The rewards of reconnecting
Welcome to 2024.
I’m not good at keeping resolutions, and because I’m more backward-looking than forward-thinking I prefer to reflect on the things I accomplished in 2023 without really trying. That way, I’m not disappointed with myself for falling short of a goal. Looking back on 2023, I’m proudest of not letting auld acquaintances be forgot.
One of the most memorable reconnections I made was with Tim Wood, now of Beaufort, South Carolina, whom I hadn’t seen in more than four decades.
Tim was the first and possibly last hippie I ever knew. He had long hair and wore tie-dye T-shirts and Jesus sandals. He also tilted at windmills.
He blew into Fort Pierce in a tan Volkswagen Beetle in 1971, carrying himself, his Alaskan Malamute, Quin, and all his worldly possessions, which consisted of an acoustic guitar, a small library, spiral notebooks of his poetry and songs, a tent, and a duffel bag of clothes.
Growing up, Tim had spent the years 1957-1960 in Cuba and clung to a romantic vision of living in the tropics. He had an aborted trip to Florida a year earlier with the dream of settling in Key West and working on a charter boat. But he was disillusioned with the town’s commercialism and returned crestfallen to his native Ohio.
The next year brought him back to Florida when his mother, Leta, who was staying for the winter at Ken and Ellie’s cottages on North Beach in Fort Pierce, summoned Tim to help her as she recovered from a back injury. Leta had earlier met Fort Pierce artist A.E. “Bean’’ Backus and commissioned one of Backus’ students, Michael Sitaras, to paint her portrait.
Tim, 21, met Bean and liked the vibe of his open-door studio at Second Street and Avenue C [now Backus Avenue]. Tim didn’t have a job yet and little money, so Bean invited him to live in a small room outside the studio that had once been used as a detached kitchen.
My brother, Michael, at the time was also one of Bean’s students, and we often traveled by bike to Bean’s studio after each school day. We got to know Tim, who became like a big brother to us. We gave him the nickname T. Woodstock, after the popular 1969 music festival in upstate New York. Though he never attended Woodstock, Tim had bona fide hippie credentials, having once lived at a commune in Delaware.
Tim decorated his room at Bean’s with striped paint and madras bed covers. People often gathered in the room and Tim would get out his guitar. He played mostly his own compositions, but I always urged him to play my favorite, Mr. Bojangles. This part of the song always made me think of my minstrel friend, Tim, and his dog, Quin:
“He spoke with tears of 15 years how his dog and him traveled about His dog up and died, up and died, after 20 years he still grieves”
Luckily, Quin never up and died in the years he and Tim lived in Fort Pierce but he certainly wandered about. So much so that Tim was forever calling the St. Lucie County Humane Society to see if the aimless Quin had turned up. At the same time, the frantic public was calling the humane society to report seeing a wolf, which the 125-pound Quin closely resembled.
The calls landed Tim a job as an animal control officer. “That way I could have Quin with me on the job and when he’d take off I could get paid to pick him up,’’ Tim told me recently.
Tim fully embraced the concept of being a hippie, although he always seemed to have a job, whether working at the humane society or as a hospital orderly or cleaning pools or working as a cook at Poor Bob’s in Jensen Beach.
“When I was 18 I kind of became a hippie and all of a sudden I had all these revelations,’’ he said. “I really thought the world was going to change with this peace and love concept of everybody loving each other.”
Tim believed in making the world a better place in small ways and big. Frustrated with seeing trash on South Beach and the city not picking it up, he enlisted Michael and me and others to pick up the trash during one of our days off from school. Tim loaded the bagged refuse in his Volkswagen and dropped it off in front of City Hall with a note to the city officials expressing his disappointment that the beach wasn’t being respected or maintained.
A remarkable swimmer, Tim loved the beach and the ocean. When my parents were out of town one Sunday, Tim got Michael and me up at an ungodly hour to go to the South Jetty to watch the sun come up. Worried that the excursion might result in us missing Mass that day, I was nevertheless comforted with Tim’s conclusion after witnessing that morning’s magnificent sunrise over the Atlantic: “Well, that’s my church for the day.’’
As we got older in high school, we saw less of Tim as he traveled about. He spent a year at Bean’s studio in Jamaica and lived for a while in Boston, where Quin made his final escape from his master.
But what he lost in Boston he also found. At Logan Airport one day Tim met a fellow traveler, Kris. They hit it off and were pen pals for a year before reuniting in California, where Kris had moved.
They’ve been together ever since and eventually returned to the East Coast. They bought an old telephone repair van in Baltimore and outfitted it as a camper to travel about, returning to Fort Pierce for a year before leaving again for Vermont and later Keene, New Hampshire.
They eventually married and settled in Beaufort, where Tim’s mom had retired.
In Beaufort, the former tumbling tumbleweed grew deep roots. He became a furniture maker and carpenter specializing in the refurbishment of Beaufort’s historical homes while Kris taught preschool.
They had three children, whom they raised in their cozy Beaufort neighborhood of towering oaks draped in Spanish moss. Today, daughter Alison is a sailmaker and rigger in Port Townsend, Washington, while son Seth is a literature professor at Oklahoma State and son Logan is an art gallery assistant in New Orleans.
Tim and I first reconnected by phone after my mom’s death in 2021. Before a motor trip to New England last spring, I texted Tim to let him know we’d be coming by Beaufort, and he invited my wife, Gretchen, and I to stop in. During our visit, he and Kris drove us around beautiful Beaufort, pointing out many of the houses Tim had worked on.
The call of the road still beckons Tim and Kris. In semi-retirement, Tim still works so he and Kris can travel. They were planning a trip to Portugal in the weeks after our visit. They keep a pop-up trailer in their backyard for camping and for visiting their grandchildren out west.
Tim also pursues his passion for writing and his articles — two of his favorite topics are politics and historical preservation — appear in The Island News of Beaufort.
Back at their house, before Gretchen and I hit the road again for our travels up north, I pulled Tim’s guitar from its stand, passed it to Tim and insisted he play Mr. Bojangles.
I value that day and memory. Technology has made reconnecting with auld acquaintances a lot easier through a Google search, a Facebook message, a text or a phone call. I’m glad I took advantage of it in 2023.
Have a terrific 2024.
Reach Gregory Enns or 772.940.9005.
Dec. 15, 2023