47 at the port. In the front yard there was a rather tall coconut tree which I put to good use a few years later. When I was about 8 I thought I wanted to be a school principal when I grew up. Not because I wanted to help students learn, and not because I wanted to make a positive contribution to society, oh no! I wanted to be a principal so I could spank people! I made a paddle inspired by the legend of “Big Bertha,” and I used to lay a solid butt whuppin’ on that coconut tree. You probably think I’m nuts by now, but take comfort in knowing that I no longer spank coconut trees. Funny anecdote – once I was flying from London Heathrow to Amsterdam on British Airways. When we landed in Amsterdam, the plane stopped before we reached the terminal and several passengers, including myself, stood up to retrieve items from the overhead bins. A female flight attendant admonished us gently that we must remain seated, so I asked her, “Since we’ve been bad, are you going to have to spank us?” She replied, “No, because you’d probably enjoy it!’ I handed her my American Express card. Never got da whuppin’! You may have noticed that I tend to drift a bit, but I’m trying to stay on task. One afternoon in the mid-fifties, one of the Seaboard locomotives was switching phosphate cars in and out of the track hopper and returning the empties to the railyard north of the port. As a clarification, the track hopper took in the loaded railcars and dumped the phosphate into a pit and onto the conveyor belts for transport to the loading ship or into the dry storage bins. As this locomotive was pulling several cars out onto the dock in order to reverse direction and “run the wye,” it hit a patch of wet rail and began to slide. It subsequently overran the derailer and fell off the rails, breaking through the dock. Hazel Ann Presley Singletary’s husband was on this locomotive at the time. A crane had to be brought from New Orleans to lift the locomotive out of the dock. It was repaired and placed back into service, continuing to work for the railroad until the early seventies, when all the Alco RS1 locomotives were sold or scrapped. As you know, Port Boca Grande was a phosphate loading facility, and many ships of many flags and nationalities called there to load for destinations all over the world. Perhaps at this point it would be a good time to allay a myth that seems to pop up from time to time. Phosphate was never mined at Boca Grande. The phosphate was brought to the port by train from the “Bone Valley” area of Florida, which is generally along the route of the Peace River above Zolfo Springs up to very near Lakeland. One day, a particular Italian-flagged ship came to Boca Grande to load. This ship, however, had a dead man aboard who had somehow ingested a cleaning agent similar to Drano. It was speculation as to whether or not his death was a suicide or accidental, but regardless, his body had been removed from the ship's cold storage locker and moved to a warehouse at the foot of the dock. I knew he was in there and I wanted to see him. I’d never seen a dead body before except at a funeral, but I felt this was the real deal and I wanted to see it. There were a lot of adults milling around, but I managed to make my way up the ramp and into the warehouse. To my surprise, no one else was in there but me and the body. He was on a stretcher with his face uncovered. I remember his skin looked like leather, and I stood there wondering about the obvious. “Who is this man? Does he have a family? Do they know what has happened so far from his home?” Those questions were never answered, but there is a story behind every pair of eyes. I just have no idea what the rest of his story was, only that I spent three or four minutes there thinking, “and so it all comes down to this!” As an odd result of that day, I think I came to realize that death is not to be feared ... only the journey that takes you there.
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