights. They seem to go on and off at random, but seldom when an actual human shows up on the doorstep. This visit, because we were going to be here for an entire two months, seemed a good time to address the issue. So, we gave Harly a call and he showed up promptly that very same day.
Harly stands about five feet four inches tall. When he’s sitting, you would not suspect him to be that squat, as his height is all in the upper body. which is strong and stout. It’s only when he stands that you notice his short but powerful legs. His beard is trimmed in a Vee and the strands reach all the way to his collar bone. His dark eyes displayed a playful gleam as he reassured me that he will have all in hand.
“Leave it to me,” he said with a charming smile as I fretted, filling him in on the situation. He said he would be back later that night after sundown. The security lights, he explained, would only work after dark. So to properly assess the problem, he would come back after 6:00PM.
That evening, he returned as promised. He had no tools; this was just a reconnaissance mission. I left the oversight of the evening’s investigation to my husband, Joe, and remained inside as they walked the perimeter of the house in darkness to see which lights would light and which would not. They started in the front yard, then moved around back to our large porch and pool area. I wasn’t listening to what was being said and mostly tuned out the entire activity, as it seemed under control.
Suddenly, I was startled by the sound of a huge splash, followed by a flurry of smaller but very loud and quick splashes. I rushed outside to find Harly in the pool flailing about with a terrified look on his face. Joe was leaning over the side calmly instructing him to get over to the edge. Now, our pool is not an intimidating place. It is small in area and only five feet deep. But it does offer a refreshing dip on a sunny day – which is almost every day. Yet – if you are not very tall, and you are fully clothed, and it is nighttime with none of the outside lights lit – finding yourself unceremoniously and unexpectedly plunged into it can be frightening. I knelt down with Joe to help guide Harly to the steps and out of danger.
Like many Nevisians, Harly apparently doesn’t swim. I’ve always found this a curious fact about how these island dwellers are so infrequently seen at the beaches and – more particularly – in the water. Is it the harrowing and involuntary ocean voyage of their ancestors that holds sway over their imagination? Or, as one national informed me, was it the traumatizing event in 1921 where 51 Nevisians drowned when a ferry exploded, killing all passengers and some entire families?
This remains a mystery. But our present episode was not yet over.
In the darkness that surrounded the pool, we could see a glow coming from the bottom: Harly’s cellphone. When he realized his phone was no longer in his pocket, a new panic seized him and he tried to reach his hand down to grasp it. But as it sat at the bottom of five feet of water, his hand came nowhere close. Joe, still leaning over the edge encouraged him.
“You’ll have to go under to get it. It’s not that deep.”
A tall order for a short man who could not swim. But the larger fear of losing his phone took over and with a deep breath, he went down. Alas – it was a doomed attempt from the start. The skills needed for this task were just not there. He could neither open his eyes under water, nor hold his breath and keep his cool for long enough for success. He came up empty-handed.
Time was of the essence. Joe stepped up. Changing into a swimsuit in record time, he went in and rescued the drowned Android, which miraculously still glowed. A few test calls back and forth from my phone to Harly’s confirmed that it had survived the disaster.
I handed our sopping electrician a towel which he seemed to not want to take. It was as if he wanted to pretend that the whole falling into the pool thing hadn’t happened. He finally did accept the towel to dry his face, but almost without skipping a beat, he returned to his original mission. He had taken the bulb from one of the outside lights that worked and had been preparing to try it in the fixture of the light that didn’t. I trembled now as he, still dripping in his jeans and sneakers, hopped up on the railing two stories off the ground to screw in the halogen bulb with wet hands. Had that bulb gone into the pool with him? I didn’t ask.
The bulb didn’t light and the conclusion was that since it had worked in one fixture but not in the next, it was the fixture that was at fault. Whether or not a bulb that had taken a swim was at issue was glossed over. Fixing the light would require some daytime work with a ladder, as balancing on the railing – wet or dry – would not be safe. Harly would return in a few days to finish the job – once he had located a ladder tall enough to reach.
Part 2: Harly Over the Fence
Nevis shuts down over Easter. You need to make sure that you have all the groceries, water, and cash that you’ll need for six whole days. The holiday begins on Wednesday afternoon with island-wide school sporting competitions. Stores close at 1:00PM – even the large grocery stores. Banks, government offices, and many restaurants are unavailable so that everyone can gather to watch their children and grandchildren in the various events at the fairgrounds. Thursday, being Holy Thursday, is spotty. Some stores are open for part of the day, others not at all. Best to not need anything and guess wrong. Good Friday is a national holiday, so nothing is open. Saturday might find some goods and services accessible for part of the day – which part is not always clear. Sunday, of course, is Easter Sunday. But don’t look for help on Monday. That’s Easter Monday. Life begins as normal – island normal, that is – on Tuesday.
