a man standing on a boat holding a microphone
Brad Bertelli is a former curator at the Keys History & Discovery Center in Islamorada. His knowledge of Florida Keys history is shared not only in the Keys Weekly, but also the Florida Keys History with Brad Bertelli Facebook page. CONTRIBUTED

My birthday was on June 4, and man, the years are flying by. For the record, every year gets better and better. It is hard to believe that I have been calling the Florida Keys home for 22 years. 

It is harder to believe all that has transpired since I decided to move here instead of going back to Sanibel Island after graduating from the University of Miami with my MFA in 2001. Either way, I would still write something every day — though probably nothing about Florida Keys history had I gone back to the west coast. 

No matter where I ended up, my goal has always been to one day have my writing habit pay for my living habit. I get closer every year. As the amazing Dolly Parton told country artist Lainey Wilson, “If you are going to be a dreamer, you better be a doer.”

Thankfully, as the beautiful Mrs. Michelle Bertelli will attest, I work and work at the dream, knowing while I will probably never be an Ernest Hemingway, a Carl Hiaasen, or a Tim Dorsey, who now calls the Florida Keys home, every year I become a better Brad Bertelli.

As a boy who grew up with a stutter, it was early on that writing became a safe place to visit. Back in grade school, I was excused from my English class once a week to attend speech therapy. As a teenager, between the stutter, the acne and the braces, I was not much of a social butterfly. By 15 or 16, I started to disappear into the solace and peace writing creates in my world. To this day, and I turned 58 over the weekend, it is when I am writing that the world makes the most sense.

As an independent, self-employed local historian, writing my social media content, column, and books, what I consider my primary job, helps to pay the bills and allows me the freedom to create and share some of the many aspects of history connected to the Florida Keys. Bartending a couple of days every week at the world-famous Robbie’s Marina helps to fill the coffers, too.

While writing has been my love since I was a teenager, I appreciate my ability to share the local history on multiple platforms. I am lucky to have been invited to appear on local and national television programs to talk mostly about history and, occasionally, my writing and what brought me to the Keys. What has turned out to be a surprising and amazing twist in my story is that, as it turns out, I enjoy standing up in front of groups and talking about history. No one is more surprised than I. I look forward to talking to groups, sharing my knowledge and hoping that I am able to impart some historical nuggets the audience can take with them. 

Thankfully, the stutter dissipated in my late teens and early 20s, though it still rears its head from time to time when I get nervous or, oddly enough, when I have to call someone on the telephone. Usually, during a talk, I’ll start stumbling over my words or just stare for one second and then maybe two as I try to find the words I want to use (another great thing about writing is that nobody sees that part).

It is not really stuttering but a stammering search for the right way to share a piece of history without getting all bogged down in a needless array of details that can distract from and not add to what is essentially a short story. Details are important, but only so much information can be comfortably shared during a 45-minute talk. In that limited amount of time, it is important to share some historical moments, provide visuals like awesome old photographs, and hopefully tell an engaging story. 

One of the nice things about my former role as a curator was that part of what I was paid to do was to go out into the public and share my knowledge with any group or school that asked. Being largely self-employed, I no longer have that luxury. Sometimes I am asked to give a talk, and there is no budget to cover my speaking fee. For example, recently, the Big Pine Garden Club asked if I was available to give a talk to their members. Unfortunately, their group was decimated by Hurricane Irma, and they do not have the resources.  

So, I am going to put something out there and see what happens when it shows up in print. You can leave it there, pick it up, or ignore it altogether. I just want to put it out there and see what happens. If there is an individual, group or business that would be interested in sponsoring history talks for under-funded groups like the Big Pine Garden Club, schools, and others who do not have the resources, please reach out to me via email, text, or phone so we can work together. 

Brad Bertelli
Brad Bertelli is an author, speaker, Florida Keys historian, and Honorary Conch who has been writing about the local history for two decades. Brad has called the Florida Keys home since 2001. He is the author of eight books, including The Florida Keys Skunk Ape Files, a book of historical fiction that blends two of his favorite subjects, the local history and Florida’s Bigfoot, the Skunk Ape. His latest book, Florida Keys History with Brad Bertelli, Volume 1, shares fascinating glimpses into the rich and sometimes surprising histories of the Florida Keys. To satisfy your daily history fix, join his Facebook group Florida Keys History with Brad Bertelli.