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GASPARILLA MAGAZINE SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2016 46 tie me to the belt line enclosure. I remember it used to make me mad, because I wanted to be in on the action but instead I got hog-tied. In retrospect I imagine that was a good idea; otherwise I may have been fished out of the Pass. FIRST BRUSHES WITH REALITY My mother was the second oldest of eight children born to Andrew and Mary Padilla on Cayo Costa Island, just across the pass from Boca Grande. Her oldest brother, Tony, was a fishing guide on the island and was married to my Aunt Lillian, who was a true “blueblood” from Oyster Bay, N.Y. I guess it was pure animal magnetism that brought them together, ‘cause they sure didn’t have much in common otherwise, at least to my knowledge. Aunt Lillian owned a gift shop in Mrs. Wheeler’s building near the fire station in what I believe is now the The Inn Bakery building. Late one afternoon Uncle Tony had taken his boat out in an effort to catch bait for the next day’s charter. This was apparently a common practice for him, but on this day he would not return. Somehow Uncle Tony ended up overboard in the ship channel, and his boat was still in gear and making headway. He was left to drown in the fading sunlight. There was concern by Aunt Lillian that something bad had happened, and she called my mother, who also became alarmed. But my mother had an uncanny ability to not allow her feelings of alarm show, and she probably had to use all of that with Aunt Lillian that night. The following day, Uncle Tony’s boat beached itself on the gulf side of the island and a Coast Guard search and rescue mission was launched. I think I was 3 or 4 at the time, but I can remember the Coast Guard planes flying overhead looking for what they probably figured would be Uncle Tony’s body. And that’s what they found. His body was located floating around one of the buoys in the ship channel a couple of days later. It fell to my mother to go and inform Aunt Lillian of the bad news, and she took me with her. I didn’t know what to expect, but I knew it wasn’t going to be good, so when we arrived at Aunt Lillian’s gift shop I remained a few steps behind my mother as the new widow came outside and met us on the sidewalk. Up to this point in my life, I’d never seen an adult cry. Even now I can feel what I felt then, because Aunt Lillian instinctively knew why my mother was there. Although my mother spoke not a word to my aunt, the poor woman howled and wailed like a mortally-wounded animal. She became so weak that she collapsed on the sidewalk. I stood there, galvanized, at the age of 4. To this day, my heart goes out to that poor woman for the grief she felt that day and every day for the rest of her life. In later years I would sometimes ride my bike up to her shop just to sit and visit for a while. I just felt it was the least I could do, knowing how her heart had been so badly broken that day in the early fifties. Another brush with reality came at four years old, thanks to the ferryboat Saugerties and a push-type lawnmower. This will make sense in a minute. The Sprott family owned two ferryboats, the Saugerties and the Katherine. I was a very inquisitive sorta kid, especially when it came to machinery. The bigger the better, and I was in love with the Saugerties (I often wondered how many people knew that boat was named after the city of Saugerties, N.Y.). Anyway, aboard Saugerties there was a door that you could open and look down into the engine room. It drew me like a magnet. I used to daydream about being the captain and piloting the ferry between Placida and the ferry landing at Boca Grande. This is where the lawnmower comes in. To set the scene, I have to say this was the type of lawnmower that had no engine. It had two wheels that were geared to a horizontal blade, which turned when the wheels turned. I figured out that if I turned the mower up on one wheel, I could stand there and turn the elevated wheel as though it were the helm of the ferry. I guess I must have been undertaking a particularly tough docking procedure, because as I was turning the “helm” rapidly, my left hand slipped into the spinning blade cutting off a third of my little finger on that hand. I recall seeing the tip of my finger fly away just before the pain set in. And set in it did! I hit the front steps of the house screaming, and my mother grabbed me and held me on her lap with a cloth over my hand until my father arrived and took me to the doctor uptown. I’m reminded of that incident every day when I look at my left hand and see where my finger used to be. Oh finger, I hardly knew ye! Just as an aside let me say that the finger incident happened in the front yard of our house


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