Extreme south Florida is a tropical paradise. Ocean breezes whisper through dried palm branches, the sun sizzles tourists and fruit trees alike, and even a bad weather day still beats much of what we have here in the frozen Northland. Yet we packed the kids and left there, and this is why.
I have told this countless times, this beginning of the end of our life in Florida City, the last city before the Florida Keys. The tale is always met with an expression of disbelief. But it is absolutely true. This is how it happened:
My then-husband Paul (now ex) was a deputy police officer in Florida City, a small town of about 7,500. Through a friend, he was invited to move into a house in the middle of a ten-acre fruit grove just west of town because he was a cop. Guess that should have been our first clue. For $500 a month, we were offered a five bedroom, two bath house with a huge screened-in pool, surrounded by mango, avocado, banana, orange and grapefruit trees, from which we were welcome to choose for our family of five. But that wasn’t all.
This grove also cultivated the essential tropical fruits, like black sapote, key lime, papaya, breadfruit, starfruit, eggfruit (which tastes just like eggnog when ripe), mamey, kumquats and more. It was heaven of a sort we’d never experienced. We couldn’t wait to get settled.
We began moving boxes, particularly to the upstairs where it wouldn’t be easily noticed from outside. Not because the landlord was worried, but because theft was a problem. Paul explained that the owner wanted someone like him in there because druggies anxious for easy cash had been sneaking into the grove to steal aluminum girders from the pool enclosure. With a cop on premises, the theft would theoretically stop. We had plenty of guns; he’d taught me to use them. I thought we could handle things.
We’d gone to take a second load of boxes and small furnishings after work one late afternoon, when the girls yelled down that someone had broken in. We confirmed someone had been in the house; the girls’ boxes had been rifled, and the ceiling fan and other items we’d purchased new to install were missing. Paul immediately put the kids back in the car and we patrolled the area, finding the missing items stashed in a clump of vegetation on the far side of the grove, waiting to be retrieved.
We made a police report and Paul called his partner, Tom. They decided they’d better install some security lights, so after dinner we came back to do that. We left the children, ages 8, 9 and 12, back at Tom’s house, and drove there in our van. Tom and his wife followed in theirs. Paul parked our van in the huge three-car carport and both of them climbed on its roof to screw lightbulbs in the ceiling ports. Tom’s wife and I waited, talking, watching a little nervously into the dark shadows around the house.
As the three lights came on, the carport was ablaze. Lights were on inside, too. It was starting to look like home. As Tom’s wife and I took the steps, shots came from the north side of the house, aimed at the carport. She ran inside, but more shots followed–through the house–and she screamed, came running back out and jumped in her car. Tom and Paul scrambled down from the van and ran around the house in the direction of the shots, returning fire. I remembered Paul’s .38 was on the counter inside so I ducked in and grabbed it, then hunkered down along the concrete steps, praying. A lot.
Stay tuned for part two, tomorrow.