Sea Oats

Monday, July 9, 2012

Charlotte's Story - A Book Review

Thousands of books have been written about the Florida Keys and I have read many of them, but there is something special about this one. No real fancy writing and clever turns of phrase. Just an honest account of a woman and her husband in the early to mid-thirties living on a then remote key called Elliot. Not far from Miami, especially by today’s standards, it is whole other world.

Corralling conchs for dinner and for bait, wrestling with thorny lime trees and sand flies they called flying teeth. Running around naked unless they have visitors and beachcombing in a pristine environment that provided for most of their needs and the golden silence.

Much of their story takes place during prohibition. They seemed to feel like most that prohibition was wrong and they stayed out of the fray. Minding their own business pays off handsomely later. But they didn't like people smugglers or dope runners. Except for a character name Bill who threatened to kill both of them for interfering with his plans, they got on well with the people who showed up at the oddest times at their little house in mangroves. And Charlotte runs him off with her knife. Pretty brave act for anyone, let alone a five foot tall woman armed with only a knife while facing a man armed with a gun which he had drawn on her. That takes guts.

The husband is a little condescending towards her, her being a girl and a city girl at that. But Charlotte holds her own with style. You know that if she didn’t want to be there, she wouldn’t have been. Russ, the husband taught her many things. How to repair an outboard engine, how to run a boat and how to navigate. Even though she doesn’t say much in her narrative, you get the feeling she taught him a few things along the way also. A very different culture in those days. 

In some ways, I wish the narrative had been longer. What it must have been like to ride out one of the worst hurricanes to ever hit the Keys, the big blow of 1935! Around 800 people were killed by water that was over 20 feet deep on Islamorada. Today, with population being so high, one can only imagine what kind of destruction there would be with a repeat hurricane. How her husband Russ and Hemingway shared drinks days after the hurricane in a bar would have been great to read more about.

The friendships they built, the people they call “borrowers” and the families who thought they were out of their minds for living so remotely all tell their own stories in this book. Great photos also.
If you love the Keys and wonder what it may have been truly like to live there in another time, this is the book for you.

What a pleasure.

Thanks to Capt.Toye Stevens for the loan of the book. She said to pass it on and I am.