Andrew, my oldest, was about six years old, and he and I were playing catch in the back yard. We had only recently moved to Florida from Kansas City and were still getting used to Geckos darting under foot. Andrew stood in the scant shade of a newly planted coconut palm (By the way, coconut milk is not sweet. It is watery and a bit stale, though not bad when mixed with rum and pineapple juice.) I stood near the waist-high fence that ran along the seawall, separating our yard from the canal we overlooked. Rearing back, Andrew threw. The ball flew wide and high. I stumbled backward, stretched my glove over the fence and caught it before it sailed into the water. Holding up my fair catch like a centerfielder, I glanced down, and there I saw it—a long, broad shadow, drifting through the water, almost close enough to brush up against the barnacles that grew along the seawall. I dropped my glove and the ball and summonsed my son, just like my mother had summonsed me thirty-some years earlier.
I was nine years old and living in Manhattan, Kansas when my mother called me to the family room. She sat me in front of our black and white television set, which hummed and took a few minutes to warm up when she turned it on. “Watch and remember. This might never happen again,” she said or something to that effect. “Sit and remember.” On the screen, a balding man sat at a wooden desk. Flanked by two flags, he leaned forward and rested on his forearms. He held a stack of white paper between his two hands, and spoke slowly, reading from the papers. One at a time, he set each sheet aside. I don’t remember his words, am certain I didn’t understand them at the time, but I remember that moment—August 8, 1974—because my mother told me to. It was the day Richard Nixon resigned as the 37th President of our country.
Andrew tossed aside his glove and joined me. Quietly, I unlatched the gate that opened onto our dock. “Look here,” I whispered, taking Andrew’s hand and leading him onto the catwalk. He squatted next me, looked down into the water and shrugged.
“A manatee,” I said. “It’s a manatee.”
The shadow grew darker as the manatee surfaced. His wrinkled nose broke through and his tail stirred up small circular currents that grew larger as they spread through the water. He had whiskers and a snout like a walrus. The gray, spongy skin on his back was marred by a long white scar—given to him by a propeller no doubt. He floated for a moment, where the shallow water was warmest, blew out a loud puff of air, and then sank until he was only a shadow again.
“Remember this,” I said to my son. “Sit and remember.”
I wanted to make a moment for him as lasting as the one my mother made for me, albeit more pleasant. “You might never see this again.” Another shrug, and Andrew grabbed his mitt and the ball. He was going inside because I threw like a girl.
I told my husband, Bill, about the manatee that night over dinner. I should have had a camera, couldn’t believe I didn’t have a camera. Savanna, my daughter, was too young to care much. Andrew poked at his food and asked if Bill would throw with him from now on. Clearly, he was not going to remember the manatee like I remembered Richard Nixon.
We saw another manatee the next day. Same warm, sunny, shallow spot. And again the next. I caught the third sighting on video. During the warm months, we see them almost every day. After eleven years, we don’t always run onto the dock anymore when we spot the round swells in the water created by the manatee’s paddle-like tail. Sometimes we watch from the deck or through the sliding glass doors that run along the back of our house.
The moral of the story…I guess we never know what will make something memorable. Richard Nixon, yes. Manatee, no. So, here at my blog, I’ll be trying many things and hopefully you’ll find something of interest—something worth remembering—and you’ll come again. I’ll write about the release of my new novel when I have something interesting to share, will occasionally write about writing, and other times about things like coconuts and manatees. My hope is to post on Mondays and Thursdays. I promise not to throw like a girl and next time I see a manatee in the canal, I’ll post a picture here for all of you to enjoy.