- October 31st, 2011
- in Yachting
Gregory Smith wakes before sunrise to begin his day. Alongside his wife, Merreth, he ventures out to their two plots of farmland while it's still dark outside. Merreth makes herself busy by weeding the gardens and harvesting their crop; Gregory prepares the soil, hoes the rows and waters the plants. Eighteen years ago, this might not have seemed like an extraordinary feat. But eighteen years ago, Gregory still had his vision.
In 1993, Gregory was misdiagnosed for an allergic reaction and given a medication that countered with his glaucoma eye drops.
"Within three days after I took those tablets, I got up, went outside and I said to my wife, 'Yup. It's cloudy. Looks like rain," he said. "But then I stepped further out the door and the warmth from the sun could have knocked me down. That's when I knew I couldn't see at all."
Those tablets would change Gregory's life forever. Within a week, he was completely blind.
"I didn't want to leave home at all. At all, at all," he said. "I wanted to just pull my hair out, not go nowhere or no place. I said to myself, 'It's all over now.'"
But his wife wouldn't have that. His six children needed him to be strong. At the time, Gregory was 32. This year, he marked 50, "And I've never been happier," he said.
The transition wasn't easy, he explained. He spent five months in Jamaica for mobility training and basically "had to learn everything over again. How to eat, where to walk, how to talk comfortably," he said. "And I came back and it was hard. But now I know the whole farm, I know everything and everywhere to go."
I first met the Smiths on October, 2010, shortly after Hurricane Earl flattened their vegetable and fruit farm. After watching Gregory navigate the land, I was shocked to later find out that he was completely blind. When I ventured back to their Paraquita farm last month, the land was overgrown, but healthy. The mango, papaya and jackfruit trees were healthy and tall, and the herbs were bushy and full. The rows of young seedlings were neat and budding. Merreth credited the harvest's revival to hard work and the grace of God.
"Once you're a farmer, you've got to be perseistent," she said. "If not, you're going to see it just gone–with a disaster or disease. But we don't give up so easily."
In 1989, when Gregory still had his vision and worked at Peter Island Resort as a pastry chef, Merreth tended to their small farm in Capoon's Bay. That summer, Hurricane Hugo destroyed their crop. But that same year, they picked up and moved to Paraquita Bay, where they started fresh and began working for the Agricultural Department. Today, the two still work for the Agricultural Department during the day, but Gregory no longer cooks.
"But thank God I'm doing better than ever now," he said. "I'm happier than ever."
He joy seems most apparent when he's with his wife, in their garden. Merreth can't help but finish his sentences. "Tell him about how you eat from your plate like it's a clock … what about when you were in Jamiaca … and now you can do it all by yourself," she'd say. "Sit up when you speak, now."
Merreth admitted that life isn't always easy. Sometimes the crops don't take to the water, and the market doesn't heed a profit, she said. "But that's life. And it goes on," she stated, pointing to her religion and her husband as her guiding light through life's struggles. We sat on box crates and empty tires as they spoke. Almost to break the down mood of the conversation, Merreth jumped up and headed to the grounds to demonstrate how she weeds in the morning and in the evenings after work. Gregory walked carefully in tow, and picked up a hoe and meticulously took to the neat irrigation rows. Their chemistry is undeniable.
The two celebrated their 28th anniversary this year, and have admittedly never been happier. Merreth enjoys traveling and visiting her children and grandchildren in the States. Gregory seems the type that goes along for the ride–with a wide grin and his eternal optimism.
"We are two very happy people," he said. "Of course, we're happy until death does us part. It's a good life."