For Annette

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A Walk in the Park

Yesterday was Memorial Day. It was a beautiful day. The sun was shining, the temperature perfect. So, I decided to take a walk in the park.

It being a holiday, I knew it would be crowded. I prefer to have the place to myself, so I usually go on the weekdays. But I figured what the hell? I could put up with people for a short while; it was just too sensational a day to stay indoors. Besides, if I stayed home, I’d be chained to the computer marketing my new book. So I ran … I mean I walked to the park.

Now let me tell you about our park. It juts out into Gloucester Harbor. On one side you can look out to the Atlantic Ocean—on the other, the town of Gloucester, Massachusetts, with its quaint New England houses lining the shoreline.

I walked in along the beach where the water’s edge gently lapped at the white sand. The smell of seaweed filled the air; the bright sunlight sparkled on the blue water. All was well. God was in His heaven looking down at what He had wrought, and smiling. His angels, the seraphim and cherubim, sang to the glory of the day. And me, I was happy to be alive.

Up ahead, I spied a family swarming around a picnic table. I say “swarming” because it was a large family—from small children to aged grandparents. The grill was going full blast with a beautiful young woman doing the honors. I saw a cute little girl wandering up from the beach. One of the women approached her, and in a soft, melodious voice spoke a few words in a strange dialect, one I could not place. But it was definitely Asian. That’s when I noticed the family was Asian. That’s when the smile I’d been wearing since leaving the house broadened into a wide grin.

Here was an Asian family—on Memorial Day—grilling and picnicking and looking more American than apple pie and baseball combined! Being a writer (at least that’s my excuse for being nosy), I had to know where they were from. And what was that euphonious language they spoke?

I realized it was presumptuous and arrogant on my part to think they were from anywhere other than the Good Ol’ U.S. of A. They probably had lived in Gloucester longer than I have. Without an invitation to join them, I approached a man wearing a cowboy hat and dark shades. So as to not come off as a complete a-hole, I asked, “Where are you all from … I mean originally?” And he said, “I’m from Puerto Rico. I’m the black sheep of the family.”

Okay, I wasn’t ready for that. But I quickly regrouped and said, “How about the rest of the family?” He answered, “Cambodia.”

He introduced me to his lovely wife, Sovanmuny—Muny for short. She was the woman who had been tending the grill. His name was Julio. They were very nice people and invited me to join them in their Memorial Day celebration. I politely declined their kind offer because I had smuggled a couple beers into the park and I was more thirsty than hungry.

Down the ways a bit, my usual table was taken up by another large family. And by large, I mean large. There had to be twenty of ’em. They, too, had the prerequisite grill fired up and were going to town cooking hotdogs and hamburgers—real Memorial Day food. I’m sure they had some potato salad lurking somewhere.

I took a nearby table and popped a Heineken. I had my back to the family because I didn’t want them to see me pour my beer into a Dunkin Donuts coffee cup. (I’m such a sneaky bastard!) Anyway, I got settled and started to enjoy the day more fully, now that I wasn’t exerting myself by walking.

There was a light breeze coming in off the ocean and it felt good as I sat in the warm sunshine, drinking my Heineken from a paper cup. I was thinking how lucky I was to live in such a nice town in such a great country.

It wasn’t long before I noticed the people in the large family behind me were speaking to each other in a foreign tongue. But this one I knew. It was Spanish. They were probably talking about me and didn’t want me to know what they were saying. I’m sure the women were saying what a fine, handsome specimen of manhood I was. And the men were envying my strong, masculine physique.

I paid them no mind and resumed my contemplations. Then a third family came and took the last remaining table in our little section. I could tell by looking at them, they were from India. They had brought all the accoutrements for a day at the park. And it wasn’t long before the grill was up and running and soda cans popped. They, too, spoke their own language.

I finished my first beer and started in on my second. I don’t know if it was the beer or what, but the day seemed to be getting even better. Suddenly, the idea to write this story came to me. Here I am, sitting in the middle of a quintessential small American town surrounded by people speaking everything but English. I had to write about it, but before I did, I needed a few facts.

I approached the Hispanic family and asked them where they were from. At first they looked a little fearful. Who was this interloper? How dare he ask us where we’re from? He looks kinda pasty. Where is he from? When I explained I was a writer and that writers are just naturally inquisitive and I meant them no harm, one of the women said, “We’re from Guatemala.”

I said in a loud voice so they all could hear me, “That’s wonderful! It’s people like you who make this country great. Me not so much, but definitely you folks.” That broke the ice. Everyone broke out in big smiles and I was invited to stay for dinner or lunch or whatever it’s called when your barbequing in a park on a beautiful day. Once again, I declined. I was running low on beer and would have to resupply before too long. I left them with the only Spanish phrase that I know, “Que tengas un buen dia.” (Have a nice day.) They all laughed at my pronunciation, but appreciated the effort.

As long as I was making the circuit, I hit the table with the Indian family. I asked what language they were speaking and was told Bengali. They were very nice and put up with me and my questions. After a few minutes, I wished them well and returned to my table to finish my beer.

As I sat there listening to Khmer, Spanish, and Bengali spoken all around me, I once again thought, “What a great country I live in.” And just for the record, everyone I talked to that day spoke English better than me (or is it I?).

Finally!!!

After twenty months of writing, researching, and editing, I’m ready to spring my latest upon the world. I’ve priced it at only $0.99 for a short while so my fans (all three of you) can buy it, read it, and hopefully enjoy it. If you do enjoy it, please leave a review. They sure help with sales. I’m gonna thank you all in advance because I think I earned myself a beer … or two.

