A little over two months ago, my husband and I moved ourselves and our two children (ages 9 and 6), from the comfort of the only lives we have ever known in the Northern Kentucky/Cincinnati area to a tiny island in the Caribbean.
 
While I could go on and on (and on and onnnnn) about how this crazy move came to be, just know that it was not a spur of the moment decision based solely on the thoughts of beautiful white, sandy beaches and margaritas on any evening we could ever want.
 
I mean, yes- clearly the ridiculously gorgeous setting, the idea of “beach day, any day”, and a never-ending summer doesn’t hurt.
 
But we would be silly to think any place in the world is merely it’s environmental visuals, weather, and recreational opportunities.
 
To move our family from the only life we have ever known, to take ourselves and our children away from families and friends who are truly an extension of our and their “being”, it had to be more.
 
And St. John is.
 
So it was after years of visits, research, planning, and making friends on St. John and weighing the pros and cons continuously (island life is HARD in many ways that many do not realize), that we decided to go for it.
 
Cause you only live once, right?
 
I mean- it’s cliche to say, but how ridiculously true.
 
And we wanted a little time of that “living” to be surrounded by the environment, culture, history, aura, and moreover- the PEOPLE and COMMUNITY that we had come to know St. John to have.
 
While it would be understandable that an island as small as St. John (about 19 square miles) and with only roughly 4, 000 residents (though that is based off the 2010 Census) would be a close-knit community, it feels like so much more than that often-used, coined term.
 
And while looking at the history of the resiliency, determination, and fortitude of the island and it’s people following the many hurricanes (most notably Irma and Maria in 2017) they have weathered would also paint a picture of a community that GETS STUFF DONE and IS THERE FOR ONE ANOTHER in ways that are difficult to describe, it has been the day to day happenings on St. John in just our two months here that have left me in awe.
 
Cause St. John is hitchhiking.
 
While hitchhiking in the states brings to mind certain connotations and fears, down here it is a very common and accepted means of transportation (clearly, Covid currently makes this a touchy situation. But precautions can be taken.).
 
Giving a ride to a stranger “to town” is about as usual as pumping your gas. And while we already knew that long before we arrived on St. John, to see it and partake in it is just a little bit lovely.
 
And St. John means a few minutes into the ride, you realize you just picked up the mechanic who saved your butt the week prior by welding a busted power steering line on your Jeep.
 
Cue the “Hey, we’re best friends now!” change in tone and planning up when the two of you can catch a beer together.
 
And St. John means that beer may just come with a need to park at “Slim’s Parking Lot” in town, where after only two times of using his services, “Slim” ribs you as you pull in asking “How’s that power steering my man?”
 
Cause he parked it a few times that week it started acting up, and without hesitation told us he was heading to St. Thomas the next day if we needed him to pick up a part at Auto Zone.
 
When we had known the man for a total of four minutes.
 
And St. John is only being employed at my new school (I teach) for a matter of days when my boss texted me for the first time, asking me if I felt like we had everything we needed for the tropical storm heading our way.
 
Though it wasn’t forecasted to be much, she knew we were newbies.
 
What could she get us? What do we need? Do we have any questions?
 
And she was one of a many to do this.
 
Then, when following the close of tourism after only about a month here, my husband’s parents had to cancel their trip to visit. We were so disappointed, clearly.
 
And also thrown for a loop, as they would have been acting as our baby-sitters for a total of 9 “teacher only” days that I had to work, when my husband was also working.
 
St. John is it taking mere hours before I had new and old island friends texting me “Can I help with the kids?”.
 
And these aren’t the idle offerings we all sometimes give when we know they’ll likely go unused.
 
They knew we didn’t have other options.
 
And so between my husband’s work letting him change his shifts without even a moment’s hesitation and these friends, our kids were covered within minutes.
 
St. John is leaving work at 5pm (when all you truly want to do is get home,) but a colleague who lives on St. Thomas asks for a ride to the ferry.
 
Well, of course.
 
Because on St. John, ten more minutes before you’re home somehow just doesn’t seem like something to stress about in the land of not just “fun in the sun”, but “help one another get it done”.
 
And St. John is not even knowing the name of the lovely old lady who sells you a Coke out of her food truck nearly every day for two weeks as you prep your classroom (but then clearly, asking her name), but finding yourself buying her sandals on Amazon one random Thursday night.
 
Because as she handed you that Coke yesterday, she looked at your bright blue Birkenstock sandals and said “How much and where’d you get them?”
 
“Thirty five bucks, Amazon.”
 
“You order me a pair- size 8.”
 
And count me a courier, because I just did.
 
I have no doubt she rarely leaves island, and logging onto Amazon is probably not her thing.
 
But she said she wants them for when it rains, and by God she’s getting them.
 
And when I tried to pay her two dollars extra for the free Coke she gave me a few days prior (I was short on cash one day, and again- saying “Pay me next time” is very much St. John), she looked at me and laughed and said “Just get out of here and buy me my shoes.”
 
Is St. John perfect?
 
Lawwd no. No place is.
St. John has its own very real struggles, issues, and problems to face.
 
But if our time here continues to give me (and our kids) even just a short glimpse into how society, communities, and just PEOPLE- should act all around this globe to each other daily- then I’ll continue to not only count our decision to move here as right…
 
But as brilliant.
 
Just like the people of St. John.

Ashley Kleisinger

Current Rock of Residence:

Island Girl Since:

Originally Hails From:

Having grown up in a small town in Northern Kentucky where she lived on the banks of the Ohio River and next to the fruit and vegetable roadside-stands her family owned, one would think of Ashley as country through and through. And in some ways, she is. Because some days, all she pines for is a glass of her Momma’s sweet tea, some Garth Brooks on the radio, and a good bonfire with some beers to end the night. But Northern Kentucky also meant growing up just down from Cincinnati, where a faster pace of professional sports teams, museums, theater, and a huge variety of dining and nightlife abound. And when she met a cute fine-dining chef sometime after college, she moved far closer to the big city lights and found a love for it as well. So Ashley feels she has gotten the best of both worlds thus far in life- and is a somewhat confused but perfectly happy urbanized country girl. And yet, after visiting St. John for the first time in 2005 with her Mom, she began to feel a pull to add one more lifestyle and location to her repertoire. Countless visits later over the years (with that cute chef), and a honeymoon on St. John later, the teacher and the chef agreed. They must move here one day. So they did the only illogical, crazy, “Holy crap, how do we tell our parents we are going to do this?” thing they could think of. They raised their babies in Kentucky for nine years, and then said “Let’s move us all from the only life, place, and people we have ever known and go live in the Caribbean.” So after ten years of research and planning, and after selling their house, quitting jobs and closing a business, they managed to move themselves, their two kids, their Jeep, and a mere sixteen suitcases into a one bedroom apartment on St. John in the middle of a global pandemic. And somehow, it’s working out. When Ashley isn’t playing Mom and wife, she teaches kindergarten, and also thinks about how she used to write so much more in the past and get published by places like Scary Mommy and the Huffington Post. She hopes you’ll enjoy her somewhat exaggerated and most definitely absurd story-telling of the comedic parts of her everyday life, and also have your heartstrings pulled when she gets all “Chicken Soup For The Soul” dramatic and serious on her tales of kindness, love, and the general goodness of people. And if you do, she encourages you to visit her new little rock, with somehow- Skyline Chili, her Dad’s smoked ribs, and her Momma’s sweet tea in hand.

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