DECEMBER 29–Soggy Dollar Boat Days

Update, 12/30. Kitty and Andrew at the Soggy Dollar.

Caitlin never complained. Her not-complaining actually became a problem—we who knew her best honestly could not tell how she was feeling, because she always put up a good, rather jolly front. Andrew would say, “Hey, Kitty, should we go to a movie today?” Or I would say, “Want to try and go out today?” And there would be a flicker across her face, usually of pain, and she would say, “Maybe,” or “Oh, no way.”

So we came up with a system. Around late morning, she would rate the day from 1-10 (1-10 being her version of a 1 or a 10, not a normal person’s). If the day was a 5 or 6, then yes, perhaps, we might be able to take the wheelchair out, later, and go to the museum for an hour, or go see a movie.

If the day was a 2 or 3, as it often was, just showering was going to be tough—-there was no chance of an outing.

(No day was ever an 8 or a 9 or a 10, fyi.)

At one point during the last couple of years, she told me how any time she looked at photos of the previous decade, she could remember exactly how she had had felt when any particular picture was taken. In all those photos she looked great, looked like she was having the time of her life, but she would point and say, “I remember that night. I was desperately hoping that everyone would want to take a taxi.”  Or, “I wanted to run down that cliff like everyone else and jump and dance around the sand and party on the beach but all I could think was, how will I climb back up?”

I was reminded of this, today, when I was looking for photos for a tribute that’s happening tomorrow.

St. John was/is our place. Our happiest holidays were spent there and the happiest of the happy days were “boat days.” We would board a charter boat, with a captain, at 8am, head over to Tortola to do customs paperwork, then make our way to Norman Island and Cooper Island and maybe Marina Cay, always a stop at Sandy Cay, and always, always, ultimately ending up on Jost van Dyke.

Boat days always ended on Jost, at the Soggy Dollar Bar.

In the early days, when Caitlin’s health was okay and she could keep up, these were her favorite days. Here we are, back in 2004, enjoying boat day. We always took a pal of hers on vacation with us, usually her almost-sister Katie, and also always filled our boat with island friends. Those days were the best. The best of the best. I hope that everyone who reads this post gets to enjoy days like those days were: life suspended, wrapped up in hours of unending moments of sunshine and turquoise and laughter and rum punch.

3 pigs on a boat.jpeg

But: back to the reason I was reminded of Caitlin’s 1-10 system today. I was looking for some boat day pictures. I was doing this because this world we live in is a ridiculously small world.  Jess’s sister Carly is friends with the people who own the Soggy Dollar Bar on tiny Jost. Tomorrow they are going to honor Caitlin with an organ donor awareness day. They asked for a photo to make a banner and so I was looking for a good picture.

We all have 10,000 pictures on our phones and another 10,000 lost in the ether of the last decade. I know that I took photos of Caitlin at the Soggy Dollar Bar, but could I find one? No. I did find this:


Taken in 2008 on the eastern side of Jost. We were introducing Katie’s parents, our dear dear friends, to St. John. We were all excited to be there together and boat day was going to be the big event. But soon after our arrival, it was clear that Caitlin had caught a virus, despite her always-vigilant precautions.

The night before boat day, she took me aside and begged me to let her stay home in our rented villa. “I’m happy to just hang out here by myself. I’ll be fine. You guys go and have a good time.”

Caitlin was our life of the party. No one wanted to go on boat day without her. I’m ashamed to admit that I didn’t let her not come. I insisted she suck it up. “We’ll make it comfortable for you, I promise. You’ll be so glad you came. I know you don’t want to miss boat day.”

She gave in and we all got on that boat at 8am. And if you look at pictures from that day, you would think we were all having the time of our lives. The rest of us were. But she later told me that anytime she looked at the day’s pictures she could only remember how horrible she felt.

A week later, our trip had been cut short and she had been admitted to Boston Children’s for  what the CF community calls “cleanouts.” Cleanouts are a few weeks of IV antibiotics and chest PT. They stave off the inevitable, give people a boost, and they worked for Caitlin for much of her life. They worked that time in 2008. She “got better” and  we went back to St. John a few more times. Her last trip was with us, and Andrew, in 2013.


