Tomorrow is Mother’s Day. It reminds me of a memorable Mother’s Day picnic that we almost enjoyed several ago. My husband was stationed on a remote and beautiful Caribbean island, and we all lived there for about two and half years. It was an island of contrasts: alongside the turquoise oceans, dolphins jumping out in the bay and the snorkeling and scuba diving, there was crime, a drunk man who roamed the parking lot of the island’s only movie theater throwing coconuts at people, and poverty that was so extreme that it was almost impossible to comprehend. We met many wonderful people there – some with lovely homes on beautiful beaches who helped us adjust to life on the island with amazing graciousness and hospitality, some brave people who lived in cinder block huts who had suffered abuse in their home countries and were hiding out as refugees, and tourists, travelers, and adventurers from all over the world.
There was a lot of island wildlife that we got used to (and some that we never did get used to). There were parrots and dolphins and stunningly beautiful fish and jelly fish and pelicans. Gorgeous birds would perch on the window sill of our house and hop right into the kitchen. We learned not to turn on the toaster oven without first checking underneath it for lizards. We would sit outside in the evenings on the veranda and watch the little almost-transparent lizards roaming the walls of the house. Crabs made their way into the house sometimes, and they could be big and mean. Once I came down to the kitchen to find a crab as big as a dinner plate in the middle of the room, and when he saw me he hissed and snapped at me. One crab got stuck in the roof vent of our house. We could hear him tip-tapping and skittering through the vents at night but we could never catch him. He crawled through the ducts until he finally found the vent in the bathroom ceiling. For a while we had to use the bathroom with the crab sticking his claw through the vent and snapping at us. He was mad. I was pretty miffed at him, too. (But it’s an effective way to make sure someone doesn’t take too long in the bathroom, let me just tell you.)
Anyway, for Mother’s Day one year I requested that we all go down to the lagoon outside our home, and go snorkeling and enjoy a picnic lunch together. Everyone liked that idea and together we packed sandwiches, cold drinks and ice in a cooler. We set the cooler on the rocks by the water and had fun snorkeling and swimming and feeding the fish that would follow us around as we swam. After a while we got hungry so I went onto the beach and opened the cooler to get lunch ready. I guess we hadn’t shut the cooler as tightly as we thought, or maybe someone opened it to get a drink and then didn’t close it all the way, because lying on top of our nice sandwiches was a plump colorful gecko lizard, about eight inches long. His eyes were closed, and if it had been a cartoon, I think he would have had little x’s where his eyes were, with stars circling his head. He looked dead dead dead. His not-so-bright idea of helping himself to our lunch had trapped him in a box that was much too cold. I screamed in surprise and backed away (pretty far away and pretty quickly), wondering what else might be in the cooler (some of his friends?) or whether I could still enjoy a lunch that a big old lizard had recently died on. Then my husband and kids got the idea that maybe he wasn’t truly dead, just too cold, and they gently removed him and put him on a warm rock. Sure enough, he un-froze and once he warmed up, he crawled away.
We ate lunch at a local restaurant.
My family insisted that the food would be fine, but all I could picture was lifting the lid of the cooler, expecting my Mother’s Day picnic and seeing that cold, lifeless, fat lizard on top of all the food, like a weird freaky garnish. And you know what they say about the rules for garnishing: the garnish should be edible and it should be appropriate for the food it’s served with. That was one huge garnish fail.
But the picnic we almost had made a memorable Mother’s Day for me that year.