… food for thought, any thought

My life has drastically changed over the last few months. I’ve been forced to sequester myself inside the confines of my home for all but a few, very cautious, sojourns to the post office or super market. The old standby to combat boredom, television, has morphed into an archival Dempster dumpster of Hollywood film castoffs mixed with highlights from ten or twelve-year-old sporting events. The programming is so bad that even the commercials are an embarrassment–last night the evening worship broadcast of a prominent evangelical pastor was sponsored by an AID’s medication called Descovy featuring an elegantly coiffed drag queen along with encouragement to …

Drag Queen    … GET TESTED REGULARLY FOR HIV AND OTHER SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED INFECTIONS.

To add to these disruptions, like most other people, my life has taken some unexpected day-to-day emotional turns. I’ve recently lost a friend that I had become very attached to. He lived close by and had gotten in the habit of dropping by virtually every day for some refreshment and a short conversation. Sometimes he brought along his buddy but, probably because of this COVID thing, they always stayed some distance apart. Anyway, both of them have stopped coming around. Even though I like to think I don’t live in a high crime neighborhood, word of mouth on the street is that fowl play was definitely involved in their disappearance.

out of my hand 1

Making a short story even shorter and offering a little explanation–I lost that friend when “Gimp” stopped coming around for a few pecans and cashews. His buddy “Little Guy” disappeared at about the same time. That was a month or so ago and corresponded with two big hawks taking up residency in the surrounding pines as well as an increased serenade of WHOOing being heard from the oaks across the creek after the sun goes down.

There is an old axiom that: “Nature abhors a vacuum” and with the void in my life caused by the absence of my friend–things have abruptly begun to change. It could have been subliminally prompted by all of the attention that the “BLACK LIVES MATTER” movement has generated or maybe was just a byproduct of those Sahara Winds the weatherman is always talking about, but last week I had a very unexpected visitor. He was a dark stranger from Africa complete with multi-colored garb and an entourage of female attendants. I hadn’t notice his mode of transportation upon his arrival but he projected elegance and a totally self-assured demeaner as he walked straight up the driveway to my house … then paused momentarily by a puddle of rain water before jumping with a “thump” against an exterior wall and unabashedly peering in through a picture window.

IMG_2087

   Now he has found a new home. I’ve given him the name of “Bomber” for his habit of unexpectedly dropping in. He’s a Red Headed Agama and his kind have become quite common in Palm City. Hear tell, that his clan did come from Africa but he clams up every time I ask him about it–probably worried about his immigration status. He’s seldom much of a conversationalist but never fails to give me his undivided attention in our verbal exchanges. Unlike the squirrels, he’ll eat just about anything but prefers fresh Bing cherries or crumbs from a cranberry-walnut pound cake. He keeps his harem of lady friends around for company but doesn’t look kindly on “other guys stopping by for a chat.” As far as the “hanky-panky” goes … it looks like he’s playing it pretty cool–they chase him more that he chases them.

Having freed up most of the slots in my busy calendar, I find myself spending more and more time talking with Bomber. I’ve asked him about his fears and aspirations: he just wants a steady supply of termites to go with the fruit and pastry hand-outs and one look at my old house will allay any concerns in that department. As far as the fear factor is concerned–he doesn’t seem worried about winged predators but is aware that there hasn’t been a long lasting hard freeze at this latitude in years and one is long over-due. He told me that if the temperature does drop, he and his entourage may need to move inside for a night or two. I haven’t broached this subject with my wife yet–maybe wait awhile.

What really grabs my attention in speaking with my new-found African friend is his obvious and genuine concern about, not himself, but what makes me tick? He seems unusually interested in my mental wellbeing and asks repeatedly if I have any active social life other than what I have revealed and demonstrated in my talks with him?

Hmmm … food for thought.

Jim Powell

 

 

 

Featured

Start the sailing story up there ^ with CHAPTER 1, but for the quick reads … scroll down and just click on one you might like!

crowd   Everyone … might like these …

maybe she wasn’t joking?             Beautifully Beheld … food for thought, any thought

How many times?                                           canes, caves, and casseroles

Ebber-dog and the “fisher”            Presidential Elections … what history has to tell us

….. a feathered point of view!            ….. my “in between” moment in time …..

putting my affairs in order……….         On Jockstraps and Driving Directions

Bob Thurbon ….. the Steelers out, the Eagles in, but what’s the difference?

 The Next Level                       1947 – Frances, Little Brother, and the big black pot

may I have a word?…..                               …. eeny, meeny, miny, moe

CHAPTER 1 — Boredom        and then ………… CHAPTER 2 — be advised…

p-j-e xmas 2018

Family members may enjoy all of the postings as well as the sailing saga Chapters but some pieces are decidedly more Family oriented than others. So, if you’ve got a Powell somewhere in the family tree, you’ll have a head start with these …

maybe she wasn’t joking?        … food for thought, any thought

Love ….. and 5 little books                 ….. my “in between” moment in time …..

1947 – Frances, Little Brother, and the big black pot   ………….of like persuasion………

…. our 56th wedding anniversary ….             “just call it coincidence”

This one is only for my family …..        Teeney             Are we all experts on Bar-B-Que?

NICHOLAS WALTER “NICK” COPPOLA           putting my affairs in order……….

may I have a word?…..         SUMMER of 1957       …. eeny, meeny, miny, moe

CHAPTER 1 — Boredom      CHAPTER 2 — be advised…       Ebber-dog and the “fisher”

burgee

1958 Palm Beach High School Classmates will be most interested in the stories that relate to happenings “on the hill” and/or the individuals that actually hung out under the arch or at the Campus Shop or Cat Cave. Don’t let these recommendations deter you from reading the other pieces or the light-hearted effort at a novel …. they may surprise you!

canes, caves, and casseroles        maybe she wasn’t joking?

the timeless Christmas tree      Beautifully Beheld

Charlie Becker and the John Galt of Allendale Road     … food for thought, any thought

On Jockstraps and Driving Directions                     so little time

looking back at “courage”             “they might have been lonely”

SOME FACTS AND INSIGHT INTO THE GREAT KIDNAPPING OF 1958

Bob Thurbon ….. the Steelers out, the Eagles in, but what’s the difference?

may I have a word?…..          SUMMER of 1957      Things I Remember ….

Parasitus: (Latin translation for freeloader, sponger, and guest)

seeking relevance……………..                 ………………the second coin…………..

so little time      putting my affairs in order……….     The morning after ….

Are we all experts on Bar-B-Que?           Did any of you know…………?

Ebber-dog and the “fisher”        CHAPTER 1 — Boredom

 img 2  Friends of Jim Powell, including old acquaintances, current and past business associates, and Palm City neighbors may be more hard pressed than others to find a “good read” but there are a few, so check them out …

canes, caves, and casseroles              maybe she wasn’t joking?

….. a feathered point of view!    The Next Level        Ebber-dog and the “fisher”

I almost had a story to tell……..     …. eeny, meeny, miny, moe

Bob Thurbon ….. the Steelers out, the Eagles in, but what’s the difference?

1947 – Frances, Little Brother, and the big black pot  … food for thought, any thought

putting my affairs in order……….         ….. my “in between” moment in time …..

and especially ….. CHAPTER 1 — Boredom

All the rest of them .…… they’re all good but this is where I bury my more controversial scribblings and marginal efforts. Periodically, I’ll probably weaken and promote them up to one of the “first teams”. In the mean time, … can you reap where I haven’t sown?

