Dr. Mark Tiger Edmonds
She was sitting on her front porch when I got there. Her old blue helmet, the one that matched the motorcycle she used to have, was in her lap. A
Thermos and a little cooler lay at her feet.
She stood as I rode up. Then she smiled at me, and before I could shut the bike off, she said, "Tiger, take me for a ride."
The girl had such a pretty smile, I couldn't have resisted or denied her request if she had asked me to carry her piggy back. For years I had been
watching her smile, listening to her laugh, and it was still a highlight in my life. It was even better if I was the reason for the smile, the cause of the
She put the Thermos and the little cooler in a saddlebag, donned her helmet, and climbed up behind me for one more motorcycle ride. We rode east,
over to the shoreline and then north beside the Atlantic, up A1A. Eventually, we got to a place where I lived one winter in a campground there
twenty-five years ago.
The specific location was called Camp Granada. It was between Painters Hill and Hammock, in an area of the beach known locally as "down there
by them rocks." Huge coquina boulders littered the beach there for a mile or more.
The rocks and campground were still there, but most other things had changed. Back then, in the winter of 1980, this was a pretty isolated area.
Now it was cluttered with condominiums and businesses. We found a place to park the bike, and we walked along the sand with the small breakers
coming gently to the shore. The surf made a soft, soothing hissing sound.
She remembered how I had managed to live on the fish I had caught and the oysters I had pried off rocks at low tide that winter. I had trapped a few
rabbits and even tried to eat an armadillo. As she talked, I recollected having to kill a couple rattlesnakes, and then having to eat them.
"Homegirl, I can recall a lot of times when I rode back inland to your house to get my nourishment." I threw a stone out into the water beyond the
churning surf as I said it.
She smiled at me as we watched the splash in the water. Then I remembered being welcome at her house on a cold morning. And I recalled the
breakfasts she would cook. The thick slices of ham and the bacon and hot sausages, the fresh eggs, the hand-made biscuits and grits or hash brown
potatoes, the home-made jelly, usually orange juice, and always a pot of fresh coffee for me. I had a sharp, sudden memory now of the way her
house would smell when I opened the door. I recalled the long, often serious, talks we had at her table after these wonderful meals. And I
remembered some of the Scrabble games at that same table.
Today we found a couple of the big coquina rocks to sit on while we talked about years ago. The sun was high and warm, and we talked and
chuckled about the winter of 1980-81 while we basked in the current warmth. Back then I had situated my shoreline campsite in the lee of a big stone
wall to keep the north wind at bay.
She laughed hard when we recalled how I had managed to keep the other happy campers away from my own encampment. I had put barriers of
seashells, bird feathers, animal skulls and skins, most of them mounted on sticks surrounding my location. If it looked like someone was going to
park their Winnebago near my camp, I danced around waving flaming torches menacingly and chanting in unknown tongues. It always dissuaded
people from crowding my space.
My old friend laughed with me and said, "Tiger, that was pretty scary and wild looking with your beard and long hair flying in the wind and your
campsite littered with animal parts and your motorcycle parked there behind the fire."
I smiled and agreed with her, "It seemed to work pretty good."
We looked at the huge condominiums that now stretched up and down the beach. Then we looked across the road at the similarly ugly development
I said, "Maybe I should have stayed here and continued chasing people off."
Her reply was quick and certain. She gestured to all the new buildings and said, "These have all the architectural charm and aesthetic beauty of
modern prisons or ghetto housing projects." She wasn't smiling anymore.
I agreed with her. Back in 1980 there had been nearby bait for sale, but I had to ride about fifteen miles to get drinking water and groceries. The stuff
coming out of the faucets at the campground was yellow looking and sulfury smelling. It was alright for washing the sand and salt off my body and
rinsing fishing and cooking gear, but it sure wasn't anything you wanted in your mouth. Now there were t-shirt stands, convenience stores, and strip
malls full of souvenir shops and art boutiques all the way up A1A north to above St. Augustine.
