The Key West Mystique

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Key West Island News

Time to remember why we live in Key West

By Linda Grist Cunningham, editor and proprietor

Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of Key West Island News and KeyWestWatch Media LLC. She and her husband, a park ranger at Fort Zach, live in Key West with their Cat 5s.

11/03/2023

Woke up this morning with nothing to say. I know, I know. Hard to imagine, huh? So much going on, so much to be worried about. I just couldn’t muster the interest to push the outrage button. And I’d forgotten why we live in Key West.

In fact, I could hear my mother from her preferred spot inside my brain whispering, “But you live in Key West.” That’s what she said when I complained about something or the other. Six words that usually made me change directions.

Outrage makes for easy writing and a guaranteed audience. Folks always say they want more “good news” but they don’t really mean it. They want things that start with “What were they thinking” or my personal favorite, “Mary, Joseph and the Wee Donkey.” Bad news sells, something storytellers have known since we drew charcoal figures on cave walls.

My past several columns have been mini-to-maxi rants on bad or at least troubling news. Failures in our island infrastructure. Poverty in the Keys. Gentrification. Too expensive to live here. Faltering medical care. Charitable giving gone awry. Challenges getting the Bahama Village lofts built. Heck, even one on not having enough storage in my house.

No wonder my mother was whispering.

So, this week, I’m going to remember why Ranger Ed and I made Key West bought our home in 2008 and moved in permanently in 2012.

why we live in Key West Richard Matson
Key West artist Richard Peter Matson in 2017

Why we live in Key West

The friends who stand in for families we don’t have. Richard Peter Matson, 87, died peacefully in his sleep in his home of decades in the early morning hours of Oct. 25, 2023. Dickie, which he’d respond to if he liked you, was my neighbor across the street. He’d holler from porch to porch when he wanted company or needed an errand run. I’d watch him from my kitchen window with his porch light throwing shadows in the dark as he shared treats with Sylvester, the black and white cat who lived outside and survived Hurricane Irma.

As he transitioned earlier in the week I described for him the beautiful Golden Hour light on his porch, the coming full moon, the gentle breeze and the peace in the neighborhood. Those were his joys, the food for his artist’s soul. Later when he was gone, while we waited for the pragmatic things that follow death, a small handful of friends gathered around his kitchen table to tell tales, to laugh, to cry, to pay irreverent respects to the man who relished the attention — and to feel at our wits’ ends. I thought I could hear Dick fussing in his curmudgeonly way, “Get my trike. There’s painting to be done before the light goes.”

The strangers who walk step by step with the island’s locals. I complain plenty about the ways our vacation destination economy undermines our community and I’ve added my share of frustrations with the foibles of Fantasy Fest. But every year you’ll find me and my friends curbside cheering on the Masquerade Parade and Zombie Bike Ride, where upwards of 10,000 locals and strangers put aside all semblance of adulting and revel in playing dress-up. They bring their kids and their pets and we cheer them on as Key West becomes a playground for Peter Pan.

It’s easy to turn up my nose at those sad folks whose low self-esteem requires they shed most of their clothing, calling it costuming. Doing the same with the swingers and the drunks and the obnoxious is just so much low-hanging fruit. Truth? There are hundreds of bad actors but thousands of the joyful for whom a few days of, well, fantasy, make the rest of the year OK.

One of the remarkable moments of this year’s Masquerade Parade was the virtual absence on social media of pictures of the dozen or so “Trump for President” marchers at the head of the parade. They must have jumped the line after step-off and they were impossible to miss because they came right before the Donald-with-Flags group. These folks who didn’t get the memo about the nonpolitical nature of Fantasy Fest were booed all the way along Fleming and I understand that by the time they reached Duval they were down to two.

It’s as though the strangers-walking-with-locals hive mind said, “Enough. This isn’t the time or place.”

No. That’s not it. Not exactly. Instead I think my mother got to us all. “But you live in Key West,” she whispered. “You’re among the lucky ones. Remember that.”

1 Comment

  1. Joanna Brady Schmida

    Yes, Dickie will definitely be missed. He was a terrific Scrabble player, and we partnered every Tuesday night for years. A prodigeous talent that Key West has lost, a character, an eccentric, but much loved. Good-bye my friend.

    Reply

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Avatar of Linda Grist Cunningham

Linda Grist Cunningham

Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of Key West Island News and KeyWestWatch Media LLC. She and her husband, a park ranger at Fort Zach, live in Key West with their Cat 5s.

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