I’m told I need a “Profile” …..?        … politics and religion … why not?

I may never get to go this way again.

The End

 

maybe she wasn’t joking?

Dr. Joseph Dobson Sr. (1720-1791), a University educated physician, was born in England and settled in western North Carolina Colony before 1768.

It is believed Dobson lived on the south side of the Catawba River near present day Glen Alpine where he operated a private school. He served as a physician during the American Revolution and afterwards became the first Clerk of Superior Court for the Morgan District.

In 1785, Dobson became the entry taker for Burke County, which at that time extended to what is now Tennessee. This position enabled him to easily accumulate more than 100,000 acres in western North Carolina and establish a dynasty that lived well beyond his passing.

It was into this prosperous and legendary family that a daughter was born in 1872. Tima Jane Dobson did not grow into a beautiful woman–she was almost six feet tall and lacked in qualities of social demure. She may have waited longer than customary or desired, but on Christmas day, 1898, she married James Elias Powell. Jim Powell had flop ears, was of slight stature, and the son of a sharecropper. Reading between the lines, Miss Dobson had married well below her station in life but things were to turn out well. The Powells moved on to a piece of bottom land (presumably a wedding gift) and started a family.

In 1916 the Duke Power Co. began damn construction and the flooding of what was to become Lake James. The Powell homestead would soon be underwater. By now there were eight children along with Mama and Papa Powell and they all packed up and moved to their new home in Horse Shoe, NC. It was here, on a farm along the French Broad River, that my father was raised.

pic2Mama and Papa Powell with all the children and Uncle Clarence’s new bride. cir. 1925

It was also here that, years later, I along with my parents, my brother and sisters and whatever pet or pets we had, made the automobile trip to every summer. We were only going to visit aunts and uncles because all the old folks had died (that seemed so simple to contemplate when we were young).

How old I was, I don’t remember but somewhere along the line I was told that Mama Powell had been the keeper of knowledge when it came to where we all came from. Genealogy was a word still buried in the dictionary but my grandmother had left multiple copies of, what everyone called, our “family history”. There was no elaborate family placard or bound journal–just a few pages of names, dates and places, all in Mama Powell’s own handwriting on lined note-pad paper. Being too young to care about any of this … the years passed, I grew old, and these written pages were tucked away in one of the usual “never-to-be-found-again” places.

In the overall history of mankind much, if not most, of our knowledge is handed down from one generation to the next. For the first fifty years of my life I never laid eyes on my grandmother’s written names, dates, and places but every member of my extended family–cousins, nephews, nieces, and in-laws included, had heard tell of Mama Powell’s oft repeated description of the Powell Family pedigree: “You all come from a long line of Englishmen, Germans, Scots-Irish, and Portuguese N*****s”. As distasteful as it might seem–this lineage tracking statement, word-for-word including the “N word”, became a standard laugh line at family get-togethers. No thought was given to its hurtful nature … it was just the Powell way of blending in with the salt of the earth.

Until the last few weeks, these words were either forgotten or ignored as being a long ago attempt at humor by a matronly grandmother raised in the 19th century deep south. We all assumed it was just her way of down-playing the fame, wealth, and notoriety of the Dobson name or, more probably, lovingly besmirching the Powell clan she had married into. When, on the rare occasion, a younger member of the family or an outsider ask if the story was “really true”–a laugh, a shake of the head, and a denial was always forthcoming. “No, Mama Powell liked to cut the fool. She was just joking, and besides … Portuguese aren’t black.”

Where I had found the article is not important but what I learned and remembered from it … well you be the judge.

Appalachian people who boasted of Portuguese ancestry to avoid slavery were actually African descendants.

Taken from an ASSOCIATED PRESS article
PUBLISHED:  24 May 2012

Varied and sometimes wild claims have been made about the origins of a group of dark-skinned Appalachian residents once known derisively as the Melungeons. Some speculated they were descended from Portuguese explorers, or perhaps from Turkish slaves or Gypsies. Now a new DNA study in the Journal of Genetic Genealogy attempts to separate truth from oral tradition and wishful thinking.

The study found the truth to be somewhat less exotic: Genetic evidence shows that the families historically called Melungeons are the offspring of sub-Saharan African men and white women of northern or central European origin.
And that report, which was published in April in the peer-reviewed journal, doesn’t sit comfortably with some people who claim Melungeon ancestry. “There were a whole lot of people upset by this study”, lead researcher Roberta Estes said, noting that many preferred their assumed origins. “They just knew they were Portuguese, or Native American”.

Beginning in the early 1800s, or possibly before, the term Melungeon (meh-LUN’-jun) was applied as a slur to a group of about 40 families along the Tennessee-Virginia border. But it has since become a catch-all phrase for a number of groups of mysterious mixed-race ancestry. In recent decades, interest in the origin of the Melungeons has risen dramatically with advances both in DNA research and with the advent of Internet resources that allow individuals to trace their ancestry without digging through dusty archives.

Reginald Daniel, a sociologist at the University of California-Santa Barbara who’s spent more than thirty years examining multiracial people in the U.S. said that race-mixing in the U.S. isn’t a new phenomenon. “All of us are multiracial,” he said. “We are only recapturing a more authentic U.S. history.”

Other researchers theorize that the various Melungeon lines may have sprung from the unions of black and white indentured servants living in Virginia in the mid-1600s, before slavery was well established and widespread. They conclude that as laws were put in place to penalize the mixing of races, the various family groups could only intermarry with each other, even migrating together from Virginia through the Carolinas before settling primarily in the mountains of East Tennessee. Claims of Portuguese ancestry likely were a ruse they used in order to remain free and retain other privileges that came only with being considered white.

Estimates conclude that there must be several thousand descendants of the historical Melungeons alive today. The origin of the word Melungeon is unknown, but there is no doubt it was considered a slur by white residents in Appalachia who suspected the families of being mixed race. ‘It’s sometimes embarrassing to see the lengths our ancestors went through to hide their African heritage, but look at the consequences’ said Wayne Winkler, past president of the Melungeon Heritage Association. Then ask yourself … “what would I have done differently”?

Pic C          Pic B (2)

Melungeon–Ugly connotations: With the name originating in the 1800s, many tried to prove they were not of African descent to escape slavery or, after the Civil War, not fall victim to penalizing laws

After reading this article, I remember smiling to myself and wondering if maybe, just maybe, Mama Powell knew more than she let on… maybe she wasn’t joking? Her handwritten list of the family men and women that had preceded me into this world was somewhere–but where? My sister, Lynn, said she remembered seeing it with some old letters after our mother passed away but nothing could be found and the search was soon forgotten.

That was three or four years ago. Last week, after tracking down the article and reading it again, I started thumbing through a collection of old photos and newspaper clippings for no good reason except to temporarily escape from COVID-19 purgatory when there they were. The treasured pages were tucked into a tattered envelope with some old deeds and land surveys. At first glance, it is obvious that Mama Powell made no effort to tie the generations together. She had probably reproduced her manuscript by copying directly from at least two, and likely more, family Bibles. One of the first names I picked up on was Jarrett. Mama Powell’s mother was a Jarrett and I remember getting a phone call back in the 1990’s from some “good-ole-boy” in Goldsboro, NC asking me if it was true “that Dale Jarrett, the NASCAR driver is my (his) second cousin?” (it was)

Carefully laying out the pages in front of me, the names and dates formed a homespun mosaic of times gone by.

