Sunday, September 23, 2012

Homegrown in Florida

Several weeks ago, my friend Jeff Klinkenberg, who writes for the Tampa Bay Times, posted a link to a new book on his Facebook page.

The book - Homegrown in Florida - is a collection of stories by writers who were either born in Florida or who grew up in the state.

Two of Jeff's stories are included in Homegrown.

Jeff's colleague at the Times, environmental writer Craig Pittman, also has a story in the book.

A few days ago, I asked Jeff and Craig if they'd send me a few paragraphs from their stories.

Here are those excerpts along with their remembrances of a much simpler time in Florida.
Jeff: I am a child of the Miami 50s and 60s -- the days when kids went barefoot, climbed coconut palms, played in the woods, built rafts and for some of us, fished from morning until night. It was an innocent time and sometimes I think my life was something out of Mark Twain. Sometimes I wonder how I survived some of things I did, how any of us survived it. Of course, the fact is, not all of us did.
Jeff Klinkenberg in Miami in the 1960s.

This excerpt is from an essay called "Nothing I could do'' from 1987. It's still very hard for me to read it.

I liked to climb to the roof at night and throw water balloons at passing cars, and when that lost its novelty I hurled guavas, a common tropical fruit. One night, a couple of teen-agers whose car I smashed with a guava chased a friend and me over fences, through bushes and into back yards where dogs snapped at our heels. We somehow escaped.

One night, a friend and I built a dummy, and, hiding behind a bush, threw it in front of a passing car. The car screeched to a stop, and an elderly man got out, shaking, certain he had killed somebody. I am still ashamed.

By the time I was 14 I was a fishing fanatic. I fished for snook in a canal that passed through a golf course in Miami Shores. I had to trespass to fish, but I was good at climbing high fences, and I didn't mind running from the cops. The cops would take you to the police station, call your parents, and confiscate your tackle. They never caught me.

Sometimes I wish I had been caught. If I had, maybe I would have stayed away from the golf course once and for all. Maybe Keith still would be alive, and on those nights when I lie awake in a cold sweat I would no longer hear him screaming for his mother.

I went back last week. In Miami for business, I had a couple of hours to kill and drove to the golf course . I walked along the first fairway, crossed a bridge that spanned the canal, passed under the railroad trestle - and then stopped when I saw the dam.

I was staring at the dam when a golf course ranger drove up in an electric cart. ''What are you doing?'' he asked. I told him I'd come back to the scene of a tragedy that has haunted me for 23 years, a tragedy my mind continually dredges up whenever I am depressed or I start worrying about the safety of my own sweet children. Death is no abstraction to me. That a lot of people live to old age is, I know, a matter of luck, of being in the right place at the right time. I am afraid to trust happiness.

''I remember it,'' the golf course ranger said. ''I lived across the street from the 16th fairway. I remember all the excitement. It was awful.''

''I was there,'' I said.

''Kids still sneak on the golf course to fish,'' he said. ''I chased 10 away already this afternoon.''

''Take it from me,'' I said. ''It's no place to fish.''

Jeff's website:


Craig: This is a picture taken in my pine-tree-packed backyard in Pensacola, circa 1972. Behind me is the green concrete block house I grew up in. It had jalousie windows, the kind you can crank out or crank in. Usually there was at least one where the crank broke or the window didn't close all the way. You can see just a sliver of the mobile home park next door. I'm standing next to a box kite that my friend David and I were using for what we believed to be "scientific" experiments on the principles of flight that allowed all those Navy jets to zoom overhead all the time. Taped to the kite is the name of the research "company" we invented, Pittman & Fields Inc. It was headquartered in a ramshackle tree house we built in that same backyard.
Craig Pittman in 1972.

When I was a kid I was obsessed with airplanes. If I saw a plane flying near our yard, I’d run to get underneath it. I thought having a plane fly over you brought you good luck. Even if I could just catch the tip of a wing, it was enough.

Because we lived in Pensacola, “the Cradle of Naval Aviation,” Navy training flights were zooming over all the time. We lived in a one-story concrete-block house, painted green as if it were trying to blend in with the pine needles hanging from the trees around it. Our house looked like it belonged in the suburbs, but we lived on a red clay road as we were way out in the country.

I hated that clay. It meant I could never ride my bike beyond our driveway. When the weather was dry, my tires would sink into the loose clay like I was trying to ride through a sand dune. When rain fell, the road turned into such a morass that was impossible to wade through it, much less ride around in it. Once in a while the county would send a big yellow grader around to smooth it out, but that never lasted long. I was an only child on a street with no playmates, trapped there by a lack of asphalt.

The downside to living in a Navy town is that the population is fairly transient. Next door to our house was a trailer park where the residents, most of them Navy folks, moved in and out so fast we never got to know them. Probably it didn’t help that every time one of them looked out one of those tiny windows, they saw me running around in circles, head tilted toward the sky like I was watching for UFOs. Clearly I was nuts.

Craig's website:

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