Not so long ago, there was a thick and shady forest of pine trees on Marco. “The Pines,” as the towering grove of evergreens was known, marched westward toward the beach until Heathwood, rose into view from the Caxambas hills, was corralled off by Winterberry, and was finally flanked to the north by San Marco Drive.
The shady pines were prolific. They dominated their domain with authority and no matter what time of year, the tall and windswept evergreens of Marco always offered a wonderful contrast to the other exotics that could never achieve the height required to become a natural landmark.
It was easy to get lost in the pines. The wooded thicket was always shaded—even in summer—but when the seasons began to change and the sun began reaching for the great slant to the south, even the peripherals of the pines were in shadow. Especially the younger pines that struggled to find the light on the brown-needled forest floor.
The people of The Pines that lived in the Marco woodlands knew that their home was special. Visitors that lived elsewhere on the island might have had the big water views or a golf course in the backyard, but when the south wind blew in summer or the northwest in the winter, the millions of pine needles that were the trees whispered. The voice of the wind in the pines will always be unforgettable to anyone who has ever heard the call.
Marco has always been diverse, just like the many exotics that call our islands home. As the years passed and as the Marco Beach Boys were working at our resorts, we often ran across other exotics that happened to be in human form.
Almost every hotel or resort relies upon interns that arrive from overseas, and like the coconut palms, the royal poinciana, and The Pines, the human exotics might be different from the natives, but all our needs, hopes and wishes are always surprisingly the same.
After a big wind plowed up the gulf during an early December cold front, and the breakers on the beach were pounding out a salty spray that was fogging everyone’s sunglasses, we were busy in the beach hut doing our chores, but we also had time to talk and visit with our newest interns.
Monica and Linda were our newest additions. They were our new interns working in the recreation department and they came with visas to work at our hotel for a year. They were exotic to us because they were from Hungary. The two girls were also beautiful. Linda was blonde, Monica was brunette, and both spoke perfect English with a delightful and glamourous accent.
Because it was early December, the Beach Boys were all excited to hear about Christmas in Hungary. We were also hanging on every word as the girls related the holiday traditions of Budapest and the other provinces along the Danube.
We learned that gingerbread was the classic Christmas treat, and that a Christmas tree was decorated traditionally by the Hungarian parents when the grandparents were taking the children out for a walk in the snow.
We also learned to our dismay that the girls were hopeful the hotel chefs would make gingerbread for the cafeteria as that would be their only Christmas treat. The girls, as we were learning, were very polite and very well mannered, but they had no extra money and no chance to afford a Christmas tree. The girls had a nice condo they had rented for the year, but there was very little money for anything else. Shockingly, we learned the girls ate breakfast and lunch at the hotel cafeteria, but a snickers bar was usually dinner.
As a typical day on the beach would have it, the sun climbed higher, the guests came out, and soon we are all busy. The thought, however, of our new friends homesick for the holidays and without a Christmas tree began to take root.
When the Hungarian girls went to lunch together, the Beach Boys began networking. “It just don’t seem right,” Timmy began the conversation, “That those two pretty girls, so far from home won’t have a Christmas tree.”
“And all they get to eat is from the cafeteria?” Slim spoke up. “No money for anything else? No presents!”
“Wow,” Chase added, “those girls are like the saddest Christmas story.
After a few moments, the founder of the Beach Boys, Jim Martin, and the Marco Beach Boy code of conduct came into play: “We might not make a lot of money, but we always have a lot of fun, and, we take very good care of each other.”
During the next few days, we learned that Monica and Linda both enjoyed chocolate, red wine, and French Fries. The girls also missed freshly baked bread and pastries, but what they really were homesick for was the classic decorations and a tree for Christmas.
Soon the word was out, and all of the other Beach Boys and Girls were scoping for items to make a Hungarian Christmas complete even on a tropical American island. Pierre—his first name is Mike—came in first with two boxes of Christmas lights, ornaments, and a Christmas tree stand from his grandmother’s attic. Apparently, granny through the years collected enough holiday gear for five families. Pierre’s contributions were instantly hidden away. What followed was a giant box of Russell Stover holiday chocolates from Slim, a huge teddy bear from Timmy—he won at the Collier County Fair—and five bottles of on-sale red wine from Marco Liquors.
We added everything we could beg from the pastry chef at the hotel and when the second weekend of December was over, the Beach Boys were ready. Except for the Christmas tree, because that was a diabolical plan that still inspires today.
For the Christmas tree, we knew where to go—The Pines. When all the presents and decorations were pulled out of hiding and we knew the Hungarian girls were home at their condo, we liberated a battered old pick-up that was used to pick up trach on the beach. After a drop cloth was resting in the truck bed, and a pruning saw tucked away in the cab, we drove with all the Beach Boys and all the presents, lights and ornaments, and disappeared into The Pines.
Soon the perfect little pine with the perfect shape was ready to be liberated. It was just a baby, as far as the Marco pines were concerned but it rose well over our heads as we grabbed the pruning saw and took turns cutting.
In no time at all, we were driving down San Marco with a newly cut Christmas tree in the back surrounded by all the packages and every Beach Boy and Girl that would not fit in the cab of the truck.
When we arrived, knocked on the door, and delivered Christmas with most of us wearing Santa hats, our new friends that were the beautiful girls from Hungary hugged us all and cried. The tears of happiness they cried were the best presents ever.
Tom Williams is a Marco Islander. He is the author of two books: “Lost and Found” and “Surrounded by Thunder—the Story of Darrell Loan and the Rocket Men.” Both books are available on Kindle and Nook.