An old Florida village. Not the touristy kind with swimsuit shops and scooter rentals. This is a place where the local high-school colors are probably camo and orange.
We are vacationing nearby this week. I am in search of tuna dip.
I pull into a random seafood market. The place isn’t fancy. This is rural Florida, where all seafood markets are required by state law to look like rundown miniature correctional facilities.
In the sandy parking area an old man and a kid leap out of a dusty Suburban then walk inside. The old man wears an Atlanta Braves ballcap. His grandson, maybe 9 years old, wears a Freddie Freeman jersey.
Inside the market, the old man never speaks. He communicates via sign language with the boy. I don’t speak sign language, but I speak fluent Kid. And I see a lot of love on that little freckled face.
When the employee at the counter is ready to take their order, the old man gestures to the kid who serves as our translator this afternoon.
The kid points and speaks to the guy at the counter. “We want three pounds of those.”
The seafood market employee is a man with a shaved head, lots of inkwork, and an unlit cigarette wedged in his lips. We must have caught him just before a smoke break.
The inactive cigarette bounces when he talks. “Three pounds of shrimp? Anything else, boss?”
The kid checks with Granddaddy for instructions. The old man looks over the motherlode of seafood displayed on ice. Choices, choices. He signs to Junior.
Junior translates. “Yeah. What’re those things?”
“These? Grouper cheeks. Good eating. Want some?”
The kid signs to the old man who nods.
The kid never stops signing, even when speaking to the cashier. It’s called being polite to Grandad.
“Sure thing, bossman.” The guy behind the counter is trying to act nonchalant about this exchange, but I can tell he’s impressed by the charismatic duo. So am I.
Cigarette Guy places the fish into a double-bag filled with crushed ice. He addresses the kid. “So… He your grampaw or something?”
“Yessir, this is my granddaddy.”
Granddaddy lifts his hat.
Cigarette Guy nods, then weighs the fish on a digital scale.
“My granddaddy says he wants to know about the tuna dip. Do you make it here?”
“Oh, yessir, boss. We smoke the tuna, my wife makes the dip with my mom. Wanna sample?”
Granddaddy is in full support of this idea.
So Cigarette Guy changes his gloves, then goes behind a sneeze-guard and scoops two club crackers into a sample container.
I make my presence known because I, too, hold a deep affection for free samples.
The grandfather chews, swallows, signs.
“Okay,” the boy says. “We’ll take two tuna dips.”
Granddaddy signs again.
“Nope, wait,” the boy clarifies. “Three tuna dips.”
And I’m lost in the cinematic scope of it all. Sometimes everyday life presents itself like a divine picture show. Sadly, I miss too many of these pretty scenes because I focus on the wrong stuff. All I can say is, I should pay more attention.
Granddaddy and Grandson eventually approach the cash register. They have racked up quite a seafood bill. The old man removes a wallet and pays for his fare while Boy Wonder is placed on sign-language standby.
The seafood guy takes the cash, punches buttons, the money drawer opens. He makes change. The old man says thank you in a universal gesture—hand touching the chin, then sweeping downward.
The kid says, “He says thank you.”
The man at the register smiles. He repeats the thank-you gesture to the duo. Then he does something I will never unsee: he performs another brief phrase in sign language.
And as it happens, I know the exact words he’s signing because I learned this same three-word phrase in Vacation Bible School when I was 6 years old.
Granddaddy and Junior are extremely impressed by this. The old man and kid return salute, then exit the market grinning.
Now it’s my turn to buy seafood.
Cigarette Guy says, “What’ll it be, boss?”
I approach the counter, look over the spread of raw fish, and say, “I know what you just said to them.”
He laughs. He slides the cigarette behind his ear. “Yeah? Well, it’s the only little bit of sign language I know. My daughter had to learn it for a Christmas play one time.”
I smile and pay for my items. But before I leave, I force my clumsy hands to make the same gesture he made earlier. A gesture I haven’t used since Miss Judy’s VBS sign-language class a hundred years ago.
Without dropping a beat he signs back and says, “God bless you, too, boss.”