Honoring A Promise To Mom

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Mom and Dad bought a condo on Hutchinson Island in Stuart, Florida in the late ’80s.  It became a special place for them.  When Dad retired a few months after they bought the condo, they began to spend more and more time in this enclave of seagrass, windswept beaches, and crashing surf.  I think Dad would gladly have moved down here full-time, but Mom wanted to keep a place in Columbus to spend time with kids and grandkids.  So they compromised, as successful married couples do, and split the years equally between their condo at Suntide and a condo in Columbus.

They spent many happy years here, and made many friends.  The kids and grandkids enjoyed the condo, too.  It was a great place to take little children, with a sunny pool and a beach and sandcastle building and boogie board riding and shell-gathering only a few steps away.  Kish, Richard, Russell and I came down here regularly, and so did my siblings and their kids.  We all have strong memories of this place.

Dad died in 1997.  He wanted his remains to stay here, and we honored that request.  The kids got older, the visits to the condo became less frequent, and Mom wanted to spend more time in Columbus with her kids and Columbus friends.  Eventually we sold the condo at Suntide, but Mom always said that after her death she wanted her remains to be brought here to be with Dad, always and forever.  We promised we would do so.  And this weekend all of the kids and grandkids are here to honor that promise and think once more of Mom and Dad and their little piece of paradise.

Mom and Dad and the condo are gone, but the sand and surf and sun — and memories — remain.  I got up early this morning to watch the sun rise over the Atlantic, and it was as beautiful as I remembered.  Mom would have liked it.

Goat-Blood Government

There are some among us who might contend that a little goat-blood guzzling might be good training for a politician.

After all, if you’re going to be sacrificing your principles on a regular basis, why not sacrifice a barnyard animal while you’re at it, and suck down the lip-smacking, iron-flavored richness of its still warm hemoglobin as you thoughtfully consider the many rewards of your chosen profession?  It kind of makes you wonder whether some of the other significant political figures of our time haven’t taken a nip or two of billy goat blood from time to time after they’ve come off the Senate floor or just finished a contentious committee hearing.

In Florida, a Senate candidate named Augustus Sol Invictus (that’s not his birth name, which he legally changed a few years ago to those rolling Latin words that mean “majestic unconquered sun”) has admitted to quaffing some goat hemoglobin.  Two years ago, Old Sol apparently walked from central Florida to the Mojave Desert — any geography buff will tell you that’s quite a jaunt — and spent a week fasting and praying, and then when he returned home alive he gave thanks by sacrificing a goat to the pagan “god of the wilderness” and then drank its blood.  And really, who among us, upon returning from a week-long visit to California, hasn’t been tempted to do the same?

Sol is a criminal lawyer — do you think he runs ads that say “Better Call Sol”? — who’s running as a Libertarian.  He thinks the government is “waging war on citizens” and citizens therefore have “the right to self-defense on government,” and he sees “a cataclysm coming.”  He admits to being investigated by the FBI, the U.S. Marshals, and other law enforcement personnel, but seems to take some pride in that fact and says he’s flattered that they think he’s a “threat to the stability of the system.”

I’m not sure about a threat to the system, but he’s proven that he’s a threat to goats.

St. Augustine

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On Christmas Day we traveled to St. Augustine, the oldest continuously populated city in North America — or something like that. It was founded in the pre-Pilgrim 1500s by the Spaniards, and it’s well worth a visit.

Our first stop was the Castillo de San Marcos, the fort the Spaniards built to protect their settlement. Although the interior was closed — even the National Park Service takes Christmas Day off — our tour of the grounds showed that the fortress is in remarkably good shape given its age and history. Richard’s Google check indicated that since being founded by the Spanish Empire, the CdSM has flown the flag of England, the U.S., and the Confederacy, and also been used to house prisoners.

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We then walked along the harbor road to the old town section of St. Augustine, which features some of the beachfront kitsch you expect in any Florida town, but also some very interesting buildings dating from the Spanish era as well as some fine architectural flourishes added during the Gilded Age. Among the highlights were two facing hotels built by the indefatigable Henry Flagler, a railroad and oil magnate who played a key role in Florida’s development. The one shown above has now become city hall.

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But it is the structure across the street that is the real jaw-dropper. Formerly the Ponce de Leon Hotel — where travelers presumably could search for the Fountain of Youth in the Florida sunshine — it is a beautiful and sprawling bit of Spanish-influenced architecture that includes lots of remarkable features, like the fierce carved lion head at the gates, shown below.

