Editor’s note: This story by Cidney “Cid” Anne Hamling originally appeared 20 years ago in St. John Times. We are reprinting it as part of Remember When, a throwback of past articles and photos to be published from time to time.

Can I tell you a story about Annabelle Apple? Y’all don’t know that I was given my middle name after my parents’ college theatre professor and storyteller. I believe it is that legacy that makes me love to tell stories. This is one unembellished.

Late one night (Jan. 27, 1997) my neighbor, Tom Bertolino, yelled down to me, “Cid, Mary Pat just called! Cruz Bay is on fire! Get to town!” I bolted out the door, raced to town from the Fork in the Road and parked at the then-Starfish because it looked like all of Cruz Bay was ablaze. I ran to Connections, trying to decide what I could possibly save or do. I stood in front of my business and watched flames leap at the back of the Nazareth Lutheran Church, coming my way. I ran to Ms. Ginny’s and Theodora’s home (Mooie’s) and hollered for them, afraid they might be asleep and in danger. Someone came and said they were at the bandstand in the park. We touched base and sadly watched the catastrophe. The wind direction then shifted and the fire headed toward the Fish Trap. What seemed like hours later (but wasn’t) the Fire Department had things under their control and I headed home for a sleepless night and went to Cruz Bay about 6:30 a.m. to assess the damage to town.

As I stood outside Fred’s with my back to the Lime Inn, sick to my stomach, I head this oh, so familiar voice ask, “Cid, who’s gonna take the G—D — newspapers to Coral Bay?”

I turned to see Annabelle, set up for business as usual on the Lime Inn steps. I went over to give her a hug, which was shrugged off, and said, “I don’t know, Annabelle, but I’ll figure out something.”

Of course, the island was abuzz the next day as the fire trucks, WAPA and Vitelco trucks worked on the remains. My very close friends Andy, Mari, Michael and Barbara, had lost everything at their Kaleidoscope store. Fred’s and Ms. Annabelle’s store were gone. Grumpy’s was gone. Oscar’s rental apartments were gone. The Convenience Store was demolished. Everyone was devastated by their losses.

At some point in the day, Pam Gaffin came into Connections and asked, “What’s Annabelle going to do?” She, being the incredible creative person she is, talked to Barry Duncan, who then owned the Crash Landing Bar, and who volunteered to loan Ms. Apple the colorful kiosk that he had built for Sinbad (Gary Cox) to use for fortune telling at the bar but the small space had made Sinbad claustrophobic. We asked Fuddy at Penn’s Trucking if he could transport the kiosk on his front-end loader, which he did with great ceremony over the water hoses and down utility lines to Connections’ front yard. Several wonderful, strong and virile men showed up to orchestrate the move.

Within two minutes of the kiosk being on the ground, Annabelle was inside, her FEMA radio set up, the newspapers on the counter, dispensing her political take to any/everyone. In other words, it was business as usual.

It rained for days nonstop, as if to make sure the fire was out. One stormy morning, I remember looking out the front door of Connections at Annabelle. She was poised with her umbrella to protect OUR newspapers from getting wet and, as she caught my eye, she threw up her hands and laughed out loud at life!

To you, Ms. Annabelle Apple, I am grateful for a life lesson in survival: roll with the punches, come up on top, and kiss life full on the mouth! You are an inspiration to us all — not to mention my best inspiration for a Halloween costume! I raise a glass of Schaefer to you.

— Love, Cidney Anne Hamling