Mama Powell wrote

There, mingled together in no discernable generational order, were the Dobsons and the Powells along with the Jarretts and the O’Neils. There were long ago dates of babies being born and of the old ones leaving them behind. There were the names of foreign lands and … and … at the bottom of page 3 and flowing over to the next page:

Isaac Letherwood born in Portugal S/ain 1749. Rebecca Birtchfield born in Germany 1754 were married 1774 To This union 3 children Betsey Daniel & Harriet. … and … there was also a two word notation Mama Powell had added below it.

It’s going to take some soul searching and I’m not sure exactly how other members of my family will accept this new revelation but maybe Mama Powell wasn’t joking? Maybe I am part Portuguese?

Jim Powell

 

 

 

 

how many times?

Statue

Three years ago we were pulling them down …

The email below was sent to the Editor of the Palm Beach Post and many of my high school classmates in June of 2017. I just thought it might be of interest once again–what with recent societal events taking the turn that they have …

to: the Editor of the Palm Beach Post and my High School Classmates (Palm Beach High School, Class of 1958)

In case you missed it–the Confederate Memorial in the Woodlawn Cemetery in West Palm Beach honoring Civil War veterans that ended up fighting on the losing side is about to become the next bit of Southern heritage to be expunged from history. I am not a red necked, bigoted, tobacco chewing, rebel flag waving good ole boy. I am a serious student of American History and, although I am descended from numerous slave holders and a Confederate soldier that died at Malvern Hill, I am of the firm opinion that a Southern victory in the War of Northern Aggression would have been unfortunate. Unfortunate not only for a fledgling nation but for the future history of all of mankind.

Acknowledging the pure ugliness of the very concept of slavery and recognizing that its preservation was the primary reason for the secession of the southern states I am still forced to ask a question. When will the politically correct crowd “call off the dogs”?

Assuming the answer to be “never”; I want to give them their next project. This one will be of much greater impact and should keep them occupied for years to come. It will involve voters and politicians from the Everglades to the pan-handle and stir up emotions on a scale we can only imagine!

WE NEED TO RENAME 21 FLORIDA COUNTIES!!!!

Baker                                    James McNair Baker      a Confederate Senator

Bradford                              Richard Bradford           the first Florida Confederate officer to die in the Civil War

Calhoun                                John C. Calhoun              leading Southern politician and slave holder

Clay                                        Henry Clay                       Kentucky statesman, founder of the Whig Party and slave holder

Gadsden                                James Gadsden               considered slavery to be “a social blessing” and abolitionists to be “the greatest curse of the Nation”

Hendry                                  Francis A. Hendry          Confederate cavalry officer and slave owner

Jackson                                  Andrew Jackson              7th President of the US, a slave owner and soon to lose his place on the $20 bill to Harriet Tubman

Jefferson                               Thomas Jefferson            3rd President of the US, author of the Declaration of Independence and, you guessed it, a slave owner

Lee                                          Robert E. Lee                    no comment

Levy                                        David Levy Yulee            imprisoned for nine months after the Civil War for “supporting slavery and secession”

Madison                                James Madison                 4th President of the US, hailed as the “Father of the Constitution” and owner of hundreds of slaves during his lifetime

Marion                                   Francis Marion                 the “Swamp Fox” of the American Revolution, from South Carolina and a slave holder

Monroe                                  James Monroe                   5th President of the US, a Virginia Planter and owner of hundreds of slaves

Pasco                                      Samuel Pasco                     Southern “Planter” and, naturally, a slave owner

Polk                                         James K. Polk                     President of the US during the Mexican War and owner of 25 slaves

Putnam                                  Benjamin A. Putnam        Florida Legislator and slave owner

Sumter                                   Thomas Sumter                 Revolutionary War General, cotton plantation owner and slave holder

Taylor                                     Zachary Taylor                  another US President from the South whose family owned 150 slaves

Walton                                   George Walton                   first Secretary of Florida Territory and slave owner

Washington                          George Washington         “Father of our Country”, first President of the US and one of Virginia’s largest slave owners

Dixie                                                   now why would anybody have a problem with this?

 

Jim Powell

 

Over forty thousand of North Carolina’s men went off to war and never came home. In retrospect, their cause was both lost and wrong and, as a white Southerner and a proud American, I recognize this fact. How many times do I have to say “I’m sorry” and is it really necessary to hang the memory of so many fallen fathers, sons, and husbands from a light post in Durham?

Hanging Rebel

 

