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  • Port Town


  • April 18, 2022


    Gulfport George

    When I left Florida headed for California in 1969, I thought that except for visits to see family, I would never return. Happiness back then was seeing Florida in my rear-view mirror as I sped west.

    Why would you want to go to California, my Floridian family and friends kept asking me. People are crazy out there, they’d warn.

    And that was precisely why I wanted to go. Because I was crazy too – completely nuts in fact. In California I would fit right in. In California, I could be whoever I wanted to be. People in California were laid back, they were right-wingers, left-wingers, middle-of-the roaders, teetotalers and drug dealers.

    There was, of course, the rule of law, but so many people stepped over the line so much of the time, that it was almost expected.

    Now, I find myself headed back east to the state where I grew up, for many of the same reasons that I left.

    Florida is now the state where you can be whoever you want to be. It’s a state that – for the time being at least – values personal freedom and the individual’s right to choose his own path. It’s a state that works – much as California used to work when I arrived in 1969.

    It’s not just the changes in this once amazing state that has me looking eastward. Over the past 50-odd years, I’ve also re-discovered the importance of family. Many decades ago, when my mother and father separated and then a few years later, when my father died, my family consisted of four people, my mother, my two brothers, and me. The rest of the clan – the uncles and aunts and cousins that were from my father’s side – became a part of the past, as had my father himself.

    A few years ago, I received a Facebook message from my cousin Susan Hencin, asking if I was the George Cunningham who used to live in Florida. I hesitated to answer. Did I really want to add to the complexity in my life of an extended family that had disappeared back when I was in my teens?

    Carmela convinced me that I did. Carmela is of Italian descent. Her father was born in Sicily and her mother’s parents across the narrow Strait of Messina in Calabria. To Carmela’s father, she and her siblings were half-breeds, only half Sicilian. But the one cultural touchstone for people on both sides of the strait, was that family was valued above all else.

    When Susan contacted us, my brother Bill was not too interested in re-establishing the relationship. Although he was too young at the time to remember the split, he remained bitter about the hard times my mother and we boys faced trying to eke out a living on our own. I was older at the time of my parents’ separation and maybe because I had more time and memories with those cousins, I was more willing to re-establish family ties.

    On Carmela’s advice, I answered the inquiry and opened the door to an entire family of people whom I remembered only as small children, the girls in puffy skirts and the boys in short pants. They are now all senior citizens, as are we.

    As it turned out, my brother Bill died in the years since my cousins and I reunited. My mother has been gone for more than 20 years, and my brother Chuck tragically died in his 20s. Carmela and I remain close with Bill’s wife, Susan Tucker and with her new husband Jeff, and I’m very interconnected with Carmela’s large and rambling family. But, those missing cousins of mine are the only blood relatives I have.

    Nightlife for Old Guys

    Although I love and enjoy all of my cousins, Carmela and I have established a special relationship with two of them – Susan’s youngest sister, Nancy Hoffman and her husband Roger. They live in Gulfport – a town of fishermen, carpenters, and other craftsmen back when I was a kid – but now a charming and kinky village by the sea. It has a large gay population with a laid-back vibe that embraces all kind of folks from grumpy retirees to flamboyant artists and a downtown shopping area that includes independent restaurants, bars, art galleries, souvenir shops, farmers’ markets, and sidewalk vendors.

    Carmela loves it. She loves that she can walk everywhere. She loves doing yoga on the sand as the sun comes up over the Gulf. She loves that almost every restaurant looks the other way as she wheels in Henry, riding in his ill-disguised baby carriage.

    Hardly anybody is wearing a mask in Florida these days, and those who do – mostly visitors from the north – start peeling them off after a  few hours of feeling out of place in a world of smiles and chatter.

    Is it a perfect place? No way.

    Property prices have shot up in Florida in recent years as folks flee from places like California, Illinois, New York, and other locked-down and up-tight locales. And Florida, unlike California, is hot and sticky in the summer, smack in the danger zone during the annual hurricane season, and full of creepy-crawly bugs and reptiles.

    But does our future lie in the place that I once fled.


