From 1967 until 1969, my (James’) bio-fam lived in Key West Florida on the Navy base, you know, always the worst place in paradise. But the most amazing thing about my memories of Key West is how happy my mother seemed in all of those memories. Incredibly, my older sister and brother agreed with me on these now very distant memories and we (Dena, Beluga Greyfinger and I) sailed to Key West for the sole purpose of meeting them to celebrate the long life of my mother.
Because Larry (my slightly older brother) is a working professor in postmodern literature, his time frame for the party was limited to spring break. Lea Anne (my slightly older sister) just retired from the last wage-slave gig she’ll ever have, so she was ready to party any time.
My freaking birthday was right smack in the middle of the proposed week (which was kind of weird in a way but not too bad) and it always comes exactly one day before St. (fucking) Patrick’s Day.
…kind of a big deal in Key West.
So we, the Cetacea crew, and they, my sibs, made it to Key West all at the same time. If you know us you know we usually run screaming from an itinerary. But this was most definitely a special case and we made it, we all actually made it there!
The first day was a travel day for them so we met up after they checked in, ate some food, did some shots at Tattoos and Scars then called it an early evening. It was light and fun and exactly what we all needed.
…Larry told us he slept deeply for the first time since November 7th, 2022.
The next day, my birthday, the wind was way too fresh from the northeast to sail anywhere without a really bumpy ride. We opted to party hook-down in Man Of War Harbor. It is just north of town between Wisteria and Fleming or rather…right in the middle of everything. Lea Anne had said she didn’t mind if it was a busy harbor and Larry just wanted to get a line wet so he was easy.
Dena and I worked the logistics and got everyone out to the boat (completely drenched by splashing and spray) and Key West didn’t let us down. It was warm and sunny with a brisk nor’easter and a constant wake-chop until sunset. Beluga Greyfinger hid all day long.
We had some black beans and yellow rice, some shots and mocktails while Lea Anne nursed a Bloody Mary and then we consigned our mother’s mortal remains to the sea.
It was a weepy affair.
The water was so clear that we got to watch her ashes drift abaft until she settled on a coral reef about fifty yards off our stern.
My mother feeds the coral from that day on.
We all agreed that this was a fitting place for our mother’s ultimate resting place. After all, as a family, we all remembered some wonderful things from this place. Although it was arguably one of the most tumultuous times in American history, the four of us…my mother, my sister, my brother and I…were once, no twice, a family in Key West.
I (Dena) tried to maintain a subtle facilitator’s role. I’m an inveterate storyteller, so I did go off on a few riffs about family that were inspired by their stories, but I was in the background or an avid listener for a lot of the day. My favorite part, my favorite role, was as the person handed a photo and told a story since I was the only person who hadn’t heard so many of them. Lea Anne had brought a yellow envelope bulging with prints, and I learned about so many generations of their family.
James astounded his sibs with his recall of names and places. Each of them at some point told something the others didn’t know. I just soaked up the stuttering continuity of family history. Starts and stops, agreements and contested realities, the folks from long ago that made them proud and the people they were only decades ago but struggle to see so clearly. All the stories.