Just a couple of gals with a story to tell
By John Morton
I was invited in July on two beach dates with two different great gals, four days apart.
I mention this not to brag, but rather in the performance of my duties as someone sworn to chronicle all things Siesta Key that are, well, all things Siesta me.
Did I just hear a groan out of you? Watch it, I just bought my first selfie stick and I’m sure someone can teach me how to use it.
Anyway, my first get-together was with the lady for whom I had always planned to name my daughter, despite having never met her. Having eaten thousands of Anna’s Deli sandwiches, it only seemed right.
Yes, there I sat at a public beach pavilion with none other than Anna James, the one who started my 50-year feeding frenzy.
Her longtime friend, former Siesta resident Gary Chappell, put out a notice on the “If you grew up in Sarasota … then you remember” Facebook page that Anna would be holding court on July 12. It was a delight to hear her talk of the early 1970s, which she called “magical,” when she started her sandwich shop in the Village – an institution that has lasted more than half a century.
“I never would have believed it,” said Anna, who still laughs at her original motivation being something so simple as figuring people coming from the beach must have been hungry.
She was also supported by the many artists and hippies that spent time on her front porch, including a young gal that played the guitar outside her modest little house where the Daiquiri Deck now sits.
“It was an artist colony,” said Anna, who just turned 92 and now lives in Bradenton. “There were so many creative people, whether they were visiting or living here.”
That Siesta Key era no doubt inspired Anna to become a published author for the first time at the age of 90, with her book The Marsh Bird. Today, she’s putting the finishing touches on her second book. It’s a memoir about her days on our island entitled Anna’s – the Beginning. She read me the introduction, and I beamed. Talk about capturing the essence of a time and place.
Tack on a tinge of that southern drawl that Anna makes sing so nicely, and you’ve also got audio book written all over this one!
The Siesta Sand is delighted to let you know that we will be running an excerpt of her book in an issue later this fall.
Speaking of stories, let’s hope the Brewer family collaborates on one someday. It would be beyond uplifting.
You may recall that Jacob Brewer, a Texas 14-year-old at the time, was struck by lightning in the chest when visiting Siesta Beach for the first time back in 2020. His injuries left him paralyzed from the waist down.
“He’s a fighter. He’s an inspirational kid,” his mother, Barbara, said to me at Siesta Beach on July 16 – the same daunting date when that bolt came out of nowhere three years earlier. “He wakes up with a smile and goes to physical therapy. He goes to work.”
As did Barbara this scorching-hot day, erecting a table and tent at the beach’s entrance, ready to hand out educational literature on the dangers of lightning.
And she delivered some promising news regarding her son: Thanks to a “Rise” stimulation machine the family discovered in Austria earlier this year and brought back home after emptying the 401K, Jacob can now stand on his own for as long as three minutes at a time. His fried muscles and nerves regenerated, thanks to endless rehabilitation sessions, and are now beginning to reconnect. The hair on his legs is even beginning to grow, as are his toenails.
The 17-year-old is about to become a man.
“This September he’ll have his first birthday party with friends,” Barbara said. “I can’t believe he’ll be 18.”
Furthermore, Jacob is now on pace to graduate from high school in May with excellent grades he has earned through online classes. Come next fall, he hopes to be enrolled in college and begin the pursuit of a career in neuroscience.
“He’s very determined. I know he’ll do it,” Barbara said.
Mom, as it turns out, is brave in her own right. She and her husband in November, as part of a documentary, stood at the very spot near Beach Access 10 where the tragedy took place. It was their first return to what had been dreaded Siesta Key.
“It was rough,” she said of that moment as tears welled up in her eyes.
But Paula Hillard, a Sarasota resident, was there to give Barbara a comforting hug. Hillard learned of Jacob’s story through Facebook and began sending him a monthly greeting card. When she learned of Barbara’s recent plan to visit, she offered to have her stay at her home and assist her on the beach.
“So many Sarasota and Siesta Key people have been so kind,” Barbara said. “We get so many letters from them. It’s a wonderful community.”
After the beach, Barbara was off to Fire Station 13 to share videos of Jacob’s progress with paramedics. She still marvels at how they performed CPR in the pouring rain while lightning bolts flashed around them, and then carried a lifeless body about 40 yards to a waiting ambulance.
“Standing back out there on the beach where it happened, I can’t believe how far that was,” she said. “It seemed like forever.”
Meanwhile, Barbara has created the A Bolt of Hope charitable foundation to assist other families victimized by a lightning strike. Its website (aboltofhope.com) shows a lightning bolt shooting across the sky behind a rainbow.
To assist Jacob, you can visit the Team Jacob website (bit.ly/jointeamjacob), which is part of the HelpHopeLive.org platform that helps families afford medical equipment that insurance doesn’t cover.
A GoFundMe account also exists in support of the Brewer family. Visit gofundme.com/f/Jacob-brewer.
As for Jacob, he’s not taking his progress for granted.
“He never gives up,” said Barbara, noting that beyond physical therapy Jacob interacts with his Rise machine for an hour-and-half each and every morning and night.
And despite the promising future, the occasional doubt that all teens face does creep in.
“He said he was worried that a college might not want to accept him – that he wasn’t doing the kind of things a lot of other kids were doing to build their applications,” Barbara said. “I assured him that he had more than most to offer.
“That he was a survivor. That he had a story to tell.”
(John Morton is managing editor of Siesta Sand.)