Fort Lauderdale

His village sits at the mouth of the Touloukaera River. Touloukaera means life giving in the Tequesta language. Aichi is awake early this morn. It is still dark as he paddles his canoe across the short expanse of water that leads to the barrier island to the east.

Today he will build three fires on the beach for the purpose of giving thanks to Tamosi, The Ancient One—the God of his people. The fires must be lit before the dawn arrives. It has been a bountiful season. The men have caught many fish and killed many deer. The women of his village gathered enough palmetto berries, palm nuts, and coco plums to last until next season. There is an abundance of coontie root for the making of flour. Tomosi has been good to his people.

Tonight, the entire village will honor Tomosi. But this morning, Aichi will honor Him in a solitary way. Because tonight, at the celebration, he will wed Aloi, the most beautiful woman in the village. It took many seasons to win her heart, and now he must acknowledge Tomosi’s role in having Aloi fall in love with him.

He builds three fires to represent man’s three souls—the eyes, the shadow, and the reflection. When the fires are burning bright and the flames are leaping into the cool morning air in an effort to reach Tomosi, Aichi will face the ocean. With the fires behind him, he’ll kneel on the fine white sand and lower his head until his forehead meets the earth. He will then start to pray and will continue with his prayers until the sun rises out of the eastern sea. At that time, he will ask that he be shown an omen that his prayers have been heard.

The first rays of the awakened sun reflects off the white sand. Aichi raises his head and there before him is the sign Tomosi has sent him. Not a mile away, floating on the calm, blue ocean are three canoes of great size. He can see men walking on what looks like huts. He knows they are sent from Tomosi because they each have squares of white fluttering in the light breeze. White denotes The Ancient One. And if that were not enough, no men paddle the massive canoes. They are moving under their own power, traveling north to the land where Tomosi lives. The men upon those canoes must not be men at all. They are the souls of the dead being taken to the heaven of the righteous.

Aichi leaps to his feet and runs along the shoreline trying to keep abreast of the canoes. But in time, he falls behind and soon they drop below the horizon. What a wondrous day this is. He has communed with his god and tonight he will wed Aloi. With joy in his heart, Aichi runs back to his canoe. He must tell the people of his village what he has seen.

What Aichi has seen are not spirit canoes. They are three ships from the fleet commanded by Juan Ponce de León. He is sailing along the coast of a peninsula he has named Florido which means “full of flowers.” He is in search of gold to bring back to his king. He has also heard from the Indians to the south that somewhere to the north lies a natural spring that confers eternal youth to those who drink from its cool, clear waters. To bring a cask of that water back to Spain would make him a rich man indeed. The year is 1513 A.D.

Aichi and Aloi produce many children and grandchildren. But to no avail. The coming of the Spaniards has decimated the Tequesta. Most have died of the diseases brought by the white man. Others were captured and sold into slavery. By the year 1750, the village by the river that celebrated Tomosi’s largess in the year 1513 is abandoned and overgrown with plant life.

In the spring of 1788, the Spanish drive the Creek and Oconee Indians south to the land once populated by the Tequesta. The Spanish refer to the bands of Indians as Cimarrons, which means Wild Ones. The Americans to the north bastardize the name and call the Indians, Seminoles.

In 1789, a band of Seminoles, tired of running from the Spanish, inhabit the place on the river where the Tequesta once lived. They name the river, Himmarasee, meaning “New Water.” They live in relative peace for twenty-seven years. But at the outbreak of The First Seminole War, the Seminoles move their village farther west and into the Everglades to keep out of the white man’s reach.

In 1821, Spain cedes Florida to the United States, and the Americans begin surveying and mapping their new territory. Over time, the shifting sands of the barrier island caused the mouth of the river to empty into the Atlantic Ocean at different points along the coast. As the coastline was periodically charted, the surveyors—not understanding the effects of the shifting sand on the river’s behavior—thought that the various entry points were “new” rivers; hence, each time the land was surveyed, the map makers would make the notation “new river” on the updated chart.

The 1830 census lists seventy people living in and around the “New River Settlement.”

In the year 1838, at the beginning of The Second Seminole War, Major William Lauderdale and his Tennessee Volunteers are ordered to build a stockade to protect the settlers along what has become known as The New River. He selects a location of firm and level ground at the mouth of the river where once the Tequesta and Seminoles had built their villages.

The fort is decommissioned after only a few months. Two months later, the Seminoles burn it to the ground. The fort is now gone, but the name remains.

There are no roads into Fort Lauderdale until 1892, when a single road linking Miami to the south and Lantana to the north is cut out of the mangroves. In 1911, Fort Lauderdale is incorporated into a city.

During the 1920s, there is a land boom in South Florida. Everybody and his brother is buying land. When the most desired land runs out, developers make acres of new land by dredging the waterways and using the sand and silt thus obtained to make islands where future houses will one day stand.

Because of its natural geography and the dredging that went on in the ’20s, Fort Lauderdale has become known as the American Venice. There are countless canals, both large and small. Most houses on those canals have a boat tied up behind it. And many of those who do not live on a canal have boats sitting in marinas or sitting on a trailer in their backyards.

In 1974, twelve percent of the population of Broward County, in which Fort Lauderdale lies, makes a direct living off the boating industry. Another twenty percent benefits indirectly.

Into this world Ellis Hodgkins descends … trailing Karla in his wake …

From the biography Ellis by Andrew Joyce