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La Floridiana by Will Moriaty
   Now in our fifth calendar year
    PCR #224  (Vol. 5, No. 28)  This edition is for the week of July 5--11, 2004.

Book Review: “Totch - - A Life in the Everglades”
 by Will Moriaty
"Super Size Me"
 by Mike Smith
Spider-Man 2 Review
 by Andy Lalino
Bright House DVR vs. TIVO....The Grandfathers of Goth....TV Notes....Spider-Man 2 Review
 by Vinnie Blesi
Free Comic Day
 by Brandon Jones
It's A Bash Dude!....Bush Speak
 by Matt Drinnenberg
This Week's Issue....The Greatest Ever....Get Well....Now The Song Makes Sense....Movie Notes....Screen To Stage....Meet The Beatles, Part 24
 by Mike Smith
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TotchBook Review: “Totch - - A Life in the Everglades”,
by Loren G. Brown
1993, 269 pp. University of Florida Presses, Gainesville, FL.

First, A lesson in “Crackerspeak”...
It, like many of the native sons and daughters of Florida, is an eclectic mix of southern dialects mixed with high heat and humidity.

Crackerspeak is the language that Florida Folk Hero and native son Loren “Totch” Brown wrote his fascinating autobiography in.

In order to educate y’all on Crackerspeak dialect, let’s take a look at the “proper” pronunciation of the following Sunshine State locales:


Steinhatchee (STEEN-HATCH-EE)
Chokoloskee (CHUCK-UH-LUSK-EE)
Monticello (MONT-UH-SELL-OH)

“Olde Style” Crackerspeak:

Ybor City (WHY-BOH-SIT-EE)
Miami (MY-AM-MUH)

Failure to pronounce these colorful locales properly could result in your being the recipient of some less than complimentary looks from the natives (although "Old Style Cracker" is about as dead as Latin).

Next, a Lesson In Florida Geography...
Now, get out your Rand McNally’s or Florida atlas and trace your finger down the west coast of Florida - - keep going, keep going – okay, south of Naples, then past Marco Island is the hamlet of Everglades City. To the west of that is Chokoloskee Bay (now, how is that properly pronounced?) and a portion of South Florida paradise known as the Ten Thousand Islands.

As you continue tracing along the coastline you will also run across the Lopez, Chatham, Lostmans and Shark Rivers. - - Then Whitewater Bay, Cape Sable and the outpost known as Flamingo.

This incredibly beautiful and desolate area of sea, sky, mangroves and shell islands that comprise the southern terminus of the American mainland gave birth to and sustained the life of one Loren G “Totch” Brown.

“Totch” was born in 1920 a fifth generation native of Chokoloskee Island. Some seventy years later he would write this fascinating autobiography about his incredibly hard scrabble, yet incredibly free and rewarding life in what was the last remaining frontier in the eastern United States.

In his life “Totch” was a fisherman, hunter, boat builder, husband, decorated war hero, poacher, fishing guide, moonshiner, rum runner, father, crabber and pot smuggler.

His life bespeaks of an area that was teeming with wildlife the likes of which we could never know there today. Panther were plentiful, mullet was multitudinous, fishing was fathomless and undeveloped land was limitless.

His life bespeaks of a man who as a boy spent many a night sleeping out of doors under the diamond skies of the Ten Thousand Islands. It is the story of a man who as a boy navigated, often by himself, endless miles of the desolate and complex waterways of the Ten Thousand Islands and the Everglades in order to catch alligators as a means of income for his family - - many of these sojourns were done at night.

As “Totch” grew up during the Great Depression, his family, like many at that time, was nomadic, living in tents, farming the adjacent land, which unbelievably yielded abundant crops although they were located on Indian shell mounds.

“Totch”, known to locals as “The Sage of Chokoloskee” wrote this book lovingly, humorously and at times, poignantly. In one of the most heart-wrenching episodes of his life, he describes the loss of one of his daughters in a boating fire.

A family of Florida Folk Hero of the highest degree, the Gandees Family, loaned this book to me. Christopher Gandees is a member of the car club my wife and I belong to, and was born in Lake Wales, Florida. His father, Davis, whose father worked for Eastern Air Lines as a line mechanic at Miami International Airport, was born in Coral Gables, Florida. Readers of this publication may have seen Davis’s letters from time to time.

Davis’s forebears had lived in Flamingo for years and his grandfather, Bill Gandees, a good friend of “Totch’s” father, is mentioned in this book. On page 25 “Totch’ shares that when Bill Gandees got married, “Totch” put a ladder up to the newlyweds window in the middle of the night and began to play a saxophone solo that “darn-nigh (Crackerspeak, y’all--W) blew Bill and his wife out of bed.”

On pages 176 and 177 “Totch” describes the devastating Labor Day Hurricane of 1935. Bill Gandees was living at Flamingo when the hurricane hit, and recounted that a tidal hit the village taking all of the town’s people back into a nearby mangrove fringe. Gandess said that they hung onto the mangroves in water over their heads. While trying to hold onto one of the trees, Gandees lost one of his children who drowned as a result.

“Totch” is a magnificent story of a resilient human being who survived long odds against the brutal and at times unmerciful ravages of nature that untamed Florida, mixed with the misery and challenges of the Great Depression and Second World War. In his life “Totch” was forced to be a poacher once the Everglades National Park was established; he was a fishing guide for aviator and entertainer Arthur Godfrey; and was an extra in the 1950’s Burl Ives movie “Wind Across the Everglades”.

While people were living like Kings and Queens in the palatial mansions of West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami, some eighty miles east, “Totch” lived a rustic life that most would describe today as being “Third World” in one of America’s most desolate and beautiful expanses of sky, grass, water and mangroves - - the Ten Thousand Islands and lower Everglades.

Upon summarizing his life, asked if he would do it over again, “Totch” did not even hesitate to answer in the affirmative - - just as long as the Queen of the Everglades, his life-long wife, Estelle, was there with him. “Totch” is a true Florida story of a hardscrabble life that yielded rewards fit for a King and a Queen.

This book is highly recommended reading for the lover of true Florida (wait until you read about Ten Thousand Islands desperado Ed “Doc” Watson, rumored to have killed the outlaw Belle Starr as well as several Ten Thousand Islands residents), real people and the Blessed land known as the Everglades.

Also recommended are the VHS video tapes and DVDs by International Video Projects Incorporated where “Totch” recounts his adventures in the Glades in “Tales of the Everglades, Totch Brown’s Life in the 10,000 Islands”, and “Yesterday’s Everglades as Told by Totch Brown, The Sage of Chokoloskee”

Sadly, “Totch”, like the Everglades he knew, is no longer with us, but the depth of life that this Chokoloskee Cracker experienced must never be lost on future generations of Floridians.

"La Floridiana" is ©2004 by William Moriaty.  Webpage design and all graphics herein (except where otherwise noted) are creations of Nolan B. Canova.  All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2004 by Nolan B. Canova.