Friday, October 23, 2009

naomi & chuck

In my travels last night, I met Naomi & Chuck. They were (and still are) an older retired couple visiting Key West for the first time from Colby, Kansas. "the Oasis on the Plains in Thomas County" they told me.

I ran into them near the Custom House on my way to shoot some stuff at Sunset on Mallory Square.

Naomi was looking dazzled by that huge "Whispering Close" sculpture as I walked by but broke her upward gaze long enough to notice me and ask if I lived in Key West. "Guilty as charged", I answered and then, she started asking questions.

My answers. . .
"Seward Johnson is responsible for this and all the life-size statues orbiting the Custom House.", "Sunset Cruises leave from the bight, a 15 minute walk back that way (I was pointing) down Greene Street.", "the best place on the island to get a fish sandwich (this was a Chuck question, he looked hungry) is B.O.'s Fishwagon." and "No, I think he still owns a house here but Jimmy Buffett doesn't live here anymore."

It seemed to me that this was a night of firsts for these two very warm and genuine children of God. Their first visit to Key West, their first Margaritas (just an hour before I'd met them) and their first vacation without one of the children tagging along. (their youngest, now 22, had just finished college and moved to Topeka.)

Naomi was as inquisitive as Chuck was looking exhausted. They'd just gotten to Boyd's Campground that afternoon after a 30 hour, nearly 2,000 mile drive in their leased land yacht (from the look of things, I guessed Chuck had done most of the driving) and now they were on foot, trying to figure the lay of the land with one of those yellow mega-maps of the island.

It was getting late and the sun would be setting in another hour so, what's a local to do? I told them I was headed, with camera in hand, to get some coverage of the Sunset Celebration and invited them both to join me in the experience.

As we walked and talked, Naomi's eyes were wide with the wire walker, fire eater and juggler, the escape artist, one man reggae band and all the tropical tchotchke peddlers. While she did pass on the guy with the "unbreakable balls", Naomi fondled a bejeweled bit of coral, "O Chuck, mother would love this!" she said. (apparently Chuck's mother was still among the living).

Chuck himself had been an insurance agent, recently retired from Prairie Land Insurance and now had a part-time gig at the Prairie Museum of Art and History. Naomi was still two years from retirement. They'd stolen the time to cruise to the Keys during her three week vacation from the Water Quality Branch of Colby's Public Utilities Department.

They nearly had their home paid off a few years ago when one of their girls developed a cancer and they re-financed to help with the medical bills. "Well", said Chuck, "we make our choices. . ."

Naomi and Chuck have five kids as it turns out. "And nine grandchildren with two more on the way" added Naomi with pride in her eyes.

When they asked, I told my new found friends I was a semi-retired AdMan from New York City, had two kids, four grandchildren and a daughter also coping with cancer.

Chuck's jaw nearly hit the deck when I told him how much I paid for the square footage I've been renting here. All I could say was, "well, we make our choices. . ."

Now, as we all know, the closer the sun gets to sea level, the more dramatic the light gets and, sure enough, at just the right moment all eyes, as if by mass hypnosis, turned from the side show to the main event.

Still wide-eyed and excited, Naomi stared out over the Gulf, through the flock of gulls to the setting sun and asked, "does this happen every day?"
, I said, "it sure does."
Overhearing the question, Chuck looked at her a little funny but I know everybody knows that the sun sets every day and I knew Naomi was asking about the Celebration of it. The relaxed, smiling energy, the island informal coming together and the spirit of "O my God, ain't this so cool!" And I knew, before their Key West adventure was over, Naomi and Chuck would be back here at Sunset again.

At the inevitable end of our short time together, I saw the Kansas kids safely to a cab headed back to Boyd's for the night. Chuck was already nodding off in the backseat and Naomi's last words to me, just before the car dove off, were, "I'm glad you live here." I smiled at that and thought, "I am too."

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