I have always had a love affair with the great outdoors. I used to spend my summers in Tampa with family and it gave me ample opportunity to experience it, especially with my Uncle Paul and Aunt Gladys. Their home was nestled behind an orange grove just off of Gunn Highway in Odessa Florida, set against the backdrop of a beautiful body of water, aptly named Lake Calm. I have many wonderful memories of this place…of fishing, swimming and just experiencing nature in such a way that would rival the adventures of Huck Finn himself.
Most mornings on the lake, I was up at the crack of daylight and out the door to the dock. I would have recovered all of my catch from the night before and have fresh lines in the water before Aunt Gladys left for work. I was barely six years old when I started fishing on that lake and before I was ten, I was paddling a boat hundreds of yards out and back before most people even got up out of bed. I had become a skilled fisherman at a very early age and I cannot think of many things I would have rather done at that age than fish. But even more vivid than fishing in my memories of the Lake, I can recall the friendly and sometimes animated atmosphere, much like Mr Rogers neighborhood, with warm and unique characters that brought the entire place to life. There was Ginger, the very old and blind wire-haired wiener dog…and Charlie, a black German Shepherd. They followed me around that place like a couple of keystone cops trailing a suspect, Ginger constantly bumping into things and Charlie stopping every few steps to scratch the itchy dermatitis that plagued his backside. Bonnie and Mr. Fritz lived next door and Mr. Bob lived on the other side next to them. He once raised a couple of young raccoons that he had caught in a tree in his yard and I would go over and visit from time to time, just because they were fun to watch. Mr. James Eady was another good friend of Uncle Pauls who lived on another smaller Lake nearby. James taught me how to make an incubator out of a golf ball bucket with a light bulb and how to clean a turtle for turtle stew. When I would catch big snapping turtles on the Lake, we would take them to James and he would clean and cook them. I miss the smell of turtle stew! Then there was Mr. and Mrs. Creighton. Mrs. Creighton was sort of like Mrs. Howell on Gilligans Island, only a bit more eccentric. I rarely heard Mr. Creighton say much more than two words…yes dear. There were a few other folks around the Lake that I knew but these were the main characters that made up Uncle Paul’s neighborhood.