If you drove the Tamiami Trail from Naples to Ochopee in the late 1980s, you couldn’t miss the hand-painted sign out front of a run-down shack across the trail from the National Park Service offices, formerly the infamous Golden Lion Motor Inn.
I drove the Trail every week, delivering papers and gathering news for the weekly Everglades Echo. It was a beat cherished by few, but integral to the tiny newspaper owned by Tuff Publications.
The shack and celebrated sign were the property of 84-year-old Mama Hokie, a feisty wisp of a woman who had lived along the Trail for more than 30 years, eking out a living selling grubs and beer to fishermen and yelling at park rangers to stay off her land.
Besides the Beer Worm sign, Hokie’s claim to fame was a tragic encounter with an alligator that resulted in the loss of her right forearm. The seven-foot gator latched on, late one night, as she used a Cool Whip container to scoop some water from the canal. Tug as she might, the gator won, making off with a good chunk of her arm. She lay on the dock for quite some time before she decided she obviously wasn’t going to die. Without wrapping her arm, she went inside and called 6-1-1, then sat bleeding outside her shack, waiting for help, before realizing she’d called the wrong number - twice.
By the time EMS arrived Hokie’s 98-pound body had lost a lot of blood -- yet she survived to tell quite a tale before her death in 1996.
Her recollections of the Everglades could fill a book, but I will always remember Hokie for her good advice. It came after I interviewed her prior to the gator attack. There were many things that Hokie loved -- her dog Randall being one of them -- but her greatest love was life itself.
As I left the interview and headed back to my car, Hokie took my arm and said, “Be good!”
“Of course,” I assured her, but she took hold of my other arm, looked me in the eye and said, “No, I mean be good. It don’t matter what you do with your life as long as you do it good!”
Well, I’ve never forgotten Hokie’s advice and whatever task I’ve taken on I’ve done my best to do it good.
Five years ago, E.W. Scripps gave my husband and I a phenomenal opportunity to launch the Collier Citizen with six of the best employees we’ve ever had the pleasure to work with. What a surprise along the way to touch so many lives and share so many stories.
Now it’s time to try something new. I’m not sure what lies ahead, but want to thank all the people who make this publication possible -- most especially my wonderful columnists, who hit their deadlines every week with no compensation; my freelancers, who meet their deadlines with little compensation and the full-time reporters, who usually push their deadlines for not-enough compensation.
And to each of you, your loyal support as a contributors, readers and advertisers has made a difference in my life and will continue to touch the lives of many.
It’s been one heck of a roller coaster ride (and my family will tell you how much I hate roller coasters) but I wouldn’t have had it any other way because, with your help, I did it good.