|A last bastion of Cuban coffee and sandwiches.|
“I bring my own milk and sugar and Pepe still makes me pay for it,” she says, laughing.
|Audrey and Pepe|
Lately I’ve been thinking seriously about my diet. I’ve been working hard on preparing meat-free meals, featuring lots of veggies, beans and grains. Milk I can live without. But butter? I’m half French, for God’s sake. How do I do without butter? I was born in Tatamagouche, Nova Scotia, the butter capital of Maritime Canada. My husband grew up on South Carolina cuisine, a lot of the stuff I’m trying to eliminate from our meal rotation. Meat. Bacon. Ham. Cheese. How can we do this?
The last time I was at Sugar Apple, the healthfood store, I saw Audrey. I ran into her at Help Yourself, the organic food spot where on Mondays you can buy organic vegetables. Through the years, as many locals have experienced the subtle expansion our waistlines and the slip-sliding away of our youthful vigor, Audrey seems to have gone the other way. She has never looked better. She’s driving a dent-free BMW. She’s always smiling.
|Audrey. Healthy, wealthy enough, and plenty wise.|
It turns out that Audrey is every bit as smart as I always thought she was. She grew up in Montreal. She is Jewish. She was married once to an Air Force man. She lives on proceeds from several rental properties she owns. Managing those, and keeping up with volunteer activities, keeps her busy. She walks, does Pilates, and coaches a great number of friends on diet and exercise. But she does not call herself a coach or claim any special expertise.
Audrey is a very practical person, with refreshingly clear vision. And yet, she told me, from the time she was very young she has never felt like she really fit in. Anywhere. I believe this sense of being an outsider is common to intelligent people, who find themselves frequently mystified by the often silly, sometimes cruel, sometimes harmful antics of people unfortunately not blessed with clear vision.
“Real estate and sex,” she said, “are things you should get when you’re young.”
“Wow!” I said. “You’re right!”
“Don’t be impressed,” she said. “I got that off a birthday card someone gave me 25 years ago. But it’s true!”
Michael Ingram dropped into 5 Brothers for some of that irresistible Cuban toast. I told him I loved his new antique Lincoln Continental, which I posed in front of just the other day.
“I’m cheating,” he said to Audrey, nodding at his toast wrapped in paper. She smiled.
|June posing in front of Michael Ingram's new vintage Lincoln Continental. (See the lady behind the car taking a picture of the most photographed house in Key West?)|
“It’s not how long you live. It’s the quality of the living. I live like a person who has battled and survived a life-threatening disease,” she said. “Even though I haven’t.”
A couple of years ago she endured a mean bout of dengue fever, a mosquito-borne illness with flu-like symptoms. For ten days she could barely move. From that experience she learned all she ever wanted to know about being horribly sick.
“Who would think a little tiny mosquito could fell a great tree like me?” she said.
Nowadays Audrey chooses her food carefully, and loves preparing astoundingly delicious and healthful meals for her carnivorous friends. She is generous about sharing her hard-won knowledge of diet and exercise with anyone interested. She isn’t looking to argue or debate.
As for the BMW, it’s leased she told me. She leases a new car every couple of years because she gets a kick out of having a new car. But if she could only afford to drive a Toyota, that would be fine, too. Taking care of her body is her main expense. Everything else comes after she pays for organic food.
“I know plenty of people who drive big, expensive cars and eat crappy food. Some people spend more money on gas for their car than they do on food for their bodies. I really do believe that you are what you eat,” Audrey said.
“So if someone were to take a bite out of you,” I asked her, “how would you taste?”
“You know,” Audrey said, “That’s a good question to ask yourself. ‘How would I taste?’”
"Yeah," I said. "Like a strawberry? Or a cheeseburger?"