The Summer of ’63

 

The summer of ’63 was an incredible roller-coaster of events. There had been lots of conflict in the year leading up to it. In October, on the morning of my 17th birthday, I woke early, excited about what the day might bring. I’d had a fitful night of tossing and turning, imagining all sorts of activity outside our house in Kendall, Florida. A bit sleepy I dressed and shuffled out of my bedroom to the kitchen for some orange juice. I stood at the refrigerator with my back to the large, jalousied picture window that faced the dairy pasture just north of our house, across 110th street. I poured my orange juice then turned, yawning, to sit at the dining table and I was struck by a vision that I will never forget.

I rubbed my eyes and looked again to verify that, in fact, the rising sun really was glinting off the shiny, red surfaces of a battery of six Nike-Zeus missiles pointing into the sky in front of me. During my disturbed sleep, the familiar pasture outside our window had been turned into an army base, bristling with missiles and crowded with men, trucks, tents and fire-control trailers. What better way for a seventeen year-old to celebrate his birthday than the surprise of finding himself in the midst of such weaponry and the excitement that comes with it.

The novelty quickly wore off as our girlfriends began fawning for the soldiers who were older and more mature, but in the months following that beginning of the Cuban Missile Crisis many more intrigues came into my life. Intrigues among friends and enemies alike, not only on an international scale, but also in my own neighborhood, in my school and in my personal life. Perhaps the greatest intrigue of the year came at my summer job, working with Dr. Lance Daniels, collecting specimens for various marine life experiments and shipment to high school and college biology classes.

We were diving at Caesar’s Creek, on the eastern barrier of Biscayne Bay, collecting specimens of Panulirus Argus, the Caribbean spiny lobster. When we had collected our quota, we ate lunch and took some time to explore an old archeological site we had discovered the previous summer. It was a strange, dome structure made of key-stone, that is, old coral skeletons that have fossilized into a very porous limestone. The structure was hidden among a dense growth of mangrove jungle on a small Island called “Caesar’s Rock”.

On the north side of the structure, fresh, artesian water poured out of an ancient, poorly constructed, clay tile pipe approximately four inches in diameter. The dome stood just five feet high and was covered with vines and other growth that had managed to root itself in the ancient key-stone. It had the antiquated look of a Mayan ruin, but there were no markings of any kind. The great mystery of the structure, to us, was that there seemed to be no entrance and the lack of it led to a great deal of speculation. Why would someone go to the trouble to build a tightly sealed, stone igloo with no entrance, no way to get in, or out?

It wasn’t long before Dr. Dan had it figured out. He snapped his fingers and jumped to his feet. “C’mon,” he said, “grab the diving gear,” and off he went, deeper into the twisted, mosquito infested jungle of roots and branches. Less than a hundred feet to the south of the structure was a small, but very deep, spring fed, freshwater pond . Remembering the water that flowed from the ancient pipe on the north side of the structure, Dr. Dan reasoned that there must be some connection to the pond. He was right. Within twenty minutes we had found it and were inside the strange and ancient structure. Using our flashlights in the pitch darkness we discovered a number of artifacts, a small clump of silver coins, they turned out to be Spanish reals, but most important among the debris inside the dome, a small, leather-bound journal, wrapped in oil-cloth and bearing the name, Collin Aldworth. Inside, an incredible tale of adventure which I can only just now reveal to you. Over the next few weeks I will publish a transcript that will whet your appetite for an incredible tale of struggle, adventure, suffering and success, soon to be released in my latest work, “Triangle: A Memoir of Black Caesar”.

GM-Cvr6

June, 1719

It is for my own selfish conscience that I have decyded to remayne sober long enough to put down on paper the story of this one man’s lyfe, in the hope that doing so will put an end to my torment. I am haunted by him. He consumes my thoughts day and night. I’ve not slept these past months, except in drunken stupor, for my guilt in the ending of his lyfe.

Even Sober I beg the reader to indulge my failing memory as I try to reconstruct the shrouded events leading to the death of Henri Caesar. For that reason I have begun here, at the end, the clearest part of the story to me, since it was just a short tyme ago that I stood on the battery at Williamsburg and witnessed his demyse.

As I recall, the angry crowd around me had grown silent in anticipation of their long awaited entertaynment. They were more lyke a pack of wyld dogs than men, drunken animals who howled through the night for his blood and for the blood of those who had been captured with him. When Spotswood brought his mock trial to an end, Henri stood tall and proud in the back of a cart, with three other men. When the noose was playced around his neck, he refused the offered hood. His eyes were filled with fierce accusation as they searched the crowd and no one met his gayze.

I stood, not forty feet from him and, when his gayze fell upon me, the anger in his eyes gave way to a flicker of recognition, then surprise. I could not forsayke him as the rest. If not for his own testimony I would be bound there with him on that cart.

Not knowing what else to do, I smyled weakly. I had to stop myself from wayving to him. How incredibly stupid it would have been, but I knew this man when he was a boy and he knew me. We stared at each other helplessly, as we had so often in the past. Tears welled up in my eyes and I could not control my trembling.

What I saw in his eyes was the story of a lyfetime of struggle and pain; promise met with frustration, loyalty repayed with betrayal and all said in one look. Then, as if setting me an example, he broke eye contact, looked skyward and stood straight and proud as the cart went out from under him.

I know now that my father was right about one thing. “The opportunity of the New World requires us to dream the future into existence”. It was Arthur Hill who murdered my dreams with the truth about what we have done. I’ve hayted him for it, and now, in my haytred, I have tayken his place, intent on the truth, intent on murdering the dreams of those who seek wealth and prosperity. Unlike my father’s blind surge through life, I can find no room for my own dreams. I have come to fear that our dreams of opportunity may become an innocent child’s nightmare. My father’s dreams certainly did, as you will soon learn.

Collin Aldworth

Williamsburg, 1719

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