So Long, Mr. Sonny

At Sea - August 2002
At Sea — August 2002
By Capt. Bill Pike

So Long, Mr. Sonny
Remembering a friend and advisor who had his own personal chair at the Ship's Store.

Illustration: Christopher Bing
 More of this Feature

• Part 1: Mr. Sonny
• Part 2: Mr. Sonny continued

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• At Sea Index

The last time I saw Mr. Sonny, he was waving from a spot alongside Surf Road as I passed by in my pickup truck. Mr. Sonny always waved big, which is the best way to characterize his unique take on an otherwise common gesture. He'd raise his arm high, steady, and solemn, like some vast voyage was about to begin, with distances and circumstances both epic and exotic.

Moreover, he'd make a point of standing off to the side of the road when he waved, away from the middle where he liked to walk when there wasn't much traffic, so as to avoid the occasional snake slithering through the roadside grass. He'd swing around so he was facing you as you went by, and then he'd stop, thereby engendering a gravity that seldom makes it into your ordinary, humdrum wave. He walked to Bayside Marina most every day, summer and winter--it was his second home.

You'd have to understand the culture of the South a bit to get a proper handle on why everybody around here used "Mr. Sonny" as a form of address, and not just plain "Sonny." Adding Mr. to a first name in northern Florida, which is a lot like southern Georgia, is a matter of courtesy and tradition, a way of showing respect to men who have achieved a certain vintage. It's also a way of acknowledging specialness or singularity, at least sometimes. Most everyone knew, for example, that while serving in the Navy during his youth, Mr. Sonny had witnessed the test explosion of an atomic bomb in the Pacific. Most everybody respected him for that.

Mr. Sonny had his own chair at Bayside, a rocker in the Ship's Store, where his presence was virtually constant during the day, except for the times when he'd go out and sit in the awning-covered swing on the fuel dock and oversee the sea gulls and visit with the commercial guys and charter skippers. Slow to comment and dispense advice, he was more of a listener than a talker. Not like a lot of old, retired guys who hang around marinas, geezers who cultivate a nautical flair and who'll launch into an anthology of seafaring exploits, real or imagined, at the drop of a Greek fisherman's cap.

Mr. Sonny was about as far away from Greek fisherman's caps and other yachty paraphernalia as Paris is from the Gulf of Mexico, by the way. He went in for plain old, comfortable clothes mostly, the sort of stuff that fits in just about anywhere that's close to the essence of things, like a farm, or a fishery, or a boatyard. He wore a plain old baseball cap--if he wore a hat at all--and a smile, most times.

Mr. Sonny died a week or so ago, unexpectedly. The funeral took place at the Methodist church a couple of miles down the road from Bayside. The church, a fairly big one, was packed with friends and relatives, a whopping crowd that virtually overflowed the doors and windows of the place. There were so many people that folding chairs had to be brought in from an adjoining building, and even they weren't enough. In the end, 30 or 40 of us guys had to stand at the back of the church so there were enough seats for the ladies. It was one of the largest, most well-attended funerals ever seen in these parts. Even the Sheriff's Department was there.

Next page > Part 2: “Been fishin lately?” > Page 1, 2

This article originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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