I don’t know much about how and where Flagler made his money, but I will say this: he used part of it to create a fascinating object of great beauty. It’s fitting that this structure has now become the main building of Flagler College.

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Parental Due Diligence

Jacksonville, Florida is the largest city in America in terms of land area encompassed within the city limits.  It covers more than 840 square miles, and within its borders is the largest urban park system in the country, with 80,000 acres of parkland.

Initially known as Cowford — because it was the spot where cattle crossed the St. John River — Jacksonville is now the most populous city in Florida, with more than 840,000 residents, and is the 14th largest city in the U.S.  It is also the youngest city in Florida (no surprise there!) with a median age in the mid-30s.

Jacksonville was the birthplace of one of the greatest American rock bands ever — Lynyrd Skynyrd — and also hosts the annual Jacksonville Jazz Festival, the second-largest jazz festival in the nation.  It has a big-league sports team in the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars.

Why the sudden interest in Jacksonville?  Just a little parental due diligence.  We learned a few days ago that Richard has gotten a job at The Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville’s newspaper, and will be moving down to The River City to start his professional reporting career in earnest in the next few weeks.

Jacksonville sounds like a pretty interesting place to cover and we’ll look forward to learning even more about it through Richard’s reporting.  Congratulations, Richard!

Winterfell In Columbus

IMG_5983The vernal equinox occurred on March 20, which means the Sun has passed the celestial equator, periods of daylight are now longer than periods of darkness, and spring has officially arrived. Who cares about that, though, when you can look out the window of your study and see — as the photo above shows — snow pelting down and a few inches accumulating on a lawn that should be pushing up green shoots of new grass instead?

I feel like I should be one of the Starks of Winterfell, wrapped snugly in smelly furs, intoning grimly that “winter is coming” and warning of the perils of the White Walkers. This year in Columbus, winter has come . . . and stayed, and stayed, and stayed. It’s the Winter Without End. All we’re missing are a few direwolves and an 800-foot-high wall in the backyard.

Recently one of my friends mentioned that he had a picture on his cell phone of his kids playing in the snow that fell in October. Winter started about then, and it’s still here!

If I had the money, I’d buy every empty condo property in south Florida I could find. After this brutal midwestern winter, I think we’re going to see a fresh exodus of snowbirds who’ve had it up to here with snow and cold and ice and will pay through their frostbitten noses for a chance to feel the sun’s warmth.

Reading The Special Election Tea Leaves

Political reporters love special elections for congressional seats. Because the elections are one-off affairs held at odd times, they command far more attention than normal congressional races do. And the question always is: is there a lesson to be learned from the results that tells us how the national political winds are blowing?

Yesterday one of those special elections was held in Florida’s 13th House district. Democrat Alex Sink and Republican David Jolly were vying to replace a longtime Republican incumbent who died of cancer in October. Both sides poured money into the race, with Sink and her allies slightly outspending the Republican side.

The Republicans tried to make the race a referendum on Obamacare. Jolly favors outright repeal; Sink says the law should be “fixed” without saying much about how, precisely, to do that. Her position is the one that Democrats are being urged to voice in November, on the theory that voters are pragmatic and would rather see repair than repeal.

Jolly won by a 2% margin. Does that tell us that Obamacare will be political poison for Democrats nationally in November, or does it just mean that, on this occasion in one district in Florida, voters narrowly opted for one candidate over another? Already Democrats are noting that Sink got a larger percentage of the vote than had Democratic challengers to the longtime Republican incumbent — which seems like pretty meaningless spin to me.

I’m not inclined to read too much into the results, because I think many voters vote on the basis of candidates rather than issues. I also think, however, that Democrats need to sharpen their message and give voters some details on what, precisely, they propose to do with this law that has affected so many people. There are a lot of credibility issues swirling around Obamacare, and in that atmosphere vague promises of future fixes aren’t going to have much resonance with voters.

UJ In The Keys

IMG_2696UJ is down in Key West, where the sun is warm and the rum drinks are cold.

C’mon, UJ! I haven’t been on a spring break trip to Florida in years. How about a report from the sunny south?

What’s that warm sand feel like? What about the hot sunshine on your skin, and the feel of a cold, beaded glass of Captain Morgan’s and Coke in your hand? And those bright rays on your sunglasses, and a languid scent of cocoa butter suntan lotion on the skin, and the gentle breezes of the Caribbean ruffling the canopy of the beach umbrella?

I’m working this week, but that doesn’t mean I can’t live vicariously through some Webner House posts.