The Paregien Journal – Issue 324 – February 15, 2016
Stan Paregien, Editor
Life In Florida, Part 2
Ah, yes, life is very good here in Paradise. Our few days of mild winter provide plenty of ammunition with which to gig our snow-bound friends and relatives in the northern two-thirds of the U.S.A.
The Gulf of Mexico, seven miles west of our house here, is normally a pretty tame body of water with “waves” more like ripples seen on large lakes elsewhere. The shore on this, the west-central side of Florida, stretches into long vistas of sparkling white sand (i.e., ground-up coquina shells) spiked with azure blue waters, palm trees and masses of sea grapes. The beautifully landscaped estates of the Big Boys who live on Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key provide we commoners with views of exotic plants and a rainbow of colors as we drive by their gated palaces. The pervasive eye candy is inspiring.
Then there are the friendships quickly forged in our 55+ communities because, for the most part, we are a people detached from our roots and friends and relatives back in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachussetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Oklahoma. Oklahoma? Yes, a few of us from Oklahoma chose Florida rather than south Texas, New Mexico or Arizona. Anyhow, we are all pretty much in the same boat: we came here with hopes of making new friends. And it happens pretty quickly as we start out with, “And where did you live before moving here?”
Oh, hey, did I mention the weather here in west-central Florida? Mercy sakes, friends, that is why we moved here. We may on a rare winter morning need an ice-scraper for our windshields, but we sold our snow blowers and snow shovels and snow mobiles before we left home. And we gave our thermal underwear, heavy wool shirts and down-filled jackets to others.
Now our standard apparel amounts to flip flops (our old hippies among us instantly feel right at home), T-shirts and bermuda shorts or cut-off jeans. If we are going to go to a formal occasion, like church or a wedding or out to a fancy restaurant, we wear flowery shirts with colars (to look like the other tourists and newcomers) and leather sandals with no socks. You may buy clothing like this at very expensive stores, or do what most of us down here do — roam the many thrift stores for bargains. Hey, “we are on limited incomes, down here” we’d have you know. And Florida state officials would say, “But you have no state income tax down here.” Right. But that is not the end of that story, as states without state income taxes always find “fees” and such to pick our pockets to achieve the same result.
‘Nuff of that.
This time I want to share some photos of the Dark Side of Florida. Oops, I mean the far side of Florida. You know, the east-central part. Peggy and I recently got a nice taste of it, while visiting friends in Jupiter and relatives in West Palm Beach. So hang on, here we go.
In the photo above, you’ll see a cluster of the beautiful sea grape bushes that abound here.
We have been friends with Darrell and Martha Russell since 1996. That’s when Martha and Peggy started to work for Southwest Airlines in their national reservations call center just north of the airport in Oklahoma City. Those two ladies carpooled for nearly 14 years, so they got to know each other pretty darned well.
The four of us have leaned on each other as we have gone through illnesses, unemployment, retirement, moving away from Oklahoma (Darrell kindly drove our overloaded U-Haul truck most of the way), and the daily bumps and bruises of life. They’re solid citizens, good Christan folk and we love ’em. Well, except maybe for their choice of sports wear. I did graduate work toward a Ph.D. at the University of Oklahoma and, try though I might, I can’t seem to convince them that OU’s maroon and cream is a lot prettier than OSU orange and white.
Then the next day, Darrell and Martha Russell drove us around to see the sights. Lots of tall office buildings and fabulously expensive estates mostly hidden behind gated walls.
However, we did get to tour the little “cracker house” of the late Henry Flagler. This was a guy who, as a young man, had the good sense to go to Ohio and get into a new venture with another young businessman. Their adventure involved something that was not even known about by many other folks, but the two had a vision of the necessity it would become. We’re talking here about oil. You see, ol’ Henry hooked up with a young dreamer named . . . John D. Rockefeller. Their company became the Standard Oil Company, with Henry owning 25 %. Each man earned a reputation as an infamous “Robber Baron.”
Of course, when your personal wealth exceeds the assets of many state governments that allows you to be creative and even generous. Flagler had the strange idea that he could turn a little mosquito-infested village in northeast Florida into a tourist mecca. No, he did not build a “field of dreams” baseball diamond (like Kevin Coster did in the movie) to see if they would come. He did build two luxurious hotels in Saint Augustine, and then of all things, he built his own railroad from Jacksonville to there so his large number of rich friends from back east and the midwest could vacation in the fashion to which they were accustomed. And it work very well, thank you.
Then he invested in developments in the Miami area, far south of Saint Augustine. And then he connected his railroad on down to that soon-to-be tourist mecca. Eventually, he was daring enough to build the Florida East Coast Railroad Line all the way down across the various keys and the long stretches of open water all the way to Key West, Florida. That was in 1912. Wow, what an achievement.
Flagler died in 1913 from a fall onto the marble steps at his mansion. Maybe it was just as well, because only 22 years later his railroad empire died. That was the year a terrible hurricane destroyed most of it and the lives of hundreds of his workers.
You understand, now, how this man could afford to build such a palatial house for his wife. He called it, “Whitehall.” It is magnificently appointed inside as well.
Then came the horrible hurrican of Labor Day, 1935
Flagler hired a full-time organist to be available at a moment’s notice to play for the family and/or their guests.
“Boys will be boys, especially around girls.”
We left West Palm Beach about 9 a.m. in the middle of a pouring down rain, with the report of a tornado not far away. We had to get off of the highway in Coral Springs and wait for the storm to let up a bit.
Then we continued over to Naples and spent the night there. We paid “seasonal price” for our room, meaning much higher than normal.
Anywho, . . . it was an interesting trip. Our thanks to our friends in Jupiter, Darrell and Martha Russell, for giving us the grand tour. And our thanks to Peggy’s neice, Joy Gardner Lombardi and husband Mark, for their hospitality.