Beautifully Beheld

This past December I posted a piece entitled canes, caves, and casseroles. It was received with measured approval by the male segment of those that follow me but virtually ignored or met with open disdain by most of the women. I’m told that I “lack sensitivity.”
In all of the darkness that surrounded these reviews there was, however, a tiny candle of encouragement. One of the few ladies that responded favorably to this particular writing did so in a manor that was not only heart warming and sincere, but revealing and candid beyond belief. I won’t be giving you her name because she has asked me not to. In fact, I shall go to great lengths to shield her from all inquisitive minds.
Although never admitting she had ever approached a man with a casserole–she did, over a period of three or four days, open her heart and attempt to demonstrate for me the difference between, in her words, “alone” and “lonely.” She made no pretense as to the model for her characterization–it was herself. I’ve given her the name of “Beheld Assuch” and the reasoning will become obvious as her story unfolds.
Beheld’s husband has been dead for … let’s just call it “a proper amount of time for grieving”. Like the rest of us in the “Class of 58”, she is searching for relevance and motivation. She is an avid reader that tries to expand the quality of her personal interactions, all while the number of those she can interact with is constantly in decline. At increasingly regular intervals, the local newspaper obituaries, a regretful letter from a friend or relative, or one of Ruthie’s thoughtful “sad news” updates inevitably takes another away.
Beheld recently decided to start seeing men again and, sensing that by virtue of my remoteness, harmonious marital status, and ill-perceived father-confessor demeanor, she could find a sympathetic ear for the new turns her life was beginning to take … she emailed her story to me.
Beheld began by describing two men she has dated since her husband’s death and her feelings in the aftermath. They were referred to only as Gentlemen #1 and #2 and it appears she has already decided to scrap the first one. Gentleman #2 is however, if he persists, still very much in the picture. According to what I’m told, he has demonstrated that losing ones horns may be the accepted norm for Reindeer stags but #2 has “never been to Scotland” and shows “no signs of molting anytime soon.” That’s as risque as Beheld’s written confession ever got and, respecting her wishes, I shan’t replicate her words to me except those that are germane to the point I want to make. The next few paragraphs are taken (almost in context) from my email reply to Beheld:
    There are a variety of motives behind every action we take but the driving essence in most of our endeavors is “we are seeking love and adoration.” In writing about Gentleman #2, you said “he brought my confidence back.  Made me feel beautiful and loved.” Later, again in your words,–” He still makes me feel beautiful and loved.” 
beauty is in the eye of the beholder” … according to reliable sources: first used by Margaret Wolfe Hungerford in her 1878 book Molly Brown. 
“beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but a greater beauty is in the eye of the one beheld as beautiful” … a concept first postulated by Jim Powell in an email to (Beheld Assuch) dated in 2020. 
   When another person gives us a compliment in any form, they are expressing their adoration. Your detailed remembrance of something so insignificant as my ceremonial entrance into a classroom (on the first day of our junior year at PBHS) may never have occurred (I certainly don’t remember it) but the fact that you say it did, and spoke of it sixty-three years later, is telling. Even as an old man, ancient adoration means that I was, albeit years ago, beheld as beautiful … by at least one person. 
   Based on what you tell me, Gentleman #2 was, and still is the Star of the Show. Don’t let him get away. He may, as you say, be a little too Group oriented when it comes to his social interactions with other women but that shouldn’t disqualify him. My wife and I have been married fifty-seven years. This relationship has not endured because I was the ideal husband, but because she realized from the very beginning that … although she didn’t want to be part of a Group (again your words), to one extent or another, her husband always would be. No elaboration is required or offered. The woods are full of resentful and lonely divorced women that got tired of ‘keeping their marriage together’. My mother put up with a highly flawed man until the day she died and I’ll be eternally grateful because of it. 
    (Beheld), you are beautiful. You and I know you are because you are beheld as being so by a gentleman named only with a number and another that, as a young girl, you once shared (an English class) with. It can’t get any better than that. 
That ended my email to Beheld. Today, as Valentine’s Day is upon us, I want to make a very special someone feel beautiful and loved. All you guys out there can do the same if you’ll only take the task to heart (pun intended) and put in the effort. If you woke up this morning and thought only of taking another pee, opening the sports page, and that first cup of coffee–you qualify for … well you just qualify.  If you were lucky enough to have had a woman in your bed last night, or you aspire to getting one you’ve long sought in there tonight, let’s figure out a way to make today special. Let’s make it happen. Let’s carve out the hours to make another human being feel a glow of self worth and beauty.
I’ve searched my memory bank for the best way to make it happen and I think I need to go back in time. I need to go back to an era when innocence came not only with my age but also with the world we lived in. I need to go back to when, unlike the years since, the Group I was part of included numerous unattached members of the fairer sex. Not just included, but was filled with them and I could freely offer love and adoration to each and every one. I could make them all feel beautiful! And maybe, just maybe if I was lucky, at least one of them would decide to accept my overtures and return my ardor.
It was February 14, 1951 … Mrs. Clemon’s fifth grade class … Southboro Elem. School … West Palm Beach, FL. My mother had told me: “If you hand out one, you have to have one for each girl in the class.” This was going to cramp my style–but where there’s a will, there’s a way. I knew I would need twenty or so messages of endearment but I also knew, with proper subterfuge, the messages didn’t need to be exactly the same.
I had made them myself with a fountain pen, a red crayon, the big scissors, and some pieces of that thin cardboard that came inside my father’s white dress shirts when they were new from the store. On most of the heart shaped cards I cut out, my message would be simple … “Be My Valentine”, and I might not even sign it. But for one of the girls (okay, maybe a few more than one) I needed a romantic written orchestration that would sweep her off her feet. I needed a collection of words that would convey a message of sophistication and amorous maturity unlike any she had ever witnessed before. Yes, this is what I needed and the night before the big day arrived I drug out the World Book Encyclopedias to read up on antiquity’s greatest lovers. They were laid out on the bed in front of me and if I was to compose the perfect romantic enticement to reproduce on these specially selected Valentine’s Day cards … surely Orpheus, Zeus, or Aphrodite could give me inspiration.
In the wee hours of the morning on that memorable day, I finished my handy-work. No need for envelopes–just fold’em in half, write a dear name on the outside of only the selected few, and head off to school with a shoe box full of entreaties under my arm. After getting into the classroom just as the bell rang, … nothing left to do but swagger down each of the aisles handing out masterfully crafted invitations to my rendition of grade school romance.

 

Valentine Card

canes, caves, and casseroles

In Greek legend, the Sphinx devoured all travelers who could not answer the riddle it posed: “What is the creature that walks on four legs in the morning, two legs at noon and three in the evening?” The hero Oedipus gave the answer, “Man,” causing the Sphinx’s death.

For as long as I can remember, it has been the noontime of my life… I’ve walked on two legs. Over the past few years I have been diagnosed with peripheral neuropathy and tend to teeter and, sometimes, topple. Now, as I contemplate the use of a cane, all of my high school classmates’ long-held suspicions as to Jim Powell being “seriously unbalanced” have been confirmed.

But there is a bright side in the turn my daily routine has taken. As my body begins to fail me my mind, or at least my perception of it, is reaching new heights. Almost on a daily bases I have an experience that triggers a recollection, that triggers a comparison that, in turn, triggers a conclusion. If, in retrospect, I can go back and tie a few of these happenings and concepts together in a logical and cognitive narrative–I might be able to put something in writing that, although proving painfully unreadable, could baffle psychiatrists for years to come.

Let’s start with last week when I stumbled on a National Geographic TV documentary … Wild Scotland. While being entertained, I learned that Reindeer are a polygynous specie. This means that male reproductive success is directly correlated with the dominance status of individual males (in school-yard parlance, this equates to: “the class bully gets dibs on screwing all the chicks”). I also learned that Reindeer are unique in that both males and females grow horns. Males, as could be expected, use theirs to fight each other to compete for mating rights but no explanation was offered to explain why the ladies were so endowed. It was also very interesting that, almost as an afterthought, we were told that the bulls would shed their huge racks in a molting process each year after mating but that females never lose theirs.

stud                           book

In the late 1960’s I read a book entitled The Naked Ape authored by a zoologist named Desmond Morris. It was from this book that I extracted an evolutionary proposition and embraced it as a life-long fundamental truth. I did so by accepting the fact that man, like most animals, has evolved … and simultaneously agreeing with the author in concluding that this human evolution has not achieved the same results in both men and women. With this as my justification–I openly opine:

When even the most dominate and testosterone laden of pre-historic men realized that the dangerous task of tracking and killing large mammals for food required the banding together with other men, all armed with spears and clubs … he would soon come to the realization that it probably would not be a good idea to have regularly shared his bed with one of their women, much less–all of their women. This practice of unspoken reliance and loyalty in primitive bands of hunters is evident today in the way men feel about the guy next to them on the football line of scrimmage, in a hazardous workplace, or in a foxhole. With a few unfortunate exceptions … if you count on him, if you respect him, or if for any reason he is charged with having your back–you don’t mess around with her!

Meanwhile, back in the cave: to quote an old acquaintance … “women can be treacherous”. Realizing that the father of her children and the man she is counting on to bring home food and animal skins might not return from hunting the woolly mammoth and saber-toothed tiger, the female of the specie was evolving with a different mind-set and priorities. Female humans, as with most primate species, need many resources to support their maternal fulfillment. Primate offspring are altricial rather than precocial. They are born helpless and are dependent on their mothers for several years. This being the case, the pre-historic woman lived in constant fear of the possibility of the death of her man. The hardship that would follow could lead to neglect, exile, and even starvation for her and her young ones.

Even if her provider did return from the hunt, she would have realized that any death in the hunting party and the resulting creation, back in the cave, of a de facto widow would pose a threat to her and her offspring. What if the girl in the next cavern cubical were to lose her man? Worse yet, what if that other woman was younger, had prettier hair, no children, a dynamite figure, and her breasts didn’t sag? How long would it be before that, now unattached, gal started wiggling her barely covered rear end as she sought solace in her grief around the communal camp fire?

Need I say that abandonment, promiscuity, and adultery were concepts that had not been fully recognized or subscribed to by the fur and loincloth clad men that would have been stoking the flames of that fire. Everyone knew what the situation was–if this widowed woman was to survive, she needed to find another man and she didn’t have much time. Without a provider of food and shelter she would, in time, surely weaken and die but a much more sinister and immediate danger was at hand … the other ladies in the cave.

lost her man

As man was evolving to put his trust in other men, woman came to the realization that other women in the cave potentially posed the greatest danger she and, more importantly, her children would ever face.

