Key West: Where The Sun Rises Just For You
By Clay Greager
Every time I tell someone that I moved here over 25 years ago with my wife and four children, I expect to be asked, "What's it like to raise children in Key West?" This is how I answer: I think Key West is one of the finest places anywhere to raise children. I spent twenty years in the U.S. Army before moving here, so I have some experience in what other locations have to offer families. None of them come close to Key West.
When we moved here in 1979 we had a daughter in 8th grade, twins in 10th grade and a son in 11th grade. Three of them are still here in Key West, own their own homes and have successful careers. They are happily married and have given us wonderful grandchildren. Not only have they done well but their spouses have also. Our fourth child lives in St. Petersburg, Fla., but owns property in Key West and plans on returning someday.
When I mention to people that this is one of the best environments in the world to raise children I usually get a confused look that puzzles me; "If you find Key West so irresistible and visit so often, why don't you think it's a fitting place for your own children?"
A typical comment I hear is, "But look outside at all those people. It just doesn't seem like a good place for my children." I have to laugh at that. There's a lot more to Key West than the 200 block of Duval Street.
I like to point out that we have plenty of shops in Key West but no shopping malls. Our children were raised without the "mall mentality." They were never dropped off at the mall to be picked up at a certain time. In Key West, parents maintain a very close family unit.
To our children, going out to the Content Keys or Snipe Keys to play volleyball in the shallows could be described as "their mall" but then we were out there also.
If we weren't with them, our children knew subconsciously that there were always adults around who knew them or us, which probably helped keep them in check. It might sound like they weren't free but really it was just the opposite. Sometimes I liken Key West to a very large playground.
At the same time, Key Westers are energetic and motivated. Failure in Key West means you can't live here; consequently there is a constant purging that takes place. In order to maintain a family, you have to work hard, use your imagination, and make the right decisions. I tell parents to envision what it would be like to raise children in such a community.
Key West children all seem to remain independent and seek their own futures. They literally grow up surrounded by people who are in pursuit of individual dreams, and it rubs off. I have never seen what I call "the herd instinct" develop here.
Then there is the exposure to the world through the many visitors who come to Key West each year. Most of these people are successful, well-traveled and open-minded. There is a natural tendency among our children to emulate them.
Key West is an island, but I also believe it's an "oasis of knowledge and worldly riches." And if there's any slogan that fits Key West, it's "Welcome to Home Town, USA"
Author Clay Greager ("Last Flight Out") owns the Last Flight Out shop in Key West