I was born in 1965, and grew up in Homewood, Alabama. From the time I was a little girl, my family vacationed in the Florida panhandle.
My family, and people we knew went to Ft. Walton beach or Panama City. I didn’t know much about the rest of Florida. I knew rocket ships launched from a place called Cape Canaveral; that Mickey Mouse lived somewhere ‘way down there’ and from TV ads, that oranges grew in great numbers somewhere in Florida. A farmer put a sticker on every one of those oranges before he sent them to our Piggly Wiggly supermarket! Between government land for rocket ships, farm land for oranges and whatever land Walt Disney had, there really couldn’t be room for much else, right?
We vacationed in the Florida in the heat of summer. I never questioned the logic, this was just something we did. Every year my parents got so excited about those trips, so I too, was thrilled to leave a hot and sticky Alabama for a hotter, and stickier, Florida; where, at the very least, there was the ocean. Thinking back, I am pretty sure the anticipation and planning of the trip was at least as much fun as the trip itself. I remember planning all the games we 3 kids would play in the car on the way, what clothes we would wear; packing and repacking our little suitcases and bags to fit everything we would need.
There are memories from so many years and trips, but really, they were all the same. On the day of our trip, Momma spent the morning gathering what seemed like half our house; and the afternoon ‘fixing’ her hair and makeup. She would don a new ‘vacation dress’ just as we were ready to leave. My dad liked to drive at night when it was cooler, so after he got off of work we would load the car and go. In the early seventies we had a green square-back Volkswagen. In the early eighties, a blue ford station wagon with wood paneling on the side, and jump seats in the back. All the windows would be down in the car. My sister, brother and I played games to pass the time. We would wag our arms up and down at truck drivers whizzing past us on the highway, jumping up and down (no seat belts in those early days) and squealing with delight when they obeyed our signals and sounded big truck horns. We played I Spy; punched each others arms when one of us saw a VW bug. On the back roads, in the twilight hours, we held our breath and stuck our thumbs to the ceiling as we passed a cemetery. We played at these games till our playfulness disintegrated into irritated squabbling, which would inevitably lead to a smack from one or another parent. Silence would be ordered, then sweaty, restless napping would eventually fall over each of us.
A 4.5 hour drive to Ft. Walton Beach, Florida seemed like an eternity. When my younger siblings were sleeping, daddy would let me sit by his side and steer the car. As far as I knew, I was the one driving, and that was thrilling for a little kid. Because we always arrived at our destination at night, we smelled the ocean before we saw it. To this day the smell of the ocean on a warm summer night is the most wonderful one I know. Though my parents referred to it as ‘the beach house’, we always stayed at a teeny, pink cinderblock house a block away from the actual ocean. I suppose, when you only see the beach once or twice a year, that little pink box was close enough to count.
The walk to that crowded beach was always a misery. It started on the steaming hot pavement and transitioned to sand so-hot-it-blistered your feet (why did we never wear shoes?) I remember my mom slathering my white skin with coppertone, then tying a big floppy hat to my sweaty head. I don’t know how vigilant my parents were about sunscreen back then, but we could have protected our skin better had we just rolled in sand after applying the coppertone. We always came home sunburned except for the places where sand had stuck to that oil.
After a day at the beach, there were afternoon naps, charcoal grilled hamburgers or a BBQ chicken dinner, and we had ice cream every night. There were rainstorms at night that sent us running to the safety of my parents bed. Thunder rattled that little pink box with wind and rain so fierce I knew we would all wash away by morning. Daddy would always calm us down by counting the time between lightning and thunder. Though we never did so at home, we sat outside in the dark every night with my parents; slapped mosquitos and watched meteor showers, or just counted stars. One year there was a total lunar eclipse. I remember my brother running around with sparklers while my sister and I sat between mom and dad; each of them pointing toward the moon and explaining what was happening.
My memories are bits and pieces of many trips to Florida with my family. Though I live ‘way down’ in Florida, I am grateful to live, full-time, in an environment where my parents, siblings and I shared so many happy times.