More Uncle Fred and Aunt Sarah

One night in February, Uncle Fred who was a Harbor Pilot in Tampa invited Tommy, my cousin, and me to go with him when taking an Israeli freighter out of Port Tampa. I didn’t think this through nor ask too many questions. What an adventure. We boarded at the pier, had dinner in the ship’s mess, lox and kippers I think. We toured the ship and everything was fine until my Uncle Fred said it was time to leave the ship and led us out onto the deck. I envisioned an isle with a pier. I don’t know what I thought. As I said before I hadn’t thought this through. I said to Uncle Fred. Isn’t the ship going to stop? He said, “No, we’re going to climb down this ladder to the pilot boat below. I looked over the side at the pilot boat bobbing up and down in three-foot waves. It was forty feet down the side of the ship on a rope ladder. I said, “I’m not going to do that.” That’s when Uncle Fred said. Then you’re going to Venezuela. That’s when I realized that I was going to do that. When I got down I said to Tommy, “Well, that wasn’t too bad.” He said, “Yeah, they held the rope tight for you. They just let me bang around on the side of the ship.” He was not happy. Then we got to Egmont Key and overnighted. All the pilots had houses there and we stayed at Uncle Fred’s. When I looked in the bathroom mirror, I was black from head to foot. The house had heat but no hot water. I washed out my jeans and shirt in cold water and in the morning when we went over to the bunkhouse for breakfast, I put on my cold wet clothes. Then we took the boat back to Port Tampa.

This was my Uncle’s life. The pilots bought their jobs; the house on Egmont Key came with it. The pilots were on call night and day for two months and had the third month off. My Uncle Fred loved it. We spent many summer vacations on Egmont Key. The turtles would come and lay their eggs in the sand and my Mom and Aunt Sarah made Turtle Egg Soup. I remember that there were two large canvas hammocks on the front porch. We kids were always falling out of them onto the hard wooden floor. Not pleasant. We fished with adult help until the adult said, “If you’re going to fish, you have to bait your own hook and take your own fish off of it.” That just about did it for me. I started hunting for seashells.

Uncle Fred and Aunt Sarah always played cards on Sunday afternoons and if someone knocked on the door, Aunt Sarah would grab all the cards and shove them in a drawer in case it was someone from church. Made everyone furious. One day, all we kids were in the car with her and a fire engine passed us. She immediately followed it and we went to the fire. She told us not to tell Uncle Fred because he hates it when she does that. Another time she sat me down and said, “I’m your godmother, and I’ve been negligent in that department. So how is your religious life going? ” Well at the time it wasn’t. We talked about it a little, because I didn’t have that much to talk about. Aunt Sarah always asked me about what was going on in my life, and never talked about hers. And I was too wrapped up in my own little world to ask.

Uncle Fred used to take me to the bus station for my 3-hour trip back to Tallahassee. He would buy me magazines and snacks and tell the bus driver to keep an eye on me. It was nice. Uncle Fred was a speed demon in a car and when the new Sunshine State Parkway opened, he came to Key West on it for the first time. When he got to the end, they ticketed him for speeding, since he could not possibly have made that distance in so short a time if he was obeying the speed limit. It was his first taste of Big Brother watching him. He was incensed. We all soon learned that you have to stop and have lunch when speeding on the turnpike.

After I met Peter, he invited me to Newport to meet his parents. I was twenty-two, teaching school and living at home. I told my father and he expressed strong disapproval; something about chasing halfway across the country after some man Very tawdry. I remember feeling mixed-up and uncertain about what to do and going into my bedroom and sitting on the side of the bed. Aunt Sarah came in and sat down next to me. She had heard my father. She said to me. “Listen, if that’s your man, you go get him and if you need the money, I’ll loan it to you.“ So I went and a few months later, Aunt Sarah had a stroke and died. She never got to meet Peter. I still to this day wonder about it all.

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