GONE WITH THE WIND
James Taylor’s got a great song called “Copperline” in which he reminisces about his boyhood home in the woods and how it was so beautiful that it made the angels sigh. In the last verse, he goes back as an adult to find nothing but “spec house and plywood.” But he’s unfazed because it doesn’t touch the wonderful memories he has of this special place where he grew up.
I had my own Copperline experience recently when I visited Key Largo and chartered a boat for the week. I brought my old
At least the memories remain. The author and his wife stand in what’s left of a treasured Key Largo hotspot. Florida Chart Kit BBA as a backup and, noticing my pencil marks of an anchorage nearby and the date, October 31, 1998, my eyes glazed over and I drifted back in time to my first cruise on our “big” Catalina 34.
We were newly married and just learning the cruising lifestyle: get up early and fix things, then sail all day till the sun gets low, find a calm place, set the anchor and hope it holds. And as sunset approached on that long-ago day, we steered off Hawk Channel and found ourselves near Rock Harbor, at Key Largo. The cruising guide said we could anchor in close to the friendly and low-key Island Grill at Mandalay, and enjoy its excellent catch-of-the-day sandwiches.
Halloween is one of the rare days that adults get to be kids again, and as we stepped off the dinghy, I could see that the place was chockablock with grown children. Virtually everyone was in costume, even the band, and the dance floor was full of revelers. We had an excellent meal, danced like teenagers and generally had way too much fun, staying till last call before finding our way back among the constellation of anchor lights.
Back to present day. I prepared my kids for a serendipitous trip down memory lane: “We’re having lunch at a little seaside grill that your mother and I went to long before you little monsters were born,” I beamed. My daughters, hearing only the key words, we’re having lunch, readily agreed. Soon we pulled into the place, and — gasp! Our wonderful little memory was but an empty shell, not much more than the walls of a kitchen and the foundation it sat on, destroyed by a storm.
Broken doors hung loosely from the entrance, as if the place had been raided by a SWAT team; ceiling fans turned lazily in the breeze beneath tattered canvas; and wires hung limply from every corner. Eelgrass lay in piles on the floor, clear evidence that the ocean had paid a visit, and the lush vegetation outside had been stripped bare.
“When Irma came through, it pretty much destroyed that restaurant,” lamented an employee I spoke to at the Key Largo Chamber of Commerce. “It was a popular place. Maybe they’ll rebuild,” she said, hopefully. I stood at the outer drink rail where we relaxed that long-ago night, talking about the sailing life and our future together. It was so full of joie de vivre here; how could it all be gone?
The kids, realizing quickly that they wouldn’t be fed here, let us know in strident terms that they were bored and hungry. continuing on to search for lunch, I tried not to turn my head for a last look. I wanted this place to remain forever in my mind as it was that night, a sublime memory from our early sailing days, down on Copperline.