Pacey and I sat there on the coquina boulder and took our boots and socks off and rolled our jeans up to our knees. Then we waded in the shallow
water awhile. We watched little fish and crabs and other sea life scurrying and scuttling around in the receding tide. My companion smiled at it all,
obviously delighted, and collected a pocketful of pretty seashells.
At one point, we were both standing still, looking out to the east, out to sea. She reached over and took my hand. Just about then a huge billfish of
some kind, my old friend identified it as a marlin, broke water out in front of us. It wasn't more than ten yards away. She squeezed my hand.
The fish had to go a couple hundred pounds, and it cleared the water and twisted and sailed through the air like an Olympic high jumper. It slammed
back into the water with a silver explosion. We turned to each other with looks of amazement and wonder on our faces.
"Damn! I had no idea they came in this close." I babbled as I looked back east, hoping the fish would jump again.
"They don't. I doubt that it's twenty feet deep out there. That's really rare." She, too, had returned her gaze out to sea.
"Also very cool," I turned back to look at her as I said it.
She was smiling in the mid-morning sunshine, ankle deep in a low tide, still holding my hand. I felt somehow responsible for the smile. And that
made me feel even better than having seen the big fish.
"Very." She, too, was still looking out to the east in hopes of another appearance of the monster of the deep. But there was only that one show, a
Finally we returned to the rock where we had left our footwear. We sat there while the morning sun dried our feet so we
could brush the sand off before we put our socks and boots back on.
"Tiger, thanks." She smiled at me and reached for the handkerchief in my back pocket to wipe the sand off her feet with.
"I didn't do nothin'. What you thankin' me for, Darlin', the bandanna?"
She shook her head, kind of wearily, before saying, "No, you big dummy. Thanks for the day. This has been real nice. Thank you."
Her smile was more than thanks enough. I told her something stupid, like I would ride through Hell of a Sunday just to see her smile like that.
My old friend reached over and took my hand. She smiled back at me. This time I got the full treatment. Her blue eyes lit up like beacons, the little
wrinkles that had developed at their outside edges spread like sunrise across the horizon. Her nose crinkled up, and the dimples blossomed like
flowers. The girl's cheeks caught some extra color. Her mouth curled into a wide smile; she used all her teeth.
And I realized I would, indeed, ride through Hell just to see that pretty smile one more time. I'd even try it on Christmas. What I said this time was,
"Day ain't over yet, Homegirl."
We stayed like that for a long time, holding hands and grinning at one another, laughing in the sunshine. We talked about
old times, specifically the time when she had gotten her own motorcycle, maybe fifteen years back.
She had come into some money, as she periodically did. One of her former husbands had been a drug smuggler. He brought a lot of marijuana in on
boats over the years. Eventually he got caught and nearly took Nancy down with him. But this time, he hadn't been busted, and they had some
money. She told me she was going to buy a motorcycle.
I knew my friend to be a strong willed woman, so instead of trying to talk her out of it, I began giving her riding lessons.
Whimsy wins out over logic every time. She was as quick and apt a learner as she was stubborn and persistent. At this time in her life she was still
relatively young and in pretty good shape. She had recently lost a recurring thirty pounds. But she never lost her poise or her determination
throughout the whole episode fifteen years ago.
Beside the ocean now, she interrupted our memories to suggest we get back on the bike and ride some more. She said the greed-based local
growth and development frenzy was about to bum her out. As we took off, I continued my own memories of her motorcycle.
It had taken us a couple weeks of comparative shopping before she found the one she wanted. I went to the dealership with her when she bought it.
First thing I did was make the guy at the shop take her out back on a smaller bike and let her practice a lot. After that she practiced a lot more on the
one she intended to get. I got the dealer to switch the seat and handlebars on the bike she bought. Then I made her go out back and practice some
The lower seat allowed her to get both her feet on the ground at the same time. The shorter bars let her reach the controls without straining to get to
them. My old friend was a short woman. She had short arms and legs, too. I often kidded her about having legs like a Dachshund.
She usually replied by smiling that sweet smile and asking, "Then why can't you keep up with me?"
Today, we rode north from my old campsite. We rode with the sand dunes and short breakers on our right side and the mid-day sun making
shadows underneath us. The off-shore breeze bent the sea oats toward the ocean. It was a magnificent day. We watched pelicans and gulls out over
the water. Shore birds scampered along the beach.
