IT ALL BEGAN IN DESTIN
About thirty years ago or so, after my second divorce, I took off for a long weekend with my son and youngest daughter to our condo in beautiful Destin, Florida. Destin is known for its magnificent white beaches and sensational turquoise gulf waters. The town is located dead south of Montgomery, Alabama, on the panhandle of Florida and was a favorite vacation spot for folks from New Orleans and Atlanta. I loved going there.
Aside from the natural beauty, we had a very nice water view condo on the fifth hole of the Surfside Golf Club. Even though it was a vacation area, it wasn’t overloaded with tourists, and the town was still somewhat unspoiled. Destin was considered a much higher class beach town than Panama City, not too many miles to the east. We had a more elite level of tourism.
I had a routine of waking at dawn and strolling down to the Circle K and buying a paper and an extra-large cub of coffee. Then I would go down on the beach, grab a chair and sit on the edge of the water and enjoy the serene beauty of the morning clouds coming in from the west and watching the dolphin and stingrays playing in the soft surf and beautiful water. Occasionally other fish would arrive almost at sand’s edge, and they were always fun to watch.
Later in the day, I would head down to the beach for a swim or watch the pretty girls in their bikinis and thongs. On this particular day, I took the kids with me. Becky and I brought our floating mats with us. The water was calm as a lake, and the sky was as clear as could be. We took the mats into the water, and I immediately floated away on mine. Before I knew it, I was sound asleep on my back, just drifting around. Suddenly I was awakened by the sound of female voices giggling and talking with a strange accent. I looked over and saw a fairly large group of beauties gathered in a circle. I thought I recognized the accent, but I wasn’t sure. Hmm. I paddled my hands just a bit so I would be propelled closer to the gathered group of what appeared to be mermaids. Suddenly I bumped into one, and I acted totally startled. I excused myself and started to make small talk with the group.
They were all from South Africa, and all but one resided in Atlanta with their spouses. They were all super good-looking, and the one that did not live in Atlanta was visiting from Johannesburg with her sister. She was the best-looking one of all, and THE FLAMINGO EFFECT took hold almost immediately. Her name was Susan, and she looked like a cross between Audrey Hepburn and Sophia Lauren. We were immediately attracted to each other. We drifted away from the group and chit-chatted for at least an hour. Becky, my daughter, had witnessed my behavior before, so she just drifted into shore with a big grin. All my kids think I’m a terrible flirt.
One thing led to another, and I made a date with Susan for dinner that evening. I left the kids to fend for themselves. At this point, it was each man for his own, especially since they were both very independent and used my second automobile along with one of my credit cards.
Over dinner, I discovered Susan was a very accomplished artist, a competition-level bicyclist, and, guess what, a model. She was here for her annual visit with her sister, and the group from Atlanta was in Destin for a company retreat for a huge company owned by Jewish South Africans. One of the details Susan spoke about was her art focused on biblical scenes and that she had several pieces commissioned by the state of Israel. My mother would have loved her.
Well, we had a wonderful week together. My children drove back home, and Susan’s sister and friends headed back to Atlanta. In the end, I dropped her off at her sister’s, and I returned home. We stayed in touch for a while by mail and phone. I was invited to visit South Africa, but I never went. Then all communications ended abruptly. Out of sight, out of mind.
A few years passed and I was involved with Carole. We were having a weekend at my place in the Smokies when I read in the Atlanta paper that my old friend Susan was having an exhibition in Atlanta and a group of paintings installed at the Jimmy Carter Center. I immediately contacted Susan’s sister for more details.
Susan’s sister arranged a meeting for the three of us at a swanky Atlanta restaurant for the following week. She told me Susan had been attempting to find me since she had an extraordinary gift for me.
We got together, and Susan was as beautiful as I remembered her to be. I was surprised she wanted the three of us together, so I played the big boy and took the high road. I never attempted to make a move. Susan presented me with a hand-carved hippopotamus that she had created herself. You see, in South Africa, the Hippo is a good luck sign, and since she carved it herself, it had special significance to me. I will always cherish that special gift and the memory of Susan even though I am happily married and deeply in love with my wife Carole.
Once in a while, I think of Susan. Sometimes, out of curiosity, I track her on the internet. She is still a prominent artist and owns a successful gallery in Johannesburg. I have often wondered how things would have worked out between us and why things never progressed.
I’ll tell you why. Because she is married to a top neurosurgeon that looks like Julio Inglasios and is a fucking gazillionaire.