When I moved into a condo complex in Florida, one of my new neighbors wasn’t paying rent and wasn’t really welcomed by many in the community. He was not a victim of the economy, and he could make a claim that his ancestors were here first. So, perhaps in his mind, he believed he had squatters’ rights.
Some of the retirees might not have liked him because he was much younger. They worried and wondered what he would be like when he grew up. Others were more charitable and provided food.
He began to look forward to those hand outs, and, as he ate well, he grew bigger. While the rest of us enjoyed the swimming pool by the club house, our neighbor was content to spend his days floating around in the retention pond, keeping an eye on the birds and sunning himself in the grass.
I didn’t know his name, and never got close enough to ask .
So, I christened him “Jessie” after the main road in our development. I was curious about this strange critter, and would look for him whenever I took my morning walk around the grounds or on the way to the pool.
Sometimes, all I would see were his two yellow beady eyes looking at me as he floated on the surface of the pond.
The little dogs and their owners did not take so kindly to a young alligator living in the pond. They instinctively knew that, someday, Jessie would think of them as dinner.
The summer tourists, on the other hand, were thrilled to actually see a real Florida alligator. Jessie was the subject of many pictures and home videos.
As the summer progressed, Jessie went from about 18 inches to nearly three feet long. I knew his days were numbered as a member of our community.
One day, he wasn’t in the pond. I was sure he had moved or been removed.
Then, we spotted him swimming in the brackish water of one of our canals. I secretly encouraged him to keep swimming and find a new home.
Instead, he popped up next to our boat looking to be fed! After all, the “do-gooders” had taught him that man was his best source of food.
Apparently, his time in the canal did not work out , and he decided to stick around the pond feeding. The tilapia that were fattened up each night for him by one of our neighbors who fed the fish were a welcome and continuing food source.
Late in the summer, when I returned from a short trip, I went looking for Jessie. He was not in the pond, and nobody had seen him in the canal.
I finally asked the maintenance man who said that one of the dog owners called the Fish and Wildlife folks and Jessie was removed. I would like to think he is in the Everglades with the rest of his kind, swimming and fishing in the canals along Alligator Alley.
If truth be known, I, too, was getting a little concerned about Jessie and walked very carefully when I got near his pond.
But, after he was gone, I began to miss him. Maybe it was the thrill of being so close to something so wild. He brought a little of Old Florida into my back yard.
If I could have five more minutes with Jessie, I would want to know that he ended up in the wild, and not at a handbag factory. I would want to see those beady eyes cruising a pond and enjoying the life alligators have had in Florida since the time before man.