I had been led to expect a storyteller, in the grand cracker tradition of tall-tales about the land of scrub and swamp. What I got wasn’t a storyteller, but a reminiscer. What I got, was Speedy.
Speedy has a bullet in his leg he got when he was five and his brother, on crutches, shooting mullet to fish for shark, shot a concrete dock instead and a bullet bounced and lodged near his femur. It’s still there. He was five and, for Speedy, that was a long time ago.
Long ago, when the bluebills were so think on the Indian River the ripples of the water were waves of a feathered carpet, so long ago, mullet jumping was not remarked upon by amazed youth and needlefish swarmed. So long ago, the pelicans needed only dip a bill and not dive into the muddy dredged depths. So long ago the Banana River could not be seen through the yellow hands of fruit. All there is now is the water, the name and the memory of Speedy.
Hurricanes did not come but the September Storms did. And why not? It was Florida and to be expected. Mosquito Beaters were hung by doors and used to beat away the buzzers before opening and used to beat away the mosquitoes that got in and plenty always did and a palm placed against a screen would create a living handprint of bloodthirst. And why not? It was Florida and to be expected.
Was it hot? Sure it was but we didn’t know any better, Speedy tells us. All that could be done was to breathe it in and breathe it out and Speedy never noticed. It was Florida and who knew any different?
And the WPA came in and brought jobs, and bridges and dredges. Pineapple plantations came and went along with Zora Neale Hurston and Stetson Kennedy and Jim Crow and The Folkways Project, Folklife Project, Florida Music Project, American Memories Project and Florida Writers Project and public works projects and change upon change.
And then came the war, WWII, and the subs sunk off the coast, torpedoes, blackouts, shipwrecks and who knew the war came so near?
Speedy tells us what you grow up with is what you think is right until someone shows you different. “Maybe cat isn’t spelled c-a-t but who knew” is what Speedy tells us about the civil rights movement and says desegregation was not a big deal and went pretty smoothly but then, says Speedy, he was one side – what it from the other he didn’t know. “Might have been rougher,” he ads, looking at the only black lady in the room.
He was a reminiscer.