My father belonged to the Bonita Fishing Club near Yankeetown Florida. An old Ocala institution, my dad told stories about the 1930’s when he, along with Ocala’s mayor and police chief, would drive to Bonita on a rainy day to cook fish stew and play cards. Whether they were escaping the weather or economic woes, it was their retreat from dreary days.
Bonita is all about fishing and my dad loved to fish. It drove him crazy that the annual University of Florida football game versus Auburn University was always scheduled for mid-October, the same time red fish would be biting. He would spend days checking the tides and weather, while deciding with friends between Florida Field and fishing, the fishing usually winning out.
From the time I was very young, my father would take me to Bonita; not so much to fish but to visit with Bonnie, the caretaker/cook, eat a big lunch and then return home. Built on an island, it is reached by car only at low tide via a causeway that connects several islands along the way. For me, visiting the club was always an adventure: there were fiddler crabs to be captured; fishing off the dock and shooting cans with my BB gun and later with a 22 rifle.
We had a dog, that since he was brown my dad named Brown Dog, who would often accompany us when we would go to Bonita. I recall an instance when Brown Dog and I startled a raccoon that took off running across the causeway to the next island. The dog chased the coon and I ran after the two of them. When he reached the far island, the raccoon ran into a clump of palmettos and the dog followed while I lingered behind. Suddenly the dog’s barks turned into screeches and he came tearing out of the palmetto patch. That’s when we shifted positions with me running as fast as I could in the lead followed by the dog being chased by the coon. I knew I was in trouble when the dog, still howling, passed me. I was fortunate that the coon quit the chase before he caught up to me.
Appointed to be the designated driver, at sixteen years of age I accompanied my dad to the annual Bonita meeting and dinner. Sitting at a long table covered with food, there were stories, jokes and teasing. Suddenly, one of the men got everyone’s attention and then asked my father, “Jack, have you told Bill the facts of life?” For a few moments, as he continued chewing, my father said nothing, then he looked at me and inquired, “Is there anything you want to know?” When I responded “no,” he stared at the questioner and in a loud voice said, “Just told him.”
Recently, two people, who spent most of their lives in the building supply industry, unexpectedly passed away. News of their passing caused me to pause and think about the transitory nature of our existence. I decided that instead of spending my days worrying about events I cannot control, I am going to find a retreat from the dreary days; remember the stories that make me smile; and hope the raccoon quits before he catches me.