"Stop here, Tiger." She poked me in the ribs and indicated a little restaurant.
"No, but we will be sometime soon. And this place used to have some really good Cuban sandwiches."
So we stopped and got a pair of sandwiches. While they were being made, we talked about other food. We reminisced about a little place in a
chickee with a dirt floor down on Key Largo long ago. All they had was conch fritters, conch chowder, and Key-lime pie. Each item had been a dollar.
"You don't reckon they're still there, do you?" I wondered out loud.
My friend, Nancy Pacey, smiled an indulgent but lovely smile and reminded me that had been thirty-five years ago. Then she told me, "No, they're
gone. I think it's a condominium now, or maybe a yacht, tennis, golf, and money club. I don't think they could stay in business today. They could
never pass a health code inspection in an outdoor building anymore." She shook her head sadly.
Remembering what fine food that was, I told her, "That place came as close to makin' a Key lime pie as good as yours as anyplace I ever ate."
She chuckled and told me, "That's where I got my recipe. They taught me how to make a good Graham cracker crust."
I asked the little girl who was making our sandwiches if they had any Key lime pie. But, alas, all they had was ice cream.
Pacey just looked at me with raised eyebrows and high expectations.
I dashed her hopes, "It'll melt in the saddlebag."
"Too bad." She pouted.
We both lamented the passing of places like the one in Key Largo while our sandwiches were being pressed. We wondered how long this little place
had left. It was on what was fast becoming prime real estate. My old friend insisted on buying lunch.
"You're buying the gas. I should buy the food."
That was typical of her. She always did and paid her share. When she was able, she did more. That was one of the reasons our friendship had
endured so long.
When we got back on the bike we turned inland, and the sea birds became vultures and hawks. Cattle egrets were in the fields, and chickens were
in the ditches. Mullet jumped and rolled in the intracoastal waterway as we rode over it on a little bridge. The smell of low tide was heavy in the air.
The tall reeds on the bank bent with the breeze.
Then we rode west through live oak forests and cypress swamps. The air became drier and no longer smelled of the sea. The bright sun shone
through dappled shadows on the road like a strobe light. It was all curves and bends along rivers and around lakes and then down straightaways
through the pastures and fields.
Whenever we rode past something especially pretty or interesting, I could feel my friend hold me tighter. She pointed to a small herd of horses. I
dropped my left hand and patted her knee. Then I gestured to a group of goats across the road. About then an armadillo popped out of the brush and
onto the pavement, and I had to gear down and swerve around it. Within a mile, I had to do it again for a cow that was in the road. I could hear my
passenger giggling behind me.
Central Florida in the Fall is a beautiful place and time. The summer heat and hurricanes are done. The tourists and winter
snow birds haven't shown up yet. The humidity goes down to bearable levels. The sun comes to the sub-tropical southern
foliage at a more gentle angle. The palms and cypress trees turn a softer shade of green. There are some other subtle color changes in the trees and
vines and fields.
We smiled as we rode through rural areas and some that were still wild and untamed. A wild hog with a litter of piglets ran
beside the road with us for a few yards. My passenger hugged me and giggled from behind me on the bike. The little pigs were very cute. We
watched an osprey pluck a fish from a lake we rode beside. A few miles later, my comrade poked me and pointed up to alert me to an enormous
flight of ibises going overhead. They blotted out the sun briefly. I reached down to take her hand a moment.
The sun moved toward the west, but neither of us wanted the day or the ride to end, so we circled a lake on a rutted out dirt road and found a place to
park the bike and again sit awhile beside water, this time fresh water. She climbed off the bike, opened a saddlebag and got her little cooler and my
Thermos out and began walking to a nearby stand of live oak trees.
"Mind the snakes there, Homegirl."
She flipped me the bird over her shoulder and hollered for me to bring the sandwiches as she found a downed tree for us to sit on. She poured and
handed me a cup of coffee, opened a Coke for herself, and we both lit a cigarette. We watched an alligator slowly cross the lake, then another. An
anhinga swam past, and mourning doves cried. Turtles climbed up onto a log near shore. Herons and egrets waded in the shallows. We watched a
fish jump and happily remembered and spoke about the earlier marlin.
