Once upon a time three brothers decided to retire to Florida.
They were Yorkshire hill farmers who had spent a lifetime of unremitting
toil on the unforgiving soil of the farm they inherited from their
father. And then along came a property developer who offered them
an obscene amount of money for the farm so they took it and went
They had been to Miami Beach once for a week’s holiday,
the only holiday they’d ever had. They couldn’t believe
the warmth and humidity and the cobalt blue skies and the bath-temperature
waters of the Gulf and swore to each other that they would retire
there if they ever had the opportunity. When they were born Mrs
Trotter was as surprised as everybody else when she was told she
had triplets. The Trotter brothers had never married. When asked,
they said they were married to the farm.
Albert bought a trailer home on a trailer park on Ocean Drive
and a motor boat to go fishing. George bought a timber-framed
house on Ocean Drive and membership of the nearby golf club. And
Jack bought a plot of land on Ocean Drive to build his own house.
Ocean Drive runs parallel to the beach for five miles with just
a strip of grass separating it from the beach and the rolling
breakers. It is famous for its Art Deco hotels and association
with film stars of an earlier era. Humphrey Bogart and John Wayne
holidayed here. At the western end are shops and restaurants running
into houses and holiday homes at the eastern end.
The brothers arrived on New Years Eve when a long section of Ocean
Drive was closed to traffic and restaurants set out tables on
the road in the warm evening light and charged extortionate prices
for mediocre food served by surly staff to packed tables.
The canny brothers ate in a backstreet bar where food was half
the price of Ocean Drive and twice as good but they went back
to Ocean Drive to watch the spectacular firework display over
the sea with the packed crowds who lined the road.
Albert moved into his comfortable, spacious trailer which could
be towed but Albert never did. He took his boat out regularly
and caught grouper and lobster in the warm waters of the Gulf.
George liked the space of his large timber-framed house but didn’t
like the thought of painting the white clapboard cladding. He
played golf every day on the manicured greens and lush tree-lined
fairways which were maintained a lush green even during the blistering
summer days. Sometimes he played twice a day, first in the early
morning before it got too hot and then in the early evening when
it had cooled.
Jack worked on building his house. He set out his house from the
blueprint using a theodolite and level. He hired a JCB digger
to drive in the sheet piling around the basement and then dig
out the huge excavation. He employed a steel fixer to set up the
steel reinforcement and a carpenter to fix the timber formwork.
The ready-mix concrete was poured like grey molasses into the
formwork and the basement was tanked with bitumen and the structure
was complete. The carpenter laid the timber ground-floor joists
and Jack built the brick and block walls himself. He’d done
all the bricklaying on the farm because Albert and George said
he had a flair for it. In the heat and humidity he lost two stone.
His neighbours came to see this house and could not understand
why he was building in brick. The local children rode past on
their Chopper bikes and shouted ribald remarks. When the superstructure
was finished the carpenter came back and erected the roof trusses
and a tiler came and tiled the roof. Jack plastered the house
himself but had the carpenter back to hang the doors and fit the
kitchen and a plumber came to install the bathroom fittings and
air conditioning. And so the house was finished. He named it ‘Trotter’s
During the building, which took twelve months, Jack had alternated
between staying with George in his timber-framed house and with
Albert in his trailer.
Albert asked him why he was killing himself building his own house
when he could have had a trailer home and spent his days fishing.
George said he could have erected a timber-framed house in six
weeks and then spent his time playing golf.
Neither of them offered to help with building the house.
But Jack said he liked traditional houses like they’d had
in England and the finished result was worth it. He had a double-fronted
bungalow of 3000 square feet with a basement that he used as a
den and a location on Ocean Drive overlooking the Gulf.
That summer Jack landscaped around the house and invited the brothers
to come round and join him for a barbeque on his patio by the
pool. They agreed that the smell of the sea and the roar of the
surf and the warmth of the sun were much better than the razor
sharp winds and white winters and wet summers on the Yorkshire
Winter came and with it the hurricane season but the locals told
the brothers that hurricanes always passed them by and went up
the coast to worry and ruin other towns. Haven’t had a hurricane
hit here in living memory they said.
The Weather Channel was tracking the progress of Hurricane Wolfgang
which was passing Miami by as usual and heading north.
During the night Wolfgang did an unexpected sharp left turn and
hit Miami at 3.00am.
Albert’s boat was pounded to matchwood by the tidal waves
that hit the shoreline and it lifted his trailer home along with
others and deposited it five miles away in the middle of the state
highway. It was his last flight and he never woke up again.
George’s timber-framed house was smashed to pieces by the
fierce winds and his body was found in the wreckage the following
day by fire-fighters when Hurricane Wolfgang had moved its malignant
attentions to other towns inland. The golf course was littered
with fallen trees and would need to be rebuilt and the clubhouse
was raised to the ground.
Where the hurricane had cut a swath through the area the only
house left standing was Jack’s bungalow. He’d been
in the basement when Wolfgang struck and apart from losing a few
roof tiles and a couple of shattered windows no damage was done.
Jack scattered Albert’s ashes on the sea and he scattered
George’s ashes on the golf course and he sold his house
and returned to Yorkshire and he didn’t live happily ever