Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Happy Birthday to Me

Yes, today is my birthday. June 2nd. Normally I don't even think about birthdays, but a couple of things happened this past month that give me cause to reflect.

One was the death of my former wife, Susan. Ten years my junior, ours was probably a star-crossed union from the get-go. There isn't a whole lot of commonalty between a Jewish girl from New York and a Florida Cracker but we found enough to have fun times together and to form a union that lasted a little over 5 years. But, her dreams were of returning to Brooklyn and mine the Virgin Islands and... well, you get the picture.

Susan was the most gentle and generous person I've ever known. She wouldn't even kill a roach. She would try to coax it onto a piece of paper and put it outside.

Our parting was mutually agreed to and cordial. We even enjoyed a celebratory dinner the night of our separation and remained good friends over the years. I loved her and she me and we kept in touch.

Breast cancer. She had become Buddhist and wouldn't give modern medicine a chance until it was too late. True to form, the last time I spoke with her she down-played her illness and never let me know the extent of the cancer that was killing her for over a year for fear that I would worry. A tragic and unexpected loss and a stark reminder of my own mortality.

Rest easy sweetie. Your radiant smile will forever live in my heart.

The other thing that happened was an invitation for me and my brother to be the guest speakers at the local historical society. We presented a slide-show and talk about growing up in a fish camp and were recognized as being a "pioneer" family.

Jesus Cresus. I didn't realize just how old I was until reminiscing to a room full of people about my childhood in a fish camp with no electricity. We were in tall cotton however because we had an artesian well. That's a deep well that reaches the aquifer and so it had plenty of water pressure. Therefore we had indoor plumbing, unlike our neighbors who used an outhouse.

The fish camp was a partnership between my father and his brother-in-law, Pappy. They bought it in 1945 on a part of the St. Johns River that was the tarpon capital of the world. It was a boy's paradise. River, boats, woods, alligators, snakes, fish, hogs, chickens and dogs. We were poor as dirt but didn't give a damn. We had it all.

This is what the compound looked like.  We lived in the cabin to the right, under the tree.  My aunt and uncle lived in another, a couple were for rent to fishermen.

The fish camp proper.  Note cane poles and picnic tables.  We had a generator that my dad would fire up on Saturday nights so as to run the jukebox for the weekly fish-fry and shindig.

My dad in his little fishing boat.  It seemed so much bigger then.   

He used to drag a trawl behind it and the family lived off of the fish and shrimp he caught.  I recall the whole family going out at sunset and dragging the net.  When dad would pull in the catch he and my older brother would sort out the shrimp and throw everything else back.  I used to pick up handfuls of baby fish, flounders, hermit crabs, puffer fish, blue claw crabs and even the occasional star fish.  Today, none of that exists.

The dock with rental boats.

My big brother and me.

Me, catching a ride with "Uncle" Dennis.

Fish are jumpin' and the cotton is high.

Our house.  My brother and I shared the room with the windows overlooking the river.

The view from the dock today.  What was once so deep in the woods there was no electricity is now inside the beltway.

Nicer than most, yes, but nothing close to what it once was.  Then again, neither am I, as I watch another year go by.  But you know, I'm feeling good.  In fact, I would go so far as to say I'm feeling downright lucky.  Think I'll go buy a lottery ticket.


  1. This needs to become your About page; it's too special to let stream on past into the Archives.

    You lived in heaven, but you know that. Thank you so much for this. It's a book. You ARE writing the book, right? I want a copy to take the place of honor on my shelf right beside Cross Creek.

  2. Happy Birthday, Mr. C. Finding peace after losing Susan would have been or still is tough, and I'm sad for your loss.

    We had no view growing up, and Dad drove a truck for a living, but when I was a lad we hauled water from a village well, and we had no inside plumbing till I was about 8 or 9.

    My brother's birthday is also June 2. I better make sure I call him.

    Like these photos a lot.

  3. Happy birthday, and condolences on your loss.

    These photos and your description of life back then evokes so much, even memories of my own childhood, although half a world away. Thank you.

  4. Thanks Nance. I've done several screen plays but I don't think I've got a book in me. It would indeed be an honor to be next to Cross Creek on any shelf.

    Thank you Doug. Hauling water from the village well. I can't imagine.

    Thank you Brett. We must all be about the same age. I used to think my grandfather had seen more than any man could, from the Wright brothers to landing on the moon. I'm beginning to believe that no electricity to the internet to who knows what might be just as far.

  5. Happy birthday. I am sorry about Susan. My mother had breast cancer but lived until she was 95--it was caught very early. Those photos of the fish camp are great. I really like the old photos of how things were. We live in much different times now.

  6. I am so sorry for your loss.

    But thank you for sharing your childhood, that was a little piece of heaven.

  7. Happy Birthday to you! Coincidentally. today happens to be my friend Charles birthday too, who is also from Florida :)

    Its a sad story about Susan. may she RIP!

  8. Syd, BB, Mona... Thank you for your condolences.

  9. Condolences about your ex wife.

    I have fond memories of the small town I grew up in also, although it is not so small now. Things do change.

  10. Happy birthday. Way to stay topside, and thanks for the tour in time.

  11. Mr. C, thank you for sharing the bitter and the sweet. I loved the photos and memories. Those are life's real riches.

  12. Well as usual I am a day late and short several dollars. So belatedly, here's to many more for you.

    It has been about a year and a half since I found out my first wife passed on. Like you, we parted on good terms and kept in touch throughout the years. I still find it hard to believe that she is gone, but it is what it is.

    Looking at those photos reminds me of a fish place my grandfather took me almost every Friday night on Trout River, where it joins the St. Johns. It looked very much like your place...and it was during the same time period. Generally he bought smoked flounder wrapped in newspaper, and we'd take it home and eat it at a picnic table out back. I can almost taste and smell it.

    I am also reminded of going with my step father, probably not too far from your place, and gathering oysters from the river. Of course, those beds are long gone. As is that way of life.

    I love this post C. Happy Birthday!

  13. Mr. C has been neglect at getting back to everyone. Been distracted by wizbangs and gadgets. Thanks to everyone for the condolences and glad you liked the flicks.

    JJ, that place must have been Trout River Seafood, which is still in business.

  14. I got so caught up lookin' at those great yesteryear pics (they almost look like paradise to ME) that I almost forgot....

    Happy belated birthday dear Mr. C....and a thousand pardons for my bein' two days late with the wishes.

  15. Not lookin' for birthday wishes MDJ, just good lookin' chicks on Harleys.

  16. Happy Birthday .Great Photos.Regards From England.

  17. a belated happy birthday..i see a lot of similarities in your family and mine..ydg.

  18. Belated birthday greetings. I enjoyed your photos. They do a great job of recording life in a simpler time.


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