I am now in the little latitudes of the Sunshine State. Just follow the West Coast down to where the modern Floridian sprawl abruptly ends. This is the southern tip of Marco Island where you will find the funky, backwater port called Goodland, home of the Little Bar. It is also the end of civilization as we know it. Venture further and there are only a few crossroad towns among primordial swamp, everglade and cypress. The place is a mix of land and water where the start and end of either is difficult to distinguish. Within this blend live ibis and gator, kingfisher and mosquito, python and panther, bent tail and all.
My dear friends, Dale & Karen, have lived on Marco—this southern West Coast outpost on swamp’s edge—for decades. They know everybody on island including Tara, a fun loving bartender at the Little Bar. As she always says, “I’m tall, feisty and somewhat educated!” Tara phones us halfway through our sundowner beer tasting party to warn us that the three stools she has set aside won’t last for long. After all Rosie Ledet, The Zydeco Sweetheart, and her band of bayou boys are about to take the stage. It is hard to leave the brew and Dale’s stuffed jalapeños, but we depart immediately and drive ten minutes to Goodland. It is nice to be well connected.
A full moon drips a platinum glow upon the Little Bar tonight. This place is more waterfront restaurant than saloon. The bar holds only 50 people or so, thus the name. When we arrive it is packed, but our empty stools await and we dine on smoked amberjack and cheeseburgers in paradise. With dinner complete, we simply swivel 180º around and there before us appears Rosie Ledet with her Cajun band. They kick off the set with one of Rosie’s saucy favorites, Eat My Poussiere (dust).
Bubba, the 300-pound drummer, supplies the big beat. The bass man does some fine slappin’ on his 5-string Fender. The man with glasses, a Saints football cap and an overgrown smile strokes the washboard with abandon. The guitarist gashes out blues and psychedelic licks that somehow blend like a fine gumbo with the band’s pulsing zydeco rhythm. And then there is Rosie Ledet with her angelic, moonbeam face contrasting with the singer’s crusty Cajun soul. She belts out songs while caressing one of her three lovely accordions that grace the stage. The room explodes with that distinctive Louisiana sound that originates near the Big Easy. The music is a sweet elixir after the uneasy week I just experienced.
I had been attending to my father who is now in a Florida facility that handles dementia patients. I spent days observing my dad’s daze and disillusionment. The mental changes rapidly taking over are difficult for him and his independent spirit. His mind that served him so well for decades now fails at 91. He looks out in horror when he realizes he cannot remember the death of my mom, his wife, ten years ago. Part of that is self-imposed, “How could I forget?” The other part is that he realizes how badly he is slipping away. I hold his frail, wrinkled hand to provide assurance, the same hand that deftly led me across busy Cleveland streets when I was just a kid. I try to tell him it is OK, that what he can’t remember I will fill in. But both he and I know we are way out of our league. His sadness for not remembering engulfs the darkened room.
So on this starry night I am glad to hear Rosie Ledet howl her soulful lyrics at the full moon. The zydeco takes me away to another place. She now sings Don’t Tell Me No as sweetly as the flower from which she gets her name. It is a healthy sonic tonic after witnessing my dad’s mental demise. And it is good to be back on island, even if it is far from my own. I feel momentarily protected by its aquatic borders. As I step outside into the cool evening, the silvery moon still spills its beauty upon Marco. Rosie’s voice drifts over the distant bog and makes a swamp connection back to its Louisiana roots. I get a sense of continuum. It is a feeling that even if people come and go, live and die, there are other things that persist. The quiet beauty of the swamp, the glitter of moonlight on the water, and the primal need to belt out a song, dance like a fool or pound on a drum—they all still remain. They are timeless, suspended in the perpetual momentum of life. It is comforting in tonight’s darkness for me to know that the beat goes on.