Memories of St Augustine.
One day, not so long ago, I found myself having lunch in a swimming pool. A reuban and potato salad in a small restaurant set in the deep end of a 100 year old, long drained, concrete pool in St Augustine, Florida. It had been built when concrete was a fairly new material. I had a fine lunch, though as I recall the sandwich was a bit small, the salad was fantastic, and I had tried vinaigrette for the first time, finding it delicious.
Just ten years earlier I had been walking a corridor in Cobleigh Hall at Montana State University when I was approached by a shorter, soft looking woman of middle age. She had her hair wrapped in a loose bun and balanced precariously on top of her head. Her half glasses were set on the tip of her nose and chained securely around her soft, slightly wrinkled neck.
“Excuse me” she intoned, playing on my years of conformity and successfully gathering my attention with her slightly nasally school marmish tone. “I believe this is yours”.
She handed me a large manila envelope.
“Uh, thanks”, I replied.
She clopped away down the hall, Mission Accomplished.
I shifted the book laden pack on my back and opened the envelope. There, printed on false parchment was the document I had feared for nearly six years. A non-commutable sentence, sealed with a rubber stamp, condemning me to the real world… my diploma.
It you spread your arms wide enough and allow the draft of chance and fortune that blows through all of us to pick you up,
and if you’re brave enough to go untethered,
it will send you fluttering, seemingly without direction,
but ultimately with destination.
I could never have foreseen the ultimate destinations of my decisions, the results of my daily choices, the connect-the-dots pathway of my life.
Day by day, options are presented, and are accepted or dismissed, for all of us. Even minor choices can send us hurling down alternate life paths. I find myself grateful, daily, for these choices, both those I’ve seized and those I’ve ignored.
While cutting my yachting teeth traveling the Caribbean and Sargasso Seas, Carrie had been picking up short trips to the Bahamas and worked on a number of yachts pulling Stewardess, Chef, and catering duties. As my waterborne residence and duty pulled alongside the causeway in Jacksonville, Florida on the St John’s River, Carrie met our ship, and once docking was complete, she and I headed off for a few days of vacation time together to enjoy our first wedding anniversary in St Augustine, Florida. “Our nation’s oldest town” founded in 1565!
We arrived in St Augustine on a June day, it was beautifully tropical and, though bustling, it still had a sense of a small town. It was easy to get about. Horse drawn carriages were for hire and narrow cobblestone streets were lined with shops. We visited Castillo de San Marcos, Flagler College, and enjoyed exploring the town and discovering its history together. It was every bit the pleasant tourist destination.
Castillo de San Marcos (Saint Marcos Castle) was a fort strategically placed on the ocean to protect the settlement of St Augustine. It was built of large blocks cut from sedimentary stone which had been formed by eons of tiny sea creatures that had washed together into great piles, eventually becoming as stone. This stone was strong and relatively light, composed of a lattice of calcium laden shells and structures with air spaces between. It was a uniquely appropriate product for a defensive wall as when cannonballs would hit them (as they sometimes did) the wall would give easily, dispersing the energy as the tiny skeletal remains collapsed, catching the cannonball like a padded catcher’s mitt and isolating the damage to a small point of impact only. We saw a few holes visible in the outside of the walls where this had happened. We enjoyed spending hours walking all about this castle, now a tourist attraction.
I had learned a year earlier, amongst the details of our wedding, that it is sometimes customary to keep the top of the wedding cake to be enjoyed a year later on the first anniversary.
As we were quite removed from this cake top, a bit of coordination was required to achieve this goal. The cake top had been stored in my parents’ freezer, and was to be shipped to us in St Augustine. This duty had fallen to my father. He tends to be overly analytical and unusually frugal at times, and as he was shipping a frozen cake from Montana to Florida we’d requested it be overnighted in the hopes it would arrive in edible condition, and on time. He’d made the decision to second day air it as the cost of overnight shipping seemed exorbitant to him. This caused a slight delay in the cakes arrival and a bit of consternation for, and joking between Carrie and I. The cake eventually arrived, still mostly frozen and in good condition. We enjoyed it a day late, delicious all the same.
Henry Flagler was an 1880’s entrepreneur. As a partner of John D Rockefeller, and having raised himself up from a poor son of a New York pastor, Flagler had built himself an empire. He traveled to Florida and was enthralled with the idea of converting St Augustine, at the time a sleepy little Spanish style town, into a playground for the rich. He was also intrigued by the use of concrete, and constructed a number of hotels and structures in the town out of concrete. These hotels are now known and operated as Flagler College. Mr Flagler continued his efforts of building railroads and concrete structures down the Florida coasts all the way to the Keys and his influence remains. Henry Flagler’s infatuation with concrete, railroads, and Florida are worth further reading. I enjoyed the following article. http://www.keyshistory.org/flagler.html
After too few days together, it was time for me to return to dry-dock in Jacksonville to finish out my time aboard. Carrie went back to temporary employment aboard a number of other yachts and we would continue to actively seek another shipboard position together.