We were expecting Harly well before Easter. After the security light diagnostic work, complete with a midnight swim, was finished, he had promised to return with a tall ladder to perform the necessary fixes. We waited days and weeks for his call, but the call never came. As the holiday week drew near, we resigned ourselves to having to wait until afterwards for any work to be done.
On Easter Sunday, we decided to go to Paradise Beach. There was one other couple there, which is one more than usual. We spent the afternoon riding the gentle waves, walking the yellow sands, and watching the pelicans take turns dive-bombing for fish. As the day drew to a close, we headed home to watch the sunset from our porch.
When we got to the gate, we saw an orange ladder lying just inside the gate alongside the gate post. Harly must have come and left it. But there was a mystery. Although our rental agent provides some maintenance people with keys, Harly did not have one. We were sure of that. On further investigation, we found his method of entry: He had ripped out part of the fence near the post – just enough to slide the ladder through. And, to add to the insult, it was clear by just looking at it, that this ladder would not reach the three stories needed to replace the security lights. So, now our security risks had compounded: a breached entryway and no working security lights. On Easter Sunday. With nothing to be done about it until Tuesday because of Easter Monday.
On Tuesday morning, I had the following phone conversation after we had had a handyman come to repair the break in the fence.
“Good morning, Harly. How are you doing?”
“I’m fine, Nicole. And you?”
“Just fine. Did you leave a ladder here this weekend?”
“Did you have a key to the gate?”
“No. I used the ladder to get over the fence.”
“Then how did you get out?” (A question I knew the answer to).
“I squeezed through the fence near the post.”
“The lights are still not working.”
“The ladder wasn’t tall enough to reach.”
“When do you think you will be back?”
“When I find a bigger ladder.”
That was Tuesday. We moved the ladder from the gate area and hid it under the front steps, lest it provide a quick entry to any passing would-be burglar. The days wore on with no word from our man. I wasn’t sure if I would ever see him again. And I began to think about what I would name the final chapter of this episode of Notes from Nevis. Would it be “Harly Sees the Light?” Or “Harly’s Ghost?”
Part 3: Harly Sees the Light
The weeks wore on with no word from Harly. Any hope of seeing the resolution to our electrical problems before we left the island for the year were fading. But I needed to make a last appeal knowing that once we were gone, the chances of a fix happening in our absence would be nil. I called our rental agent to add a little pressure. A returned call from our erstwhile electrician the very next day told us that the phone call had worked.
Harly arrived at the house at 9:00AM with the tallest ladder I had ever seen. With Joe serving as a spotter and assistant, the work was completed in just over an hour. That is, the work for job#1. There were still a few outstanding glitches to be addressed; one of them I had as yet to raise with Harly. He quickly took on the troublesome outlet in the guest bathroom and the loose connection for the internet. When those were completed, he made the mistake of asking me if there were anything else I needed.
The gate to our Nevis property is anchored by two concrete posts. Mounted on those posts are two light fixtures from Vermont’s Hubbardton Forge that we sent down during construction. They were among only a very small number of items for the house that were not built or purchased on the island, and we thought it would be nice to add a touch from our northern home. They are there to light the entryway at night so we shouldn’t have to lock and unlock the gate in the dark. These lights have not worked for years.
The posts are capped with concrete pyramids which our builder thought would add a bit of flourish. The pouring of the concrete and the wiring of the posts happened before the light fixtures had arrived. When they did, Jovan the electrician found that they just barely fit below the cap. Rather than let us know that the fixtures we chose were not going to work, he jammed them with their bulbs already in place into the space below the overlapping top. They looked rather nice. For a while. Until the bulbs burned out.
When the bulbs did go, getting them replaced proved a trial. The glass cover of the fixture was impossible to remove wedged into place by the concrete pyramid. One of the lights was set just a touch below the other and if you had small hands, lots of strength and plenty of patience, you could wrestle the bulb from within and insert a new one. But it was a task that you wouldn’t want to repeat too many times. There seemed to be no permanent solution.
Although convinced that it was hopeless, I decided to ask Harly if the gate fixtures could be addressed. Apologetically, I began my tale of woe as he listened, bemused.
“I’m not sure anything can be done about those, but could you take a look?”
He smiled at me and with a twinkle in his eye and a hand on my arm, he said quietly in his now familiar manner, “Leave it to me.”
Joe and I left to do some errands with Harly still working in the house. As we drove away, I was filled with an odd sense of confidence boosted by his warm reassurance. We arrived home two hours later just before the 6:00PM sunset. On the gate posts, both lights were lit, both fixtures having been repositioned. All that was left to be done now would be a repainting of the post to cover the mark from the light’s old spot.
Nevis has its own way of getting things done. Having our electrical needs met had proved a challenge – from a tumble into the pool to the breach of our fence and a lengthy search for a tall enough ladder. But in the end, Harly came through and our home is brighter because of it.