This is a sort of stream-of-consciousness essay. I’m pretty sentimental. Forgive the errors; I’m posting just as I posted it elsewhere.
Mr. Linares tried his best to make me enjoy vocational drafting at Tampa Tech, but I hated it and joined the Navy instead. I worked on Navy aircraft for thirty years, both enlisted man and officer. I was stationed on Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean when the Bucs won the Super Bowl. Boy, did I ever wish I was back in Tampa then! Of all the ports, all the countries, all the aircraft carriers, all the miserable operations in the miserable godforsaken Middle East, all the days at sea, all the missed Thanksgivings and Christmases, birthdays and anniversaries, Tampa was always home, where mom and dad waited for my few and far between letters. That tiny cinder block house at 2601 East 112th Avenue held my heart all those years I was away. I left home a boy of seventeen; I am always seven or seventeen when I go back and drive through the old neighborhood.
It’s been 36 years since I spent any real time in Tampa. We lived on Trilby Avenue next door to Larry Parrish when we transferred from the Netherlands to MacDill AFB in 1967, then moved to 112th Avenue that same year. I am hopelessly lost in all the changes when I go back. I loved Courtney Campbell Causeway but I’m afraid to return; I’ve heard it’s quite different now. Morris Bridge Road is unrecognizable, and Golden Gate Speedway is gone too I’m told. I used to fish at Rowlett Park with a bamboo pole, and climb around the old WWII bomber at Lowry Park before going off to feed the goats.
I played center field for the Spartans at Sulphur Springs Little League when we got spanked by Belmont Heights in 1975. At Tampa Tech, we used to skip school and go to that little bait shop on Harney Road to play foosball and listen to the Eagles on the jukebox. Charlie Jerkins used to drive us around in his 62 Chevy Impala. Sam Chambers and I sat behind Debbie Wise and Tammy Paige in drafting class – 3 hours a day – and oh, what exquisite torture that was; God they were beautiful.
In 1967, in grade school at Belle Witter in 3rd grade, I used to meet Cindy Combs in the morning on the swing set. She was my first crush, then Esther in 8th grade and Nancy Popham in 9th. Cathy Bellinger took my heart in 11th grade, then Susanna Avila when I was stationed in Spain, but she died of pneumonia in 1980 and I wanted to die too. I loved Beth when I was stationed in the Philippines in 1983, but my heart was healed when I married Jayne Michiko Ono in Hawaii in 1985. My parents loved her, especially my dad, whose ship was nearly destroyed by kamikazes at Okinawa in WWII. He bore no grudge. Well, maybe a tiny grudge: he used to wake Jayne with a whistle and “Rise and Shine” at 0600. She finally told him if he did it again she’d shove the whistle up his you-know-what. But, she called him a big teddy bear up to the day he died. I was aboard the USS Tripoli on the way back from the Persian Gulf in 1994 when I received word dad had suffered a heart attack. We pulled into Pearl Harbor and I flew home to take care of dad because mom had broken her hip roller skating at the skating rink on Busch Boulevard – she was 64! (She and dad met in 1947 while roller skating in San Francisco.) Dad lingered in a coma until December 10th – 2 days after my 35th birthday – then died without waking. I got a lot off my chest in the 10 days I took care of him. Imagine that; the son taking care of the dad. Precious, that’s all I can say about those 10 days. (Dad was born in Bradenton in 1926 and lived in Tampa off and on for years.)
Me and my best friend Eddie Owens used to fish in the pond next door to my house. Eddie always caught the bass or shiners while I always snagged the gator or snapping turtle. Eddie’s dad and uncle owned a catfish farm out on 301 off Hillsborough Avenue; I couldn’t even catch a catfish in a catfish farm! I remember digging for worms behind Billy Beasley’s grandma’s house on Nebraska Avenue just north of Fowler Ave, but I don’t remember fishing with them….. Oh! oh! oh! I almost forgot Susan Knoop.
Ohhhhhhhh Susan. I worked at the food service warehouse at Busch Gardens in 1981/82 when I was between hitches in the Navy. One day, I delivered fresh-baked pies to the Festhaus, Susan was receiving deliveries that day. I had seen Susan around and pined for a look from her, but she was waaaay out of my league (remember, I got spanked by Belmont Heights). That day, however, was different. Susan signed for the pies and I was ready to leave when she stuck her finger in a blueberry pie then stuck her finger in my mouth. Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, my lips curled around her finger and I was in love. But, remember, I soon loved Beth in the Philippines them married Jayne in Hawaii. So Susan didn’t work out, but that’s okay; she left me memories that will sustain me forever. Oh, Susan, Susan, Susan. I regret the sugar bowl faux pas extremely 😦
Let’s see, what else? Mr. David Grundy. Mr. Grundy taught English at Tampa Tech. I was your run of the mill, average student, not a nerd, not a jock. No one picked on me, no one noticed me. But I could write, Mr. Grundy saw that and encouraged me. I never forgot that or him; if I could find him I would say thank you for changing my life. I’ve published some stories since then, been published in an anthology with other writers, and hope to publish my first novel soon. Thank you, Mr. Grundy 🙂 for the encouragement.
There was Mr. Paul Massey. Mr. Massey taught drama at USF. He used to come in to Village Inn Pancake House on 30th and 113th all the time. I was a busboy. He took a liking to me and used to give me tickets to plays at the University. It wasn’t until he passed away a few years ago that I learned he was a well-regarded British actor in the 50s and 60s who gave up fame and fortune to teach drama at USF. Imagine that! Finally, I miss the families I came to know and love at Northeast Baptist Church and Emmanuel Tabernacle. The Elsie Smiths, Gladys Wilsons and Oakleafs, the Dottie Porters, Ruth Frazers, and Nancy Greathouses. These women kept me in line and helped me grow up with a strong moral foundation. Mrs. Wilson used to greet me each morning as I walked to school. “Hello, Willy,” she’d say. But I was shy and started walking on the other side of the street. She knew 🙂
Have I bent your ears enough? I’m sorry. I miss Tampa and needed to get all that off my chest. I’ve been on 6 of 7 continents, sailed all seven seas, seen the lowest of mankind and the highest, lived and loved around the world, and through it all learned one all-important lesson: there’s no place like home – Tampa 🙂 ❤