So I had planned to talk about Halloween on The Jacksonville Landing. It was going to be good, too. I was going to describe the chaotic scene that could only be created by a perfect storm of a kids' holiday hijacked by rabid adults under the influence of not only alcohol, but also the anticipation of the biggest college football game since Rockne asked his Notre Dame players to win one for the Gipper - or something like that.
I was intent on describing the person in the most outlandish costume of all - a mullet hairdo, Billy Bob teeth, jean shorts and a Florida Gator T-shirt - only to reveal that it wasn't a costume at all but just a guy, dressed like he dresses every Friday night. And I figured I would be able to describe a few titillating and over-the-top costumes worn by gorgeous women of both the red and black and the orange and blue persuasions.
That's what I had planned to share with you today.
In fact, I even called the paper and asked my favorite journalist, Citizen News Editor Aimee Jones, for an extended deadline, so I could actually experience all the things I had planned to write about. Slave driver that she is, she denied my request. I still intended to write about Halloween on The Landing, but now I would have to make it all up.
I decided to go for a walk first and have a bit of breakfast. Nobody likes to work on an empty stomach. I gathered up my two oldest children and my lovely wife, Lisa, and told them we were going to take a stroll and look for a place to have breakfast that didn't charge 7 bucks for a bowl of grits, which the fancy-smancy hotel in which we are staying does, plus a 20 percent "service" charge.
So we were walking through the streets of downtown Jacksonville and happened across a little café and sandwich shop. When I say little, I mean little. It was a place where you order at the counter and then seat yourselves. There were maybe eight tables, 10 tops, in the entire place. The lady behind the counter spoke English, but with a thick Spanish accent, and when she had taken our order did, in fact, relay it to the cook in Spanish.
But the food was good. We had standard breakfast fare: bacon, eggs, grits and toast - although we could have substituted a tortilla for the toast. I started to, but there seemed to be something fundamentally wrong with having grits with a tortilla.
While we were eating, a young mother wandered in with her two children. They were both girls. It was obvious that they would have a baby brother or sister by Christmas. Both children were dressed for Halloween. One was the spitting image of Tinker Bell and the other was a pumpkin. I looked at the two grown children that were having breakfast with me and remembered Halloweens gone by when they had been Tinker Bell and a pumpkin. Those were the days.
As soon as the two would-be trick-or-treaters walked into the room, the lady who had taken our order rushed out from behind the counter and gave each of the kids a great big hug. Then she started fawning over them in Spanish. That was when I noticed that a young man had followed the little family into the restaurant. "English," he whispered to the lady. "Speak English to them."
She complied while the young man began straightening up objects on the counter.
Y'all know I had to find out his story. He and his family owned the restaurant. They were from Cuba. "We were able to get out," a few years ago, he told me. I didn't ask how and he didn't offer. I just said a little prayer of thanks that I don't live in a country that one would have to escape to get out of.
"The United States," he told me, "is the greatest country on earth. We came here with nothing. Not a penny. But we have worked hard and have saved our money and now we own this business and my little girls can go to school and celebrate Christmas and tonight they will trick-or-treat with 20 other children in our neighborhood."
And then he repeated, "The United States is a great country."
And it really is, you know. It really is. Sometimes we forget that. But I bet that Tinker Bell and that cute little pumpkin won't ever forget it. I bet their daddy won't let them.
And so now Election Day is two days away. Whatever happens, we are going to be OK. I believe that God ordained the very existence of the United States of America and I am willing to put our future in God's hands.