shades of Hemingway / Part 4, later that same day

Keith, Laura and Annette were waiting for me by the entrance where we had come in, naturally thinking I’d gotten lost.  We left and headed down Whitehead St.  towards Angela St.,  Fort Zachary Taylor next on our to visit list.  We all talked about Hemingway’s house, how much we enjoyed the tour and all the things we learned about the author.  We have the Thomas Alva Edison Home and Museum in Ft. Myers so we compared the two tours as far as the grounds, guides and the men who had lived in their respective homes.  Laura was partial to Hemingway’s Estate for the cats, (of course) Keith leaned more towards Edison’s Estate for the inventions on display, Annette was non-committal and I was mentally incompetent.  

Over and over I ran the past few minutes through my mind.  I asked Keith if he knew if there were Hemingway look-a-likes on the tour (which he said was an awesome idea) but none of them claimed to have seen one.  I didn’t mention what had happened to me in the carriage house because… one, I still had the shoe horn tapping Morse code on the small of my back and I didn’t want them to think I was so totally uncool as to steal and…  two, I didn’t want to cause them to question my sanity and… three, I wasn’t certain of what I had actually experienced.  Maybe there were Hemingway look-a-likes hanging around the estate to add nostalgia to the place.  Could I have just been caught trespassing by one of them in his pajamas?  Maybe the guy in the parlor slipped out into an adjacent room that I wasn’t aware of.   My brief walk through the house didn’t make me an expert of it’s floor plan.  Perhaps I got turned around somehow and just panicked when the next tour group came in. 

As we walked up Angela St. I was more and more convinced that somewhere there was this 40 something Hemingway look-a-like laughing his hiny off at my being caught red-handed in the study.  But then I wondered,  if that were the case… why didn’t he try and stop me from taking the shoe horn?  I walked with Annette and our friends trying to add to the conversation the best I could so as not to seem distant, but my mind was on Ernest Hemingway and his relationship with Key West.

Fort Zachary Taylor is a brick and mortar Goliath that began being built in 1845.  So large a project it was that it took over twenty years to complete, but served as a post for the Union during the Civil War.  Another fort, Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas, was started about the same time.  Fort Jefferson is the largest masonry structure in the Northern Hemisphere.  Both forts were part of a series being built to protect the coast from pirates and enemy forces, and Fort Zachary Taylor was used fairly extensively during the Spanish-American War of 1898.  But now both forts are National Parks.  One thing that distinguishes Fort Zachary Taylor is the fact that so many Civil War cannons have been found there.  On the map we had the structure looked much closer, but it is a hike from Hemingway’s Estate. By the time we arrived we were fairly pooped out and anxious to find a place to sit down.

Originally the fort had been surrounded by a moat with a single bridge leading up to it.  In more modern times the moat had been partially filled in and the bridge’s entry into the fort had been closed up.  It was there that park rangers had set up a series of benches for visitors and between Noon and 2 pm one would come in and give a brief history of the fort.  Much of the tour is self-guided.  After our orientation and a brief rest we ventured out into the parade grounds and the exterior walls of the fort.

My interest was the view from the top so while Keith, Laura and Annette wandered through the munition rooms and cannon batteries, I took the nearest stairs that led above so as to look out o’er the ramparts we watched that were so gallantly streaming.  Due to modernization early in the 20th century, much had been changed from the original 3 tier structure, allowing for state of the art weaponry during World War I and II.  Now as you walk along the top of the remaining first tier, (2nd and 3rd tiers have been removed) concrete foundations that supported military weapons now have only rusted iron  anchor bolts as remnants of Fort Zachary Taylor’s glory years. 

As I walked up to the top of the stairs and looked out over the Gulf, a young man possibly in his late teens was standing before me looking out towards the horizon as if in a trance.  He was wearing a uniform of some sort, possibly made of wool and in a style that I was not familiar with.  I assumed he was a park ranger or something official like that, though his uniform definitely wasn’t appropriate for the semi-tropics.  Not wanting to disturb him, I turned to walk in the opposite direction.  I hadn’t taken more than a couple of steps when I heard him utter, “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”  I stopped and turned, he was still gazing out into the water as if I wasn’t even there.

“Yes,” I replied, “very nice…  calm and peaceful…”  I lingered for a moment then turned to face the water as if I might have missed something and stood scanning the open view to the Gulf.  “I’ll bet on a clear day you could almost see forever,  or at least… Cuba from here.”  I got no response from my little joke, which irratated me slightly.  I began to feel odd just standing there with a mute so I leaned away from the young man just as he spoke again, still facing the water.

“They never fired a shot from here, did you know that?”

“No, I didn’t… not even during the Civil War?”

“No, it was occupied but never met any hostilities, isn’t that something?”

“I guess just the knowledge that it was here was enough of a deterrent, huh?”

“Yes…” he turned to face me, “war can sometimes be so strange.  Not what we expect…”

“War is hell.” I replied, trying to sound cavalier.  The dark haired man smiled and offered his hand.

“Ring Lardner, Jr… ” 

Just as I was extending my hand in order to shake his I heard Annette from the parade grounds below calling me.  I turned and moved to the edge to where she could see me, waved and called back.  She looked up, smiled and began coming up the stairs towards me but when I turned back, Ring Lardner, Jr. was gone. 

This is too weird!  I mused, looking back out into the gulf waters.  What person in their right mind names their kid Ring?

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4 Responses to “shades of Hemingway / Part 4, later that same day”

  1. NomDebPlume Says:

    Read all your installments in the same day, leaving me itching for more…
    What a great story, wonderfully told (not that I’m surprised).

    Your audience awaits…

    -Debi

  2. chirchi965 Says:

    * wonders* how many more installments….left………………………………

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