Saint Nicholas and South Shores

by Tim Gilmore, 6/20/2012

Walking down the street at dusk, an old man and his granddaughter bump into time.

Photograph by Emily Gilmore

Cluster of houses built in the 1800s, dark cedar trees and hickory and pine, then the river. In the house on Palmer Terrace with the two-story Corinthian columns, someone once played the zither.

An old man and his granddaughter walk down the street at dusk.

Photograph by Emily Gilmore

Before Jacksonville was Jacksonville, it nearly became San Nicolas. In 1820, two years before the town’s founder arrived and surveyed for it, a few hardscrabble families living between the small trading point called the Cow Ford and the recently abandoned Fort San Nicolas petitioned the Spanish governor of Florida for the right to create a new township. He rejected it. It would have been called San Nicolas.

Now, St. Nicholas is a small neighborhood in the vicinity of the lost fort tucked into the inner folds of Jacksonville. Now, Old Hickory Road curves through the South Shores neighborhood at the side of St. Nicholas, Old Hickory the nickname of Jacksonville’s namesake, Andrew Jackson. Ironies of naming roll through lives like invisible fields of force.

Photograph by Emily Gilmore

When the old man and his granddaughter walk down Old Hickory at dusk, the old man looks up, and a telephone pole crosses before the sun whose diamond momentarily casts the blue sky purple. He becomes dizzy. He looks confused, physically stunned and a little sad.

When the 11 year-old looks ahead into the street, everything looks grainy. The street, the trees, the cars, the brick houses, the telephone poles, the streetlights—everything has been atomized. She sees everything as a snowstorm of atoms. The street becomes dark and impersonal and pointillistic. She is having a vision of God, and God doesn’t know its name. There’s a Spanish fort here, or rather there’s a Spanish fort gone in a here way. The backyard oyster roast that had just generated all that laughter is here too, but not the same way it had been. It’s here in a gone way.

There’s a house here with a three-story tower containing a spiral staircase.

Here was a body once found wrapped in a carpet at the river.

In 1822, Jacksonville’s founder arrived and surveyed. His name was Isaiah Hart. He named several streets downtown after his children—Julia, Laura, even Ocean. His son’s name was Ossian. But the Spanish had called the Cow Ford the Pass de San Nicholas. And David Solomon Hill Miller, Hart’s chief surveyor, named the streets of St. Nicholas after his family—Palmer Terrace, Holmesdale Road, Nicholson Road.

St. Nicholas is Shadow Jacksonville. St. Nicholas is the Jacksonville that Almost Was. St. Nicholas is the reflection.

Beach and Atlantic Boulevards split near the Assumption School and the Mudville Grille. The Catholic school and the sports bar. Forgive St. Nicholas. Forgive Sigmund Freud for coming up with the Madonna-Whore Complex. The Florida Department of Transportation currently plans to demolish the Doll House, the Atlantic Boulevard strip club an icon of seedy Jacksonville since the 1970s.

(“The place is crappy but the bartenders are nice. This place is almost never full so parking is rarely ever a problem. The dancers are ok and generally friendly during the afternoon but snobby at night.”)

Three-story tower and a spiral staircase. A zither. Dark cedar trees. The petition was rejected. St. Nicholas would not be the center of the city. God doesn’t know its name.

Something has happened to the old man and his granddaughter. Walking down Old Hickory, they’ve bumped into something. Or something has bumped into them. The old man has suffered a stroke. They’re holding hands. Electrically shocked, the old man sees nothing. His granddaughter sees. She sees everything he would have seen. As though the vision from the stroke has jumped across their fingertips. She sees. She sees everything jumping across. Everything jumps, connects, bridges, sprays into everything else like mist. What were solids are mists and fogs.

The old man and his granddaughter have bumped into time. Or time has bumped into them. And their hands still touch. Their hands jump across one another. Into each other. Fogs. Mists. Merge.

And love. And love.