Our final week in Key West was pretty, to coin a phrase, low key. We had visited the tourist attractions earlier. We had entertained good friends from Ohio, our Velcro son Brian from Arizona, and romped with the great-grandkids from Tennessee. These past few days have been with Velcro son Mike from California. We conquered the Brazil visa application process and have passports and visas at the ready. The last two days were, as always when we prepare to leave a temporary home, spent on our familiar clean-up, pack-up exercises. Next stop: Campinas, Brazil.
Within two minutes of each other we received two important phone calls. The first was the downstairs rental office. Our visas had arrived. Jubilation! We thanked God that headache was behind us. And we thanked Donna Alexander in the CMF office for her bulldog determination to make it happen, assisted by Debbie Palich. We also owed gratitude to my Key West dentist Dr. Lindner’s office (Pat and Becky) for letting me set up shop there for awhile—and to James who runs the Mail Room downstairs, who helped in so many ways (tapping into his system by Ethernet cable and camping at his counter as I wrestled with the Portuguese application forms online. We immediately sent word to our Brazilian friend Carlos Franco that the loose Lawsons would soon be on our way to his country.
The second call was from Mike. He had landed at Key West International Airport. (Do not be fooled by this grandiose title!) He grabbed a ride on Lyft and was at our place in ten minutes. We’re always eager to have Mike join us somewhere in the world. “What would you like to see in your few days here?” we asked.
First choice was the sunset cruise. I was glad. It behooves the host to do what the guest wants. This host was delighted with Mike’s first choice; he would need company. That would be me. This meant a third round of Lawsons (Round One with the Taylors; Round Two: grandkids Tom and Stephi Arbaugh; Round Three: Prior) for Captain Ricky and his schooner, the Spirit of Independence. The little ship, by the way, was built in Independence, Missouri, the home town of President Harry Truman, whose Little White House is in Key West, just off Truman Street. We enjoyed another picture-perfect evening on the water.
For sure Mike needed to visit the Ernest Hemingway House and its 54 cats. Mike’s cat “Einstein” is only slightly less pampered in California than these denizens of the House are in Florida. Mike was duly impressed—even counted to make certain they had six toes on each paw. This time we joined the tour group and learned more of the life of this talented, tortured, multi-married, bipolar, adventurous but finally tragic author.
I thought of Ida Boquist, my high school English teacher, who entertained her Juniors by reading Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea to us. Juniors! I’ve often thought of her unorthodox teaching style. She taught us to conjugate verbs and class nouns and write clear sentences, of course, but what has stuck more than anything else was that room filled with 16-to-18-year-olds listening with rapt attention as she read to us as she would to small children. We don’t outgrow the magic of a good story well told, do we?
Mike spent a good portion of his time here working. He’s the president of FPM (Financial Planning Ministry), a church-related agency assisting individuals with their estate plans and planned giving. While here he was guiding his organization by phone—and guiding his hosts as we updated our living trust. FPM prepares your trust for free if you include among your beneficiaries one of the dozens of churches and organizations that sponsor the ministry. Mike’s service to us wasn’t completely free. I bought dinner one evening.
We spent some time reminiscing, of course. Mike and I began working together in 1979 when I became the pastor of Central Christian Church in Mesa, Arizona. He was already on staff as part-time children’s pastor–the job I thought he was born for (he was that good at it!) until I saw his even more sterling work later as our business administrator and executive pastor before leaving us to lead FPM. We went through some tough days together, including that period when we were afraid we could lose Central Christian Church’s new building. We were carrying a multimillion dollar mortgage when general interest rates rose to 14%. Our lender wanted money we didn’t have. Mike stepped in, negotiated a deal with an Arizona bank we could live with, and saved our building. He remembers the particulars; I’ve spent the years since trying to forget them.
That conversation reminded me of another. I was president of Hope International University (then Pacific Christian College) in California at the same time I pastored Central Christian Church in Arizona–accumulating a gazillion frequent flyer points over the nine years–when one of several crises hit there. One day Laure, our Chief Financial Officer–came into my office, closed the door, looked me squarely in the face, and challenged, “Do you really think we can make it?” You tend to remember such conversations. (BTW, we did make it–the Lord is good–and Hope is a thriving university today.)
We took Mike around to meet some of our favorite people here: Captain Ricky, whom I already mentioned. James, who runs the Mail Room downstairs and was so helpful to me in the visa process. Dr. George Lindner who repaired my tooth and whose staff also helped me with my computer needs. There were others, like the proprietors of Frenchie’s Café, whose food was matched only by their good service; and Terri Hill, the minister of our Methodist church home here; and some of our favorite waiters and waitresses in some of our favorite restaurants. We are going to miss this place and its warm, welcoming people.
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