Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Bailey Boys talk about island's past... just for the 'shell' of it

Bailey Boys talk about island's past... just for the 'shell' of it

At last week's special dinner at Twilight Cafe are, standing from left, Michael and Maureen Valiquette and Dan and Sharon Schuyler. Seated from left are Sam Bailey, Karen Bell and Francis Bailey.

In today's world, children groan with displeasure if forced to take the bus to school instead of carpooling with friends. Hard to say how they'd react to Sam Bailey's transportation challenges.

"Every Sunday evening, I took the ferry from Sanibel Island to Fort Myers so to attend Fort Myers High School. I stayed at a boarding house all week and took the ferry home on Friday evening so I could work in the store over the weekend," Sam reported as one of the guests of honor at a special dinner hosted by Robert Parks, owner and chef for the Twilight Caf.

The live auction at The Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum's Annual Fundraiser, "Under The Sea," provided a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the highest bidder: dinner with the Bailey Brothers at the Twilight Caf.

The bidding war that ensued prompted the auctioneer to ask for permission to offer two such experiences. Last Tuesday evening, museum board member Dan Schuyler and his wife Sharon, Mike and Maureen Valiquette and Karen Bell lived out the dream evening and took a walk back in time with Sam and Francis Bailey.

Something was different about the ambiance of this charming, dimly lit table for eight. There was a palpable sense of awe, respect, reverence and genuine interest. Sam and Francis didn't seem to mind the questions fired from every side of the table.

"As a child, I dreamed of leaving the island and was sure I'd never come back... but things change," explained Sam.

"While we were growing up, there were many Cuban fishermen hanging around the island, looking for a good catch. Our Dad would invite them over to spend time with our family," Francis reported.

When asked what one thing had the most significant impact on the island, in unison both Baileys answered with conviction: "The bridge."

"I voted against it" said Francis, who quickly added, "I still would today. But if there has to be a bridge, I'm glad we have the beautiful one we have now."

In 1926, a quarter century years before hurricanes were named, what became known as THE Hurricane - or "The Big Blow" - hit South Florida.

"During the summer, we rented a house in North Carolina," said Sam. "We hadn't returned to Sanibel yet in September when the storm hit."

The banter and laugher accelerated when Karen asked Sam if he knew... but before she could utter the name, Sam said, "If she was good-looking and lived on the island I knew her."

Bell let it slip that she always thought Sam was the oldest, but to recover quickly added, "and the best looking!" Then, in a true conciliatory spirit, hoping that the aging process resulted in hearing loss, told Francis she thought he was the best looking.

Although there may have been differences of opinion on certain subjects discussed as the group lingered over a delicious meal, they were all there for the "shell" of it - to share their time and treasure with The Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum.

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