She and I continued remembering and talking about her motorcycle years before. I had sat behind her on her first ride
with that new bike. That's how much I trusted her. She nearly tipped it over backwards the first time she took off. I had spoken softly from behind her,
reminding her to back off on the throttle and ease the clutch out slow and gentle. After that, she almost laid it down in a curve. I had spoken to her
again. And I stayed on the bike with her. That's how much I cared about her.
Now, fifteen years later, when we remembered how she nearly turned the machine over on top of us, she got a funny look on her face. "You sure
must have loved me a lot, Tiger."
I laughed and said, "I thought we had established that years ago."
She had given me a necktie as a thank you present for teaching her how to ride a motorcycle. When I asked her what the hell I was supposed to do
with a necktie, she had the perfect answer. She often did.
Typically, having thought further and faster than me, she said, "Because, Tiger, you are very likely going to screw things up and get fired again. And
then you will have to go looking for a new job, and you will need a necktie for the interviews."
The tie had pictures of shotgun shells all over it.
We didn't get to ride together, each of us on our own bike, very many times. But the times we did have were great rides and wonderful times, like
most of our times together. She got to where she could handle that machine just fine.
A year or so later, she finally got around to taking the AMA or MSF motorcycle riders safety course. A couple years and a few thousand miles later,
she had found her recurring weight again, and she was bored with the bike. And by now she needed money, so I bought it from her. She gave me a
real good deal.
My old friend was a lot of things, but one of the main things was that she was easily bored. The woman read voraciously and eclectically, and she
knew a lot about a lot of things. She learned about and mastered everything from sailboats to airplanes to motorcycles, from making her own clothes
to being an exceptional cook, from typesetting to computer design to running a variety of her own businesses. Before she was done, she became the
pistol range instructor for the county sheriff.
Typically, she shared the bounty of her artistry and skills. She made me one of the prettiest shirts I've ever owned. It has
tigers in the pattern. When she gave it to me, I told her thanks, but I already had a shirt. I don't know what became of the other one, but I still have the
shirt with the tigers on it.
She darned and sewed and repaired clothes for me, and she embroidered on my denim jackets and vests. She fed me some of the finest meals I've
ever eaten. This girl stuck with me through all the hard times. She did a whole lot of the proofreading and typing on my doctoral dissertation and my
early books. She gave me some lessons in firearms. And she loved me.
Her boredom and desire for something different, for excitement and change and challenge, manifested itself in other ways, too. She'd paint her house
a different color, inside and out, just because she had grown tired of the current shade. She would trade vehicles on a whim. This girl would
redecorate and swap furniture around and put up new curtains and different pictures on the walls. Over the years, her hair had been thirty shades of
red. Pacey would change her clothes three or four times in a day if you didn't watch her close.
She was also a real high energy, high speed, high endurance kind of woman. Whatever the job or the adventure, and there were plenty of each, there
was no resting, no time outs. This woman had, over the years, worn me right out on many occasions. She was all energy and smiles. She was a
hard girl to keep up with, but if you stayed with her, it was always a real good time.
She finished her Coke there beside the lake and handed me the empty can to put away. I poured myself another cup of coffee, and Pacey got the
Cuban sandwiches out. We munched on those awhile as we continued our memories of times long ago.
"These are good," I mumbled around a mouthful of meat and cheese and pickles and crusty Cuban bread.
She agreed, "Yes, they are. Not in the same league as the ones we used to get at La Esquina de Texas, but pretty tasty."
We talked about that old restaurant in Little Havana awhile. Then we discussed other restaurants in south Florida, in Coconut Grove and Miami, and
down in the Keys. Most of them, like the conch and pie place in Key Largo, were gone. We grieved their passing.
The sky was full of big puffy clouds blowing easy toward the sea. We watched another alligator slowly cross the lake. A flock of songbirds flew past.
My companion pointed out a pair of black and yellow butterflies nearby. Then she lit a cigarette and looked at me with kind of a wan smile.
