Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Adventures on Spring Break

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.

(*sigh*)

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. . .

12 comments:

Sailor said...

I've been to Florida a couple times- once for work, in mid-summer, in Orlando, ugh.

The other was a family vacation, a niece was getting married, and chose to do so on the beach in Key West.

What a grand trip that was- first time snorkling, Duval Ave, Key Largo, Key West, Manatees right there- I'm with you, I'll go visit again. But, no living there for me, either.

Cocotte said...

I had to laugh out loud - first at you missing the shuttle (hard to believe, but I can see how it could happen) and then at how mad Molly was on the beach (being a person who hated feeling like a beached whale, I can totally understand her reaction).

I've only been to Florida twice too - once on a family vacation when I was in high school (1979) and once when I flew down to meet Husband while he was on a business trip in Orlando (1998). We went to MGM and Epcot and had a ball, without the kids! We will be going there for spring break 2010 when my son will march in a few parades with his high school marching band at WDW. Stay tuned in a year!

flutterby said...

I think Molly deserves a bouquet of flowers delivered ANNUALLY on the anniversary of the Great Beach Debaucle. :)

I'm going on a little road trip this weekend, but unfortunately am driving latitudinally (is that a word?) and as such will be driving from the Cold, into more of the same Cold. How I wish I would open the car door to palm tree paradise, if just for the weekend!

flutterby said...

OK... am I the only one reading this who immediately bought into all the conspiracy theories I've ever read about NASA once I read Des' story? I mean, c'mon! The shuttle lands and the people underneath can't even SEE it??? What gives?

lime said...

*hoists the placard "floss yer teeth not yer butt!" (yes, i agree with molly and use that expression a lot myself)

since my inlaws lived in FL for the first 10 yrs of our marriage we've been there a number of times. thankfully we had access to what is generally a private beach so we were spared the college students. we do have a rather unfortunate "
crab incident" that occurred during crab migration though....

schweeney said...

My parents moved from upstate NY to south Florida when I was 5. I grew up in Miami Beach when it was a shadow of both its former and current self (late 60’s-late 70’s). It was paradise even in August as long as the pool or beach was available (and you were a kid that didn’t have to pay for air-conditioning a really big house during the energy crisis).

I visit pretty regularly now but I would only want to live there from December to March.

Desmond you continue to describe your wife’s saintly attributes (and I want to hear more). You are a lucky man indeed. But you didn’t know it was Spring Break so it’s not your fault and you had a right to oogle a bit, it’s only natural for Pete’s sake!

for a different kind of girl said...

We've been to Florida a few times, but have never made it beyond Walt Disney World, which is my divine, really. We were there once in August, and rode rides between rain storms brought on by hurricanes on the coast. We hope to go again soon before the boys are too old to not want to be seen with us on a vacation!

Desmond Jones said...

Sailor - A wedding on the beach in Key West? That just sounds like all sorts of incredible. . .

Cocotte - Yeah, Molly is not typically a very self-conscious person. But that was a set-up for whatever self-consciousness lurks deep within her, to bubble up.

And gosh, if I ever traveled for work anymore, I'd have to look into Molly joining me sometime; that just sounds like too much fun. . .

Flutter - I try to protest my innocence, see, 'cuz the same beach was completely deserted just three years previously. Who told the college kids about it, is what I wanna know. . .

And I'm still tryin' to figure out how I missed the shuttle. I mean, we're talkin' about something that's, like, 200 feet long, that should have been just a few hundred feet above our heads. . . Best I've been able to come up with, is that we were told that the shuttle always lands from the north, and we were north of the runway; but if, for whatever reason, it landed from the south that day, wed've missed it. (*sigh*)

Lime - That'd actually make a pretty cool bumper sticker, wouldn't it?

And I think that having relatives in Florida is an absolute must. . .

Of course, you know, the, uh 'unfortunate crab incident' just demands that you expound. . .

Schweeney - My aunt told me that, in Florida, the 'indoor/outdoor' habits get reversed. Whereas Up North here, we're outdoors most of the time in the summer months, and huddle in our heated houses during the winter, in Florida, they're 'out-and-about' during the winter and early spring, but in the summer, they tend to hole up in the AC.

And Molly was more embarrassed than angry; she actually did notice, and thank me for 'guarding my eyes' (which, uh, wasn't easy to do, knowwhatImean?)

faDKoG - You know, when we were there, in late March, every day between 2 and 3 PM, a storm would pop up, and it would rain like crazy for about 20 minutes, and then it was back to the sunshine, like nothing at all had happened. . .

Xavier said...

OK, remind me not to vacation wid you!

lime said...

ok the great crab incident...

the youngest limelet was still stroller bound and the girls were about 5 and 3. my MIL lived walking distance to the ocean. this particular visit occurred during crab migration season when they are all skittering around the place all the time. we were walking back from the beach when a fist sized crab skittered out of the bushes. mr. lime decided it would be fun to see if he could get the crab to latch onto his cap. he knelt down waving the cap at the crab which only served to terrify the creature. the crab ran around looking for escape and came close to the oldest child who began to scream, then it ran near the next child who decided since her sister was screaming maybe she ought to as well. finally it ducked for cover under the stroller and the girls howled in horror imagining the crab might eat their brother who by then was pretty sure he ought to contribute his lung power to the chorus since his sisters were screeching in such fine form. three young children screaming to wake the dead, 5 adults and a teen laughing their fool heads off, and one severely traumatized crab escaping into the high grass. both girls refused to walk another step for fear they'd endured a crustacean version fo hitchcock's "the birds." they had to have daddy and uncle carry them on shoulders and i had to carry the boy in my arms. the uncle then decided to use every joke he could think of involving the word crab with the girls crying over each joke. i threatened to make him comfort anyone who had nightmares that night to make it stop. of course what were we having for dinner that night? crab cakes...which for a couple of years could only be referred to (since it's a beloved family recipe) as crustacean cakes.

Desmond Jones said...

Xavier - What? You wanted to look at the college girls? ;)

Lime - Thanks; that's a funny story. Poor crab.

Reminds me of another story from Florida, this time on an Atlantic beach (which was not nearly so amazing as the Gulf Coast ones). We were walking along, enjoying the wind and the waves, our shoes off, walking in the incoming surf. Molly, who is kind of a compulsive trash-picker-upper, spied a sandwich bag that someone had left lying on the beach, with grape jelly smeared inside it, from what had obviously once been a peanut butter sandwich. She complained loudly about someone leaving their trash on the beach, but as she bent down to pick it up, I noticed something odd about it, and told her to leave it alone. When I got a closer look at it, we saw that it was a beached jellyfish