This is the photo I sent for the Soggy Dollar Bar to use tomorrow. I’m glad I never knew, when I snapped it, that it would be the last one I ever took of her there. Because it was a good day that did not deserve one drop of sadness. A great day. We had snorkeled and lunched and snorkeled some more and swam (swum?) onto Sandy Cay and had just landed at Foxy’s for rum punch and Roti. We were about to get back on John Brandi‘s boat to end boat day, as always, at the Soggy Dollar.

So everyone who  will be at the Soggy Dollar tomorrow for New Year’s weekend: Thank you! Honor Caitlin and don’t be sad. Do remember organ donation and how important it is. Spread that awareness. But savor your delicious painkiller, the nutmeg, the coconut milk, the rum and the sunshine. Caitlin will be cheering you on, all the way.



Author: kittenupdates

I am the author of CASCADE and LITTLE MATCHES: A Memoir of Grief and Light

23 thoughts on “DECEMBER 29–Soggy Dollar Boat Days”

  1. St John is my place also…I have never felt such a sense of spirituality as I do there. Every several months, I am “called” for a visit. I will remember Caitlin’s happy days there and toast a painkiller in her memory.

  2. We’re planning to honor Caitlin in a much smaller way at our local church at mass tomorrow; nothing as sunny or special as the Soggy Dollar Bar. Your pictures are treasures.

  3. Love and miss the O’Hara family. Someday hope to see photos of you back at the Soggy Dollar Bar in honor of Caitlin- she would want you to revisit in her honor!😘

  4. We will all be thinking of you and Cailtlin tomorrow. Honestly, a day has not gone by that we haven’t thought of you and Caitlin. Tomorrow, Tim and I will concoct our own version of the Soggy Dollar rum punch and toast Caitlin! ❤

  5. Such cherished memories. I think of you all many times during the day. Caitlin was truly an extraordinary young woman with an extraordinary set of parents. Sending you much love and peace.

  6. Nick, Maryanne, Andrew, I am thinking of you and Caitlin’s close friends this morning. I know you will have a lovely service for Caitlin. Saying prayers for you all. Caitlin’s life has touched me greatly.

  7. Thinking of you today and always and praying that you are surrounded by so much love that to help you through today. I love reading about Caitlin…again, thank you for sharing her with us! I think we all have a sweet little angel now for I can feel her love in your writings. xo

  8. lots of sweet memories and laughter with all the O’Hara’s on St. John that I will always cherish…. one carnival night when Caitlin danced her feet off…who knew with that tiny butt that she could shake her booty better than all of us….more love for all of you coming every day.

  9. Thank you for sharing these stories and pictures. I will be thinking of you and Nick today as I do everyday. What an amazing women Caitlin was and she will be with you forever in your stories, pictures and mostly importantly in your heart!

  10. What a beautiful memory!! We’ve been to the
    Soggy Dollar and loved it too!! And the magical
    drink!! What great togetherness, today,
    in Ireland, on Jost and here, all in honor of

  11. Beautiful photos. Thank you for sharing them. So nice to see you all in happier times.

    Also a small world because Trey Helliwell used to be your St. John boat guy, and I grew up down the street from him.

    All my love to you all.

  12. Love your memories and your love for St John! You shared the island highlights with me so many years ago and it has also become a special place for us.(loved Captain John!)
    Thinking, praying and lifting you all up today as you celebrate Caitlin, cheers.

  13. Dear Maryanne & Nick,

    You should both go back to St. John in 2017. Caitlin wouldn’t want you to stop enjoying life. I just read yesterday at this website:
    They are offering $300 to each person traveling to the Virgin Island in 2017 for the 100 year anniversity of becoming a US territory.
    Nice rememberance photo of Caitlin & our son Andrew.
    We feel heartbroken too as we feel we lost a daughter in law. Our whole family overwhelmingly approved of Caitlin.
    The Sutryn’s

  14. We have been St John lovers for years and I could so relate to everything you wrote about your “boat days”. We look forward to visiting Jost and the Soggy Dollar Bar in April and will think of your sweet Caitlin when we do.

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