A while back, I posted about a near-miss automotive mishap that occurred several years ago, while our family was on its way to Florida. We've actually traveled to Florida for spring break twice. The first time was in 1989, after I’d re-established contact with my ‘first mother’. At the time, we only had three kids – 3M was a year old at the time, 2F was almost four, and 1F was almost seven. My aunt (my dad’s sister) was living in Sarasota at the time, and gave us a standing invitation to come down and stay with her at her place, and so we did.
It was the first time I had ever been south of the Ohio River (Molly had been to Florida once in college), and we generally soaked up the whole ‘heading south’ experience. Leaving Michigan with snow on the ground, and watching leaves appear on the trees and the grass get greener, the further south we went (and just seeing things like the red dirt in Georgia, for the first time). By the time we crossed the state line into Florida, it was 85º and the sun was shining, and we just felt like we were somehow cheating the system in a major way. We stopped at the ‘Welcome Station’ just across the Florida line, and 2F ran over and spontaneously hugged a palm tree. . .
We arrived at my aunt’s house, and she did a wonderful job of playing the gracious hostess and local tour guide. We drove over to Disney World (for which I’m sure I paid way too much for five of us to spend most of the day standing in line, but my kids wouldn’t have let me leave the state without going there), took in a Tigers spring training game, and consumed all the fresh-squeezed orange juice we could get our hands on (since then, frozen/canned OJ has just never been the same).
Two events stand out in my memory. First, was the initial face-to-face meeting with my ‘first mother’, for the first time in over 20 years. We were both pretty nervous, but we had a good visit. Molly’s winsome personality (she covers for my shyness in a most happy way), and the kids, went a long way toward relaxing the mood.
And there was the beach on Siesta Key. Oh. . . My. . . Goodness. It was the most incredible, beautiful beach I have ever seen. The sand was white, and fine – about the consistency of flour. We scrambled around to find a small container to take some of it back with us, just to show our friends. The water was a luminescent blue-green color, and we watched with delight as pelicans hovered high above the surface of the water, before diving to snatch a fish. And most incredibly, the beach was virtually deserted – we could look more than a mile in both directions, and see fewer than a dozen people besides ourselves. It was just incredible. We stayed on the beach until it got dark (the only not-beating-the-system aspect of the whole experience was that it was 85º and sunny on the beach in March, but the sun set at 6PM; (*sigh*) you can’t have everything).
Our week in Florida ended all too soon, and we piled back into our minivan and reversed the process we’d so enjoyed on the way south – with every passing mile, the grass got browner, the leaves on the trees got sparser and then non-existent, the air got colder, and by the time we crossed the state line back into Michigan, it was 35º and raining. . .
But we’d had a wonderful trip, and made a bunch of family memories.
Three years later, we went to Florida again, with four kids this time – 4M was a year-and-a-half old – and Molly was six months pregnant with 5M (this was when we had our vehicular near-miss). Our main goal this time was to meet my birth-father in person, for the first (and so far only) time; he also lived in Florida, not too terribly far from my aunt. We mainly stayed with my ‘first mother’ and her husband, for that trip, but we stayed at my aunt’s place for the meeting with my birth-father.
On the tourist front, we visited the Kennedy Space Center, which given my own youthful fascination with all things Space, was a major highlight. The tour of the space center was really cool, but we got an added bonus, because while we were there, a shuttle was due to land there in Florida. So, we found out the details, awoke at 4AM, inquired about the best place from which to view the landing, and staked out our spot. We were about three miles from the runway; looking across open water, we were looking right down the runway – the shuttle would virtually fly right over our heads.
As the sun rose, the crowd of shuttle-watchers grew, so that, by the time the shuttle was due to arrive, cars were parked pretty much all along the shore of the little inlet we’d parked on. The guy next to us had his radio tuned to the Space Center communication, and we could listen as the commentator tracked the shuttle’s progress – “Atlantis has just crossed the California coast, at such-and-such altitude, flying at such-and-such speed.” “Atlantis is over Texas now. . .” And so on.
A few minutes before the scheduled landing, suddenly a fleet of helicopters popped up all around us, while the radio told us that Atlantis had crossed the Gulf Coast of Florida. We heard a sharp double-crack, almost like a pair of rapid-fire gunshots, and then we heard over the radio, “Atlantis is on the runway!”
AND WE NEVER SAW IT!!!
The damn shuttle flew right over our heads, and we never saw it! We heard what we were told was a double sonic boom (although I don’t think the shuttle would have been supersonic at that point; that’s what we were told, though), and we were certainly present for a shuttle landing, but somehow, despite all that, we managed to completely miss making visual contact with the bird itself.
Returning to my aunt’s house, we were eager to get back to the beach on Siesta Key, remembering what a slice of paradise it had been three years previously. But you know, a lot can change in three years. . .
Driving out to the key, it was instantly apparent that this time, the beach wasn’t going to be quite so deserted as it had been on our first visit. We parked the car and walked, farther than we remembered having to walk before (and Molly six months great with child). And as we stepped onto the celestial white sand, it became instantly obvious that, in the three years since our previous visit, the college students had discovered Siesta Key.
The beach was crammed, virtually wall to wall (if beaches can be said to have walls) with college kids, in various states of drunkenness, and various states of, um, undress. As we walked across the sand, trying to scope out a place where we could put our blanket down, at one point we were walking behind a young woman in a very, um, skimpy thong bikini (the kind that Molly refers to as ‘butt floss’; and actually, ‘skimpy’ vastly overstates the amount of actual cover the suit was providing for her). 2F, who was not quite seven at the time, turned to me and asked, in that innocent six-year-old manner, “Dad, how come that girl’s butt is hanging out?”
“I don’t know, dear,” I replied. “I wonder if her mother knows.”
The girl briefly sort-of half-turned her head and cast a quick sneer in my direction, and those pleasantries having been taken care of, we all continued on our way.
And with every passing minute, Molly was getting more and more steamed, her rotund self, great with child, juxtaposed most unfavorably (at least in her own mind) with the nubile young ladies on display all around her (and ‘on display’ does not begin to do justice to the situation). To be fair, a spring-break beach full of scantily-clad college girls is not a happy situation for a six-months pregnant mother, with four kids in tow. I practiced as much ‘ocular self-discipline’ as I could muster, and reassured her repeatedly that, as far as I was concerned, she was more woman than any of these girls would ever be, but her embarrassment could not be assuaged. And I knew that this was not going to redound to my benefit. I took a few minutes to let the kids get wet, and we hightailed it out of there. And the whole way back to my aunt’s house, Molly fumed at me, for taking her out in public looking like a whale, to be embarrassed by all the Sweet Young Things on display, etc, etc, etc. I have mostly lived it down by now, but I know better than to bring it up. . .
We had a good visit with my birth-father, and his two daughters, my half-sisters, and once again headed back home.
I don’t think I’d want to live in Florida (I’m told August there is pretty brutal), but the two times we’ve visited have been interesting, and a lot of fun. . .