Boca Grande, a quaint village located on Gasparilla Island on the west coast of Florida, is a remote place where a small group of Canadians and Americans spend their winters. Almost unknown to the general tourist crowd, the quiet town attracts people who are trying to relax and who are not interested in doing much else, except eating fresh shrimp at Miller’s Marina or walking barefoot on the soft white beaches. No day is complete, however, without picking up the New York Times at Fugate’s, the local drugstore, or filling a sack of groceries at Hudson’s – the blue and white Colonial bread sign about the door, the solitary gas pump out in front, and the brown cocker spaniel waiting silently for his master who has gone inside.
On one such daily trip to town, I parked my car across from Hudson’s and asked my wife for the grocery list, which included bread, milk and some Kraft cheese slices. My son, David, leaned over my shoulder and asked, “How about some chips?”
“Yeah, I want some M & M’s,” demanded his fourteen-year-old sister Amy.
Shutting the door of the car behind me, I walked slowly across the road, rounding a black Mercedes with Ontario plates.
As I walked down the narrow aisle with Campbell soups on the left and a large Pepsi display on the right, I came up behind a woman in her seventies, pausing to look at the display and at her list. She wore dark slacks, a bright flowing blouse, and her red hair, now streaked with silver, was held back loosely in a bun. With her back to me, she looked remotely familiar. That’s strange. How can someone’s back look familiar? That’s dumb. I don’t know anyone on this island. I’m just a visitor. But her head – it’s shaking slightly, as if she has palsy. I’ll go around the aisle and see if I can catch a glimpse of her face. Soon after I reached the next aisle, she turned the corner and faced me.
Slightly round shouldered and somewhat fragile-looking, she stood still, peering through her dark glasses at the grocery list. Her face was somewhat leathery and wrinkled, and a close look revealed a brown age spot or two on her cheek and jaw.
I’m not good at names, but this woman is famous. I think her name is Audrey Hepburn. Is that right? Impatient with my poor memory, I turned around, pushed open the door, and jogged quickly to my family sitting patiently in the car.
“Come’n Hudson’s. You can’t imagine who I saw in there! I think it’s Audrey Hepburn,” I said, the words falling quickly from my lips.
“Ah, come on, Audrey Hepburn is not in Hudson’s,” my wife expressed her typical skepticism.
“Come on. Go look for yourself,” I prodded.
Quickly the car emptied its occupants – my wife, my son, my two daughters and my mother. Scoffing me, the skeptics wandered aimlessly across the street, assuming this was another of my practical jokes.
As soon as they opened the door, their eyes were drawn to the checkout lane where a small crowd of people formed a circle around the red haired lady. As I walked up to her, a stranger asked, “Are you…,” but she never had a chance to complete the question. The red head answered, “Yes, I’m Katherine Hepburn.”
Whether it was Audrey or Katherine, this wasn’t Hollywood and she was the last person I expected to see at Hudson’s.
Karl K. Taylor, 1985
Special thanks to the Boca Beacon for the photo of Hudson’s.