"What?" I asked, puzzled by her expression.
She smiled so big that for a minute I thought her face was going to break. Then she thanked me again for such a fine day.
"Yeah, you're welcome. What else?" I could tell we were about to discuss something other than fond memories of times gone by and what a
wonderful day today was.
"I was wondering what you're going to do without me." Her gaze was steadfast, but she was still smiling a little.
I managed to smile back, even though I was going through a variety of emotions. Dread, apprehension, foreboding, fear. I
didn't know quite what to say, so I didn't say anything. I stood and walked a few paces toward the lake.
In the past, such announcements have sent my mind into a void, a blank, empty state. This time, my head raced through thirty-five years of
friendship, of love and good and bad times, of adventures and escapades, of a whole lot of days as good as today and much better ones even. The
memories came at me harder and faster than I could control. My mind was a blur of exploits, and boats, and other friends, and blue water, of fish,
parties, meals, sprees, tropical beaches, of Scrabble games, and motorcycle rides, of times long ago. I turned back to my old friend, only to see that
sweet smile, the one I had been looking at most of my adult life. It was now, as it always had been, a reassuring sight. Over the miles and years, I
had learned that if this girl was smiling, then everything was going to be alright. But it sure didn't seem like it right now.
My whole body tensed and strained, as my first instinct was to hit something, but I had learned the folly of that years ago. My second impulse was
to cry, but weeping had never been an element of our friendship, and this seemed like a real poor time to begin such behavior. So I controlled my
I finally gathered my courage and asked her, "O.K., Darlin', what do we do now?" I had more to ask, but I knew my voice would break if I tried to say
She looked to the sky, to the west where the sun was headed. Then she smiled again and said, "It's getting late. I think we should head for home."
She got up and began walking back toward the cycle.
It gave me another minute to control my emotions, to wipe a stray tear from my eye. Which is just exactly why she had gotten away from me, to give
me an opportunity to think about it all and compose myself. I thought about it and tried to collect myself. Then I grabbed her little cooler and the
Thermos and followed her.
I put the picnic gear and trash back in a saddlebag and looked at her across the cycle. She was back to a full-tilt smile, and she thanked me again
for such a real fine day. We made most of the ride back in silence. The sun moved on to the west, birds filled the air, the breeze continued to blow
out to sea. And I noticed none of it. Instead I thought my way through what she had said about doing without her. By the time we got back to her
house, I finally had my mind most of the way around it.
Pacey held me tightly the whole way. It had been a long day. She was tired when we got back to her house from her last ride, and I had to help her
off the bike. She was still smiling as the sun began to go down.
I asked her, "You O.K?"
There was the explosive smile, and she said, "Yeah, I'm just a little shaky from having my arms around you all day is all." She winked at me, but I
could tell she was unsteady and hurting some.
She held on to my arm as we walked to her door. I was about to excuse myself and head on home. I figured she was tired and needed to rest and
Instead of wanting to rest or complain about feeling bad, she said what she had been saying for years, "Scrabble, anyone?"
"Yeah, I'll take you on a chukker or two if you're sure you're up to it." I opened her door and took her helmet from her.
She beamed at me and said, "Go back and get the trash out of your saddlebag or every cat in Volusia County will be chasing you home."
As I chuckled and turned around to get the garbage, I heard her say, "Let me get a pill or two in my stomach and my butt in a chair, and I will spell
words you can't even pronounce."
She headed toward the kitchen, and I took another opportunity to consider it all and try to compose myself. The sun was going down in the Gulf, far
to the west. The sky there was all orange and yellow and black. Somehow it looked bruised. I managed not to cry as I walked back in and put the
picnic garbage in her trash can. As I had suspected, she was making a pot of coffee for me before she did anything for herself.
I also knew she was going to give me a run for my money at Scrabble, with words I didn't recognize and probably couldn't even say.
I began bitching before the game began, "This ain't fair. You always have the home field advantage."
I got that flash of a killer smile, and she said, "It hasn't done me a lot of good so far. And you can keep score."
by: Mark K. Tiger Edmonds
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Dr Mark Tiger Edmonds
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