    – George Lee Cunningham

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    Javeliina Avengers

    I know all about revenge being a dish best served cold, and I know about making public proclamations of how one’s rights have been violated and that somebody will have to pay. I even know that once proclamations are made, you’re honor-bound to carry on with the plan or admit that you are a complete phony and your cries for justice are nothing more than empty posturing.

    Despite knowing all that, Carmela and I keep amending our plans for revenge on the javelinas who chased us away from our picnic in West Texas and threatened to eat Henry, our sweet little doggy boy who depends on us for his sustenance, and who I believe would defend us to the very end.

    First, our plan was to return to the picnic area along Interstate 10 to confront the pack of wild javelinas who terrorized us. We planned to dole out at little Texas-style revenge. We planned to use the big walking sticks we’d received as gifts to bash the javelinas when they approached and to leave them lying dead by the road as a lesson to all the other javelinas that actions have consequences.

    In other words: Don’t screw with the Cunninghams.

    But then, we started thinking.  Would our walking sticks be enough to ensure one of the javelinas didn’t get through our gauntlet of hickory and oak staves and manage to sink their dirty feet or teeth into our flesh.

    We needed some more ammunition, so we went to our local Cabela’s sporting goods outlet to find a secret weapon to use as a backup – some pepper spray that we could employ as a sort of nuclear option if the battle turned against us.

    The salesman at Cabela’s was interesting. He suggested that we should use bear spray – a toxic spray chemical guaranteed to stop a charging grizzly bear in his tracks from 40 feet away. But he warned us to be very careful, because if any of the spray blew back on us, it could blind us and cause severe complications. A little spray can cost $59.99.

    That seemed like a little overkill to us. I mean javelinas are nasty little beasts, but they are not all that big and they posed no real threat to us personally, besides chasing us away from our picnic area.

    We chose a lesser spray, one that didn’t shoot out very far. It was more of a self-defense spray to use against evil humans than a javelina repellant, and it only cost $17.99. But it would be enough, the salesman promised, to ward off the javelinas at 5 feet away. It would cause intense pain and send the beasts packing. How long, we asked, for it to wear off.

    Well, there was no real answer for that. The javelina would probably have to find some water to wash the chemicals out of his eyes. Of course, the desert that is West Texas is not known for its lovely trickling streams.

    But, I know my wife.

    She would turn from avenging goddess to defender of all creatures in less than a nanosecond if confronted by a javelina squealing in pain. If we did spray a javelina and get some chemical in his eyes, I would end up having to chase the wounded – and likely very angry – beast down and then hold him while Carmela washed out his swollen eyes.

    And if his eyes were still red and swollen, she would insist on transporting him to the nearest vet – which in West Texas could be many many miles away.

    That’s where we would find out that our rescued beast was really not a he, but a she, and she was pregnant. And even after we spent hundreds or thousands of dollars saving the animal, then what?

    Nobody, especially a no-nonsense Texan, is going to take the javelina mother and child home as a birthday pet for their little girl. And we couldn’t take the animal home to share a house with our little pup – whom the javelina would kill and eat as soon as the door closed behind us.

    Of course, this is all conjecture. It’s the kind of thing that happens when you let your imagination run wild. Probably we wouldn’t have to use the toxic spray against the javelinas. Probably just waving our new walking sticks at them would be enough.

    But now we have started thinking about the poor javelinas, just trying to live in the desert by scaring humans into giving them food. Their life is hard enough. Then we come along and just because they hurt our feelings we want to cause them great pain.

    We could, I suppose, go to one of those stores where they sell white mice that snake collectors buy to feed their reptiles, and give them to the javelinas as a gesture of forgiveness. The problem with that is that by the time we got there, Carmela would have given the mice names, fallen in love with them, and made them members of our family.

    That’s the problem of living with a soft-hearted woman. They make you do soft-hearted things just to make them happy.

    – George Lee Cunningham

    If you would like to subscribe to our work, you may contact me at george@georgeleecunningham.com and let me know and you will get an email reminder of blog postings. Your name will not be shared and you may cancel at any time.