No, man is not a fallen angel, but a risen ape, remarkable in his resilience, energy, and imagination–yet an animal nonetheless and as I get older I’m both more religious in my aspirations and more observant of my surroundings. I spend time looking up at the clouds and wondering what it will be like to be reunited with my mother and father while my Creator looks on. That same day might find me praying that the Good Lord will take me first because I don’t want to be left on this earth alone. I feel this way for a most selfish reason … I would make a terrible bachelor and I’m deathly afraid of becoming a target for “the Casserole Ladies”.

Nick Coppola, one of my best friends in life, lived for quite a few years after his wife Marcy passed away. Within days of him becoming a widower, half the ladies in the condo where he lived started showing up with casseroles and offers to stay and show him how to warm them up (the food dish–I presume). Naturally, invitations to come to their abode for dinner were soon to follow. Nick came to the realization very quickly that he, and the female population around him, had come full circle in the naked ape’s evolutionary progression. There were no large mammals to hunt and there was no band of armed hunters in the condo cave that he and his female suiters had created but, innocent and unknowingly, he had become a virtually unchallenged dominate male. At his age his horns had long since fallen away and would never return, but those of his suddenly attentive neighbors were very evident in the casseroles that began to stack up in his refrigerator.

Nick was lonely but also wise enough to recognize that he was surrounded by beings that had not evolved the same as he, or any other man for that matter. The female humans around him, like the reindeer doe, had never molted. Their children had left the nest years ago but they were still firmly in the grasp of evolutionary need. They were in a post-menopausal state of horniness and were engaged with the other condo ladies in fierce culinary combat for his affections.

As the years went by, Nick was successful in avoiding the matrimonial overtures of his suiters. Adhering to the Sphinx, he eventually began walking on three legs, took more pees and afternoon naps, and in general was very content with the latter-years life style he had chosen. Yes, he had escaped the evolutionary trap that had threatened his solitude. The only remorse he ever expressed came in a moment of poignant reflection when he admitted to me that he did “sorta miss the casseroles.”

old lady

Presidential Elections … what history has to tell us

Dear Family and Friends,

I am increasingly concerned by the political discourse that has descended on our great nation. A ideological divide has taken hold that pits a highly controversial Republican against a Democratic Party that seems fragmented and almost rudderless in selecting a candidate to oppose him.

It is obvious that voters in vast reaches of the United States have their minds made up and nothing will change their ballots in the upcoming election. It is equally obvious that a majority of voters in other States in our Union will vote for “anyone but” a man they consider totally unfit to occupy the White House. The problem isn’t only evident in the news media and the halls of Government … even innocent political discussions at the family dinner table risk turning toxic.

How this whole scenario plays out poses a challenging question. Over the next few months, will the Democrats nominate a candidate that proposes great societal changes but could alienate large segments of the electorate by being perceived as too progressive? Could the party of Andrew Jackson reach back to its roots and nominate  the Vice President … “old JB”? He is promising a return to the status quo. With all the uncertainty, a third party candidate may even emerge from the field of Democrats promising a new approach that will, supposedly, bring the people “back together again”.

Who becomes the Democratic standard bearer will probably determine whether or not the Republican can be defeated. If there is any significant drop off in voter participation or, God forbid, fragmentation of the Democratic Party itself–even a man that openly advocates taking away rights guaranteed in our Constitution could be elected. If this should happen, none of the dire predictions I read in the Atlanta or Richmond newspaper editorials or hear in the barber shop will be out of the realm of possibility.

(signed)     George Powell,   Caldwell County, NC …

… this letter would have been dated in May of 1860 and may, or may not, have ever been written. If so, it could have been authored by my great, great, great grandfather, the owner of nine slaves and a dyed-in-the-wool southern Democrat. This would have been shortly after the Republican Party, in convention, had already selected their nominee for President of the United States.

I’m sorry if this turn in the narrative is somewhat different than what you expected–maybe a little explanation is in order …

1)         the highly controversial Republican that George Powell, my ancestor, was referring to was, obviously, not Donald Trump. His name was Abraham Lincoln.

2)         the vast reaches of the United States that, in 1860, had their minds made up were not the future “Make America Great Again” red states of the deep South but those of the 19th century Northeast, Mid-West, and Pacific Coast where abolitionist sentiments ran high.

3)         the majority of voters in most of the fifteen Southern slave states would, assuredly, vote for anybody except Abraham Lincoln.

4)         over the years and prior to his Presidential campaign, Abraham Lincoln openly advocated freeing the slaves–an institution, arguably, enshrined in the 1787 US Constitution.

5)         the candidate that proposed great societal changes but could alienate large segments of the electorate was Stephen A. Douglas … not Bernie Sanders.

6)         “old JB”,  the Vice President mentioned was not Joe Biden. It was John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky.

7)         it was a Democrat named John Bell, not Mike Bloomberg, who largely financed his own campaign and entered the race as a third party candidate. He condemned the policies of both major parties and ran on the promise to unify a badly shattered Nation.

… and how, and what, came to pass …

The Democrats met in Charleston, SC for their convention. Charleston was one of the most proslavery city in the south which would make it more difficult for Stephen Douglas, who was the frontrunner, to receive the nomination. The Charleston Mercury stated on May 20, 1859: “If Douglas is nominated the Democratic Party is forever gone.”

Most Southern Democrats went to Charleston with one overriding goal; to destroy Douglas. What was it about Douglas that irritated them so much? Stephen Douglas was a big supporter of popular sovereignty, which was the idea that the settlers of a territory would vote on whether it would come into the Union as a slave or free state. Douglas had a moderate stance when it came to slavery and a slave code, which was obviously the main focus during this time. He was the one that proposed that settlers in Kansas and Nebraska should decide if they would become a free state or slave state. Southerners feared that with the North having a greater population than them and many more railroads, they would be able to flood the territories and have them all come into the Union as free states. The South would then lose power in congress and the North would be able to impose on the southern institution of slavery.

Douglas was unable to get the amount of votes needed in Charleston to receive the nomination. Slave state delegates voted 108 to 11 against Douglas but there were enough votes from northern Democrats for Douglas to prevent anyone else from receiving the nomination. The convention ended without a candidate being selected.

The party would reconvene later in Baltimore in June of 1860. In this second Democratic convention Douglas almost received enough votes for him to get the party’s nomination on the first ballot. Before that had a chance to happen the lower south states left the convention and nominated their own candidate, John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky–the sitting Vice President. The Democratic Party had split and, to complicate things even more, a third party candidate would soon emerge.

1860 Photo

1860 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION RESULTS

                                                            Electoral Votes                        Popular Vote

Abraham Lincoln, Republican                               180                              1,866,452        39.8%

Stephen A. Douglas, Democrat                                 12                              1,382,713       29.5%

John C. Breckinridge, Democrat                              72                                 847,953       18.1%

John Bell, Constitutional Union                               39                                 592,906       12.6%

What came next was the darkest chapter in American history.

Gettysburg, July 1863

Gettysburg   July 5th, 1863

the timeless Christmas tree

Remembering Christmases past can be a melancholy exercise for an old man. All of the grown-ups that told me about Santa Claus died years ago but I can’t get them out of my mind … not them, and not the trees.

In West Palm Beach circ. 1950 you could tell a lot by a family’s Christmas tree. Patsy’s dad, Dr. Stephens, always had a Canadian spruce that was so tall it had to be set up in the stairwell of their huge two story home on Greymond Drive. Sammy Bigbie’s family just cut down one of the scrub pines on the Bailey property next door and Kenny Yonovitz, a Jew, never had one in his home on Washington Rd. The ornamentation was always different too. Multi colored vs. all white vs. white and blue lights. Angel hair vs. tin foil ice cycles vs. spray on or soap flake snow–plastic angle or star on top … the list goes on and on.

