Time to share a hug with one of our longtime beach buddies
By John Morton
To say that John Kames’ visit to Siesta Key this month will be bittersweet is the understatement of a lifetime.
Like so many of us, he spent his childhood family trips here and has since held on tight. His late father Bob, the fun and crazy musician who created the popular “Chicken Dance” and had a TV show in Milwaukee back in the day, came up with something even more impressive when he bought a condo at El Presidente for his wife to celebrate their 25th anniversary of marriage.
Now, son John will come all the way from southeastern Wisconsin, like he always does, to attend the annual owners meeting. And while he’s here he’ll take comfort in the hugs of old El Presidente friends — the Hribars, the Boltes, the O’Connells, and the 50-something Dames “kids.”
“We terrorized the beach,” John said of his childhood antics with the Dames gang, whose last name conveniently rhymes with his.
“Kames and Dames. Look out!” he chuckled. “Here they come!”
By the way, the children of all those family friends now own those El Presidente condos. If you buy one here, and have kids, good luck trying to sell it!
Are you listening, father of mine?
Back to John Kames, my fellow Cheesehead. I enjoyed getting to know him a little bit by phone and will further enjoy getting to know in him person. He will likely be finding comfort in the hugs of many others while he’s here — strangers, yes, but not really. We’ll explain that in a moment.
Anyway, John has always hoped to join the ranks of what must be hundreds of us Siesta Key vacation brats who finally decided to call our home-away-from-home our forever home.
The good news was, he had in Carol Thurber a soulmate of a girlfriend who equally cherished our island. After each of her seven visits, something Siesta would come back to the lanai in Wisconsin. Most recently, it was a mini surfboard depicting the lifeguard stations she got at the Green Turtle gift shop.
Asking Carol to someday spend the rest of their life on Siesta Key wouldn’t be a hard sell. But first things first …
Just a few doors down from the Green Turtle sits Silver City, home to the Siesta Key Watercolor Gemstone. You can read about it in the advertorial on page 21 in this issue.
John thought the gem would be the perfect symbol and business owner Monica Galfre set him up with an engagement ring that featured that special stone.
That night, ring in hand, he dropped to one knee on Crescent Beach as the sun dropped with him. It was May 10.
“There’s no doubt that moment is a highlight in Carol’s life,” John said.
Indeed, she was over the moon.
And when John posted photos to our most popular Siesta Key-themed Facebook page, entitled SIESTA KEY, he connected with hundreds of well-wishers that threw his way every celebratory meme known to mankind.
About that page: OK, its name isn’t the most original, but it is in all caps. So there!
And yes, it has its share of cyber bullies — most notably, the locals shame those who say they can’t wait to be in Siesta Key.
“It’s on Siesta Key! SMH,” is the frequent response. And I must admit I’ve said it myself.
(By the way, what if we do indeed someday become a township? For example, I lived both on Fort Myers Beach, and in Fort Myers Beach, a few years back. Did I just blow your mind? Did I just send you scrambling over to TikTok?)
As for those who ask about how the weather is on Siesta Keys … well, that’s when you show no mercy.
Mostly, however, the page is a great online lovefest of photos and memories.
Anyway, engagement bliss aside, Carol wasn’t feeling quite right toward the end of her most recent Siesta stay, commenting on how she was having trouble swallowing. She also felt fatigued.
Less than eight weeks later, on July 8, Carol “took her wings,” as John wrote, in what was one of the toughest posts that members of SIESTA KEY had ever had to read. A mass in her chest had been discovered, and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma had ended her life.
“I felt it was important to let them know — they had shared in our engagement and in other aspects of our life,” John said. “I’ve always felt that those who share Siesta Key with me are part of my family.”
Next thing John knew, more than 1,000 people expressed their sympathies via the Facebook page.
“That was very powerful, very meaningful to me,” he said. “It truly helped. The page gave me an outlet and the response gave me the feeling that I wasn’t alone. It was overwhelming.”
One response was particularly powerful. It came from Susan Rankin and included a picture of her soon-to-be husband, Eddie, proposing to her on Siesta Key — just like John had done with Carol.
She then wrote about how he too passed away, in his case from terminal cancer, six months after their wedding.
“To have someone reach out who could relate to what I was going through — that was a real meaningful gesture,” John said. “I’d like to meet Susan and thank her. That took a lot of courage.”
I’ve always liked the slogan the Save Siesta Key incorporation folks put up on their website: “Siesta Key is not just a vacation destination, it’s a community.”
It’s so true. And to have such extraordinary love and respect for a magical place no doubt brings some love and respect to one another. Yes, the secret is out about Siesta Key. But it’s also no secret that the people here are in many ways as special as the place itself.
John, I look forward to meeting you during your stay — to big-talk about our Siesta memories and build upon a bond we already share. And you could use a real hug.
Welcome back home, where you’re forever among friends. More than a thousand of them, in fact.
(John Morton is managing editor of the Siesta Sand.)