• Rita Gardner
  • New surprises after publication of The Coconut Latitudes
New surprises after publication of The Coconut Latitudes
Written by
Rita Gardner
February 2015
Written by
Rita Gardner
February 2015

In this new year, as The Coconut Latitudes branches out far from its beginnings, its being “out there” in the world has continued to bring some unexpected gifts and connections; the latest (yesterday) was an out-of-the-blue message from a pen pal with whom I corresponded over fifty years ago.

The first gift was the arrival of photographs never before seen taken in the 1950s in the Dominican Republic by a German family who visited my childhood home. All of a sudden I can see my family from another lens. Heinz Neumann, in his early 20s then, but now in his early 80s, discovered (bless the internet!) the photo that is the cover of my book. He contacted me to see if I was indeed the child he knew so long ago and far away. One of the pictures shows a handsome young man grinning between my parents in a rustic thatched-roof bar in the village of Miches.

In it, I’m a six-year old, uncomfortably perched on a chair across the table, dwarfed by the drinking and partying adults. I’d never known who the strangers were – and now I get to know their story. Heinz has sent me more images– and since I only had a few pictures of that era, it is a peculiar feeling to see myself as that child I wrote about in the memoir. I felt protective and tender towards my very young self; wanting to reach out through the years and reassure her that her life would, someday, get better.

The second present was even more surprising. Through Facebook, I connected with Joan, the daughter of Carlyle Sees, my father’s former partner in the coconut business. For those who’ve read my book, you know this partnership dissolved painfully and early into our new island life. The outcome was that my sister and I were soon forbidden to speak to the Sees children, a boy and girl my own age. My father even planted a high hedge between our properties. We never spoke to them again in our years on the island. Fast forward to 2015. Not only am I now “speaking to” my former friend electronically, she’s sent me her father’s autobiography, which included his side of the coconut farm saga.  Again, like Heinz’s photos, a new/old world opened up to me – the first time I learned of another perspective on our unusual life story.

The third gift was to reconnect recently with a key person in my life—my college friend Ellen whose family rescued me from a disastrous living situation in Florida. Here is a photo of Ellen and her two brothers, Bill and Jim, the first Christmas I spent in the embrace of her family, my first experience of being around loving, open-hearted adults and teenagers who actually felt free to speak their own minds without repercussions. It was truly a life-changing experience for me, and almost fifty years later, we have much to catch up on. I get to say thank you to Ellen for the gift she and her family were to me.

So – however painful, emotional, or exciting these connections have been—they are part of this new year. As The Coconut Latitudes continues its journey in the world, I have no idea what other gifts it will bear—but am thankful for these offerings, and am already a changed person for it. 

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