Yes, we all remember the trees, but in my family they had a special significance. We earned a portion of our livelihood by selling them. Every year, around Thanksgiving, a refrigerated SCL railroad boxcar would be spotted in back of the Powell Bros. Produce warehouse on Clare Ave. and bundles of tightly bound trees from British Columbia would be off-loaded to trucks. The next stop was Ingram’s Supermarket on the corner of Belvedere and Lake Ave. Here, the trees were freed from their wire bondage, shook out, and leaned against the east side of the building where they would be sold to holiday shoppers.

Over the years, half of my high school buddies from the south end of town earned Christmas money by selling trees at Ingram’s for my Daddy. Running the Christmas tree lot even let my father play Santa Claus to quite a few families in the Palm Beaches. Some PBHS moms (Mrs. Browning, Mrs. Watson, and Mrs. Varney come to mind) picked up, as Christmas gifts from Powell Bros., some of the prettiest trees on the lot. The ladies were public school lunch room managers and among our most valued customers.

The net result of being in the business was not what you might expect. The Powells never had the prettiest tree in town. In fact, we always had “anything but!” By the time my mother had time to go by Ingram’s, the lot had always been picked over and the only trees left were too short, too spindly, too dead and dried-out, or too misshaped to be sold. Looking back … it made no difference. It was my family’s Christmas. We had a loving home and the world was right.

All of these thing happened some sixty years ago. Since then, Dee and I have raised a son and a daughter, seen the birth of five healthy grandsons and witnessed the evolution of everything around us. Nothing is same as it was: not my telephone, not my entertainment media, not the political discourse, not the climate, and certainly not my ageing body. Isn’t it gratifying that at least the Christmas tree, with its religious significance and magical charm, has weathered the test of time and remained as we all remember it.

Following this line of thought, I decided to take the time this morning, before the first of three NFL Football TV broadcasts and accompanying adult beverages numb my senses, to share my wonderful wife’s 2019 Christmas tree with all of you.

The Tree

Maybe my memory should be added to the list of things that aren’t quite the same?

CHAPTER 15 — Fuzzy’s the mailman

In 1781 Walter Knowles couldn’t walk down the streets of Savannah without everyone knowing who he was. The population of coastal Georgia was virtually all loyal to the Crown but their food supply had been cut off by George Washington’s followers up-river. The Tory families were hungry and Knowles traveled regularly down the coast from his island plantation on the Broad River near Beaufort, SC bringing … rice and beans.

By 1812 Kevin Knowles, along with his aged father and the rest of the clan, had been forced out of the Carolinas and were ensconced on Tangier Island in the Chesapeake Bay. They had been welcomed by the Cornish Loyalist that Cornwallis had left behind along with a remnant of the Royal Navy. Their only problem, what with another war going on, was obtaining a source of fresh food. Kevin became the most respected Guinea-man on tidewater’s Eastern Shore because of his nightly ventures. Every morning would find him back on the dock with … crabs and oysters.

In 1864 Zander Knowles claimed Eleuthera as his Bahamian home island and his family had been there since 1815 when they had been forced out of Virginia and awarded a land grant by the English Crown. He was a familiar figure on the streets of Nassau but even more recognized by the scattered population along Florida’s Indian River.

The lighthouse at the Jupiter Inlet had been darkened by Confederate sympathizers and Union blockaders patrolled the coastline but this didn’t slow down Zander. Further north, the Confederacy needed cannon and Enfield rifles and blockade runners brought them in at Wilmington, NC. The plantation owners and their elegant ladies along the balmy Indian River, however, had other desires and Mr. Knowles could always be counted on to fulfill their needs from the fully stocked warehouses and shops in Nassau … Brazilian coffee and fine silks.

By 1925 the land boom in Florida was in full swing and the Volstead Act and Prohibition had rung in a new era. Binder-Boys were trading real estate on street corners like ballpark franks and the juke-joints on Banyan St. in West Palm Beach had been taken over by antique shops. There wasn’t anyone on the Gold Coast that didn’t know Glover Knowles. As a young man, he had settled in Ravera (that’s Riviera Beach for you new-comers) with his parents and siblings around the turn of the century. The reason for the move was the newly dredged Palm Beach Inlet and the lucrative market for seafood being shipped to Northern climes. The Knowles family still maintained their family ties and connections in the Islands and were soon adding to their net hauls by trading with Bahamian fishermen in West End Settlement and down off the coast of Andros.

Seafood craving local restaurant goers, as well as the seasonal influx of well-heeled epicurean snow-birds at the Breakers and the Biltmore had nothing to fear. Every few days, or more probably nights, you could count on Glover to tie up near the Inlet with a few fish and the most sought-after of all Palm Beach culinary necessities … Scotch and Rye.

I had caught up with Avon at one of his stores. On the phone, we agreed to meet in the Mall parking lot because he was “in a hurry to get to the Lantana airport”. We met up at one of the side entrances and headed for a food court.

Walking through the Palm Beach Mall with Avon Knowles was like emerging from a limo at an Oscar Awards Ceremony with the favored nominee on your arm. Everybody knew Avon. Every man or woman our age ran up to greet him and bell-bottomed guys and gals that looked like they had just crawled out of a van in Haight-Ashbury or had a toke at Woodstock were winking thumbs-up and going for high-fives. The Knowles family magnetism had definitely transcended the ages and been passed on down.

It was easy to see why. Avon was single, rock-hard, devilishly handsome, and his “I’m laughing at the world” smile never left his face. He owned a chain of trendy retail seafood emporiums in Palm Beach, Boca Raton and virtually all of the other South Florida enclaves of both “Old money” and the “Nouveau riche” alike. He was a local TV celebrity by virtue of his advertising segments featuring himself, along with other rubber apron clad white booted fishermen, off-loading freshly caught pompano destined for his icy display cases. He always emphasized that they came only from secret locations in the “Bluest of the Deep”. We all knew that pompano were usually found in less than eight feet of water and often in the sandy breaking surf, but … it sounded good.

Rumor had it that Avon held his Bahamian connections extremely confidential and that most of his closest business associates were blood relatives, some of which had never set foot in the United States. It was around these “off-shore” Knowles boys that other rumors circulated. Apparently, they didn’t spend much time fishing for pompano or diving for crawfish. They specialized in a much larger specie … grouper … square ones!

“Sorry I don’t have more time old man. You say you’ve been in the Keys?”

Pausing for, still, another admirer to shake his hand, I responded … “Yeah, left my boat down in Marathon but I hope to get back right away. Have you been down there lately?” He just shook his head …

A diet Coke and a big Orange–Avon got the tab and brought them over to a little table … “So what’s on your mind? You say you ran into Matheson?”

There was no reason to hide anything from Avon. If I was going to get any information from him, he needed to know the whole story. The only part I left out was my meeting with Terry Booth. For some reason–I didn’t think that would help the cause.

Avon, like myself, had lost track of Frank, so my accounting of our reunion at the Caribbean Club and his romantic overtures and reminisces brought back memories and induced one laugh after another. No sooner would I relay one of Matheson’s pranks of yore, than Avon would jump in with still another that I had never heard. We laughingly agreed that there wasn’t a woman alive that … well we agreed.

Once my story got around to relaying Frank’s current life, Avon’s mood began to change. For a long while, he just listened but showed no emotion and made no comment. It was only after hearing the two names that Frank had mentioned, that Avon started frowning and shaking his head. I picked up on it right away. They were the same two names that had kept me awake the past few nights … “Carlos” and “Norman”.

“Hey man, let’s drop this conversation right now.” Avon continued to speak but his face and eyes had taken on a stern and impersonal expression and gaze. “Don’t get tied up in this. Let it go. Get the fuck out of Dodge … Based on what your telling me, I can’t help Frank at all, but I can help you. These guys don’t screw around–they kill people who get in their way. If you’re smart, you’ll run, not walk, to that Exit door over there and not look back. Jim, this Carlos dude, Lehder’s his last name, is a Columbian thug that has every “wig” in Parliament in Nassau paid-off. He’s running cocaine through the Bahamas like an open spigot, and doesn’t give a damn who knows it. Are you sure that Frank is on Norman’s Cay?”

Thankfully, Avon had chosen to continue the dialog and I wasted no time in responding–“If he’s still alive, that’s the only place he can be. If he was on that racing boat that ran over that boy and his father, he’s in big trouble unless he spills the beans. If this Carlos hombre thinks Frank might do that … he’s a dead man walking.”

Bringing his thumb and curled index finger up to his chin and going into a “Thinker” pose, Avon slowly and quietly replied … “This will be the last time ever, that you and I  talk about Frank Matheson. I’m assuming that all you want from me is to find out if Frank is, as we speak, on Norman’s Cay? If that’s the case, I’ve got an idea. None of my people can even approach Norman’s. The Colombians know all of their boats and there’s no reason for any of them to go there anyway. There may be a better way.”

“There is a Club Med at Governor’s Harbour on Eleuthera. The place is a resort run by a bunch of Frenchmen that bring in their workers from all over the world. They all eventually learn to speak French and they have some fancy name for them, “Gentils Organisateurs”, but they just call them GO’s and the bottom line is–they’re not Bahamians and they only stay for six months. All of them … six months and they scatter to the wind. Club Med has something like a hundred of, what they call Villages, scattered all around the world and they continually rotate in new staff members on an individual basis … not as a group. Pick any three or four of the GO’s on Eleuthera right now and, six months from now, they’ll be in Bali, Sierra Leone, St. Tropez, or maybe even a new one they just opened up in Haiti.  It’s just the way they do business–all new faces in every Village … twice a year.”

“From the very start, management at the Club had big problems getting “work permits” issued by the boys in Nassau. They went through the drill with their opening staff but soon were looking for a way to by-pass the system. That’s where Fuzzy came into play. I don’t know his real name but he doesn’t shave very often so … He’s an old-timer that used to be a Royal Mail boat Captain. He knows the Out Islands like the back of his hand and that’s what led up to his ‘French connection’. Rather than go through all the red tape and pay the fee that the Government demands for each new ‘off-shore’ employee, the Club Med headquarters in Miami, they call it ‘Trident Services’, gave Fuzzy a full-time job. They hired him, as an outside contractor, to take guests on two or three-day dive trips out of the Village on Eleuthera. The only catch is–the divers that go and come on these excursions are not always guests on holiday.”

“The names on the name tags of the staff members at Club Med never change but the guys and gals wearing them do. The GO’s have even coined the concept of ‘Village Crazy Names’ to explain why they might have a three hundred pound Nigerian dude named ‘Blondie’ and a tiny little gal from Sweden called ‘Stud’. Today, every incoming new GO starts out by arriving in the good old USA on a tourist visa. From the Miami airport, they’re all driven down to the Keys where they hold up for a few days before Fuzzy shows up to take them for a little scenic cruse. At the same time, he drops off the ones they’re replacing. The only two Customs Agents at Governor’s Harbour are on the take and Fuzzy covers his tracks by always returning to port with the same size dive crew he departed with and a load of freshly caught crawfish …”

“These bugs are what brings Norman’s Cay into the picture. Since Lehder and his Cuban and Columbian cohorts don’t like visitors, Fuzzy, the old mailman, is the only fisherman they let anywhere near the island. He has the nearby reefs and grassy flats all to himself and that’s not all … crawfish love to hide in old wrecks and under things. Bahamians routinely set traps that consist of nothing but a four by eight foot piece of galvanized sheet metal laid flat on, but held off, the bottom by a few bricks or two-by-four runners. Just show up every couple of weeks, flip the metal lids off the bug’s hide-outs and warm up the butter.”

“On the final day of those special ‘diving trips’, where he’s returning from Florida with a load of new GOs, Fuzzy pays a short visit to the waters around Norman’s Cay and dives on his prey. If he hasn’t made the trip to the Keys and only camped out on, and dove around, some of the little islands in the Exumas for a couple of days with a group of over-weight school teachers from Detroit, he never goes near Norman’s. When he does, the reefs, flats, and sheet metal traps he has working for him around Lehder’s private island would give him plenty of bugs with only a dive or two–but that’s not where he finds most of his haul. That distinction falls to the aluminum super traps that Carlos has furnished him with … large ones that lie just off the beach and have turned into crawfish condominiums.”

“The Columbians are running planes in and out around the clock. They’ve got old C class Lockheeds bringing the cocaine in from South America and Pipers, Beech, and Cessnas hauling it off to, how shall I say it, ‘a neighborhood near you’. The only catch is–there’s no instrument landing equipment on the island’s air-strip nor in any of the smaller aircraft. If bad weather comes in unexpectedly and they can’t find the runway, the pilots have little choice but to splash down and hope for the best. Even if they have additional fuel on board, they have few alternate destinations available. I can just hear it now … ‘Miami International, Miami International, this Coke Hopper 624 requesting clearance to land on runway 105-E …’. There are probably five or six of these downed airplanes scattered in the water around the island but on the books in Carlos Lehder’s operation, the write-offs for a few lost planes is only a rounding error–he probably doesn’t give a shit about the pilots and, unless there’s a stash of coke or some cash on board, won’t even have his men dive on the crash site.”

“So Jim, here’s what I’ll do, and remember this is the last time you and I will ever mention the subject and, if confronted, I’ll deny any knowledge of everything we’ve talked about. I’m flying out of Lantana to Marsh Harbour, my pilot is waiting for me now. Once on the ground, I’ll put the wheels in motion to bring Fuzzy up to speed and make him an offer he won’t refuse. He doesn’t work with any of my cousins but he always tries to ‘get-along’. He should be able to go ashore on Norman’s or, at least, get some info on Matheson. I won’t, but I’ll have somebody contact you with information as to where, and when, you’ll be able to meet up with Fuzzy, let’s call him ‘the mailman’, on his next trip over. It might even be in Marathon.”

Abruptly, it was over. Avon had no expression on his face but his eyes were saying “don’t do it Jim.” He placed the palms of both hands flat on the table, paused for a moment, then stood up … “I got ‘a go. Remember … this is it, this is it!” he patted me on the shoulder, and walked away.

Plane              cocaine-photo

 

 

 

Ebber-dog and the “fisher”

Ebony was a small black cocker spaniel. My wife and I had begun calling her “Ebber-dog” as a puppy and, as with all pets, the name stuck. She’s buried in her own special place in the yard of our home here in Palm City along with forty-two years of peers, predecessors, and prodigy–both canine and feline. Most of their resting places are unmarked but we know exactly where each of them are.

Ebber-dog’s transition in my life’s passage centered around the late 1980’s and had all of the heart-warming moments we all have in remembering our four-legged life’s partners. With the years falling away, the details of all but one of these treasured memories rests with Ebony … but there was one–one magical interlude, and I can’t get it out of my mind.

In early December of 1988, my wife, Dee, and I had embarked on a sailing trip on Le Esperance, my 24′ cutter-rigged sailboat. Our destination was the St. John’s River and the City of DeLand where our son was starting his freshman year at Stetson. The lack of space on board dictated that stowage be minimal and the crew limited–the only one we had was black, with long hair and a cold nose.

Ebony

The first day out, with a light on-shore breeze and in the inter-coastal waterway near Vero Beach … Ebber-dog was perched on her haunches in the cock-pit with her fore-paws up on the port rail. Being on the lee side, she was watching the water go by only inches away when it happened–a bottle-nosed dolphin broke the surface right in front of her. She jumped back and, instantaneously, I yelled out: “Look Ebber-dog … fisher, fisher Ebber-dog!” After a short retreat, Ebony hesitantly went back to the rail and didn’t have long to wait. The dolphin resurfaced in the exact location, relative to the moving vessel, and its four-legged observer was mesmerized. The saga continued for four or five minutes, as the dolphin would return to the surface, blow out, and seemingly glance in Ebber-dog’s direction before disappearing, once again, in the boat’s wake. Long after our visitor had lost interest and swam away, the little cocker spaniel sat gazing at the same flowing target off the port rail.

No. This wasn’t the moment I remember so vividly … it’s only what would lead up to it. Dee and I continued our trip. Almost a week later, we reached Crow’s Bluff on up the St. John’s near DeLand and left Le Esperance in a marina. After visiting with our son, we returned home in a rental car–with a lot of dirty laundry … and our dog.

A lot transpired over the next year. 1989 saw the Powell family in America exit the food business, counting farming and excluding wars, for the first time in three hundred years. After selling Powell Purveyors, Le Esperance would, in stages, be sailed north and end up docked at, my college fraternity brother, Willie Goode’s “rivah house” on the Piankatank in “tide-wot ‘a” Virginia. The fall months of leisure were spent in the mountains of North Carolina and only interrupted by Hurricane Hugo’s passage from the coast. In November, with the falling leaves, the crew drove over to the Piankatank, turned in the rental, put on fresh water and provisions, sailed out into Chesapeake Bay and turned south. We were headed home and, yes … Ebber-dog was with us.

They say dogs don’t have very long memories, but it had been less than a year and … somewhere in the North Carolina Sounds … “Look Ebber-dog … fisher, fisher Ebber-dog!” She reacted immediately–ears up and tail waging, she scampered to the same exact spot along the boat’s port rail where she had seen, months before, the dolphin on the Indian River in Florida. The only problem was; the frolicking mammal wasn’t at the rail. It was twenty feet away on the opposite side of the boat. The only way I could bring the new sighting to Ebony’s attention was to pick her up, position her in another deck location, and hold her head in the direction of the next anticipated dolphin surfacing. Even then, she probably wouldn’t catch sight of the breaking and I found that I couldn’t, so much as, whisper the word “fisher” or Ebber-dog would go into a Pavlovian, bell-ringing, struggle to escape my grasp and return to her post in the cock-pit on the port side. We finally gave up. Unless I could maneuver the boat into an alignment that would put a passing dolphin, and there were many, near the exact spot–there was no reason to alert Ebony. I don’t think she saw another of her aquatic friends until …

We’d been two weeks in passage. All but a few nights, were spent anchored from cocktail time to sun-up in neat little coves off the inter-coastal waterway. We had Ebber-dog marine potty-trained utilizing a piece of Bahia sod on the fore-deck where drainage was automatic. This was very important, especially when that special day arrived and, as the sun was setting, we were getting ready to set the hook. There would be no “doggie poop park” to dingy in to because there was no dry land. We were somewhere south of Brunswick, GA. The tides are extreme at this latitude and the topography is as unique as it is beautiful. There would be no shortage of anchorages. Where they flow into and out  from the streight cut of the inter-coastal waterway on their way to the sea, they all look the same and none of them have names on the charts. We were in the salt marshes and there wasn’t a structure, another boat, or even a tree anywhere but on the furthest horizon … only a grassy sea of green. The tide was ebbing but only beginning to fall, so I only cozyied up into the mouth of one of the creeks, checked the depth with the lowered anchor rode as best I could, and we settled in for the night. Winter time … no bugs, it should be nice.

As darkness fell, the air cooled, the tide receded, and the mud banks began to appear on both sides of the boat. Whereas, when we anchored, we could see for miles across the grassy flats … my picturesque vista gradually began to diminish from the bottom up. Knowing the depth was sufficient, Dee and I enjoyed a bottle of wine and a simple meal–then crawled up into the V-berth along with our hundred and two degree bed buddy and called it a night.

I’m not sure what time it was. I was awakened by the thump of Ebber-dog’s landing on the cabin sole. I couldn’t remember her ever having jumped off the berth before. Rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I watched as she went aft and jumped from floor to seat, then to the companion way, and finally outside and into the cock-pit. The moon was near full and beckoned me to see what the commotion was all about.

Quietly peeking out of the opening; there was Ebony–in her favored position, seated with her paws on the rail and looking overboard. But there was a difference … she was on the wrong side–she was on the starboard and making little whimpering noises. Just then, there came the frantic splashing action of fleeing bait fish right next to the boat. I didn’t want to interrupt what ever was happening but I had to see, so I eased up the stairs and quietly ensconced myself where I could watch what was going on.

I suppose it was the school of finger mullet that attracted the dolphin to the narrow flow of water between Le Esperance and the, now moon-lit, muddy creek bank. The shore seemed so close–almost like I could touch it. The tide had reached dead low and the level of the sea grass was fully nine feet above my head. In trying to elude their pursuer, many of the mullet had landed on the bank and were squirming and flopping around helplessly in the mud. But it wasn’t the fish that had Ebber-dog’s attention and it certainly wasn’t the hapless creatures with fins that had my dog whining and whimpering into the darkness below. No it was …

The dolphin wasn’t going anywhere–he, or she, would actually thrust its body up and halfway out of the water to slither up on the muddy bank to continue its meal. After each new morsel there would be a sliding retreat and it was at this juncture, with the dolphin back in the water, that the strangest thing was happening. The dolphin would momentarily remain at the surface and nudge over close to the side of the boat–all the while making an intermittent low whistling sound. To these entreaties, Ebony would respond with a whimper or whine and, it may have been just my imagination, I think there was actual eye contact. I know my dog never looked away from the dolphin and I was sure that the “fisher” below us never blinked.

Eventually, the beached mullet were all either consumed or escaped and the dolphin disappeared. I crawled back into bed and covered up from the chill, but I chose to leave Ebber-dog on her lonely vigil.

When the sun came up–the tide had returned, Ebony was asleep on the cock-pit seat, the mud banks were, once again, hidden below the surface, and the grassy sea of green was … well, let the man who once called Georgia’s salt marshes the “Vast of the Lord” describe them for me …

Salt Marsh

Ye marshes, how candid and simple and nothing-withholding and free

Ye publish yourselves to the sky and offer yourselves to the sea!

Sidney Lanier

Flashing forward, and putting this piece together … I’ve struggled with a conclusion. Do I want to infer that the magic of the moon light and our night in the marshes seduced my judgement and convinced me that my dog and a dolphin were actually carrying on a conversation? That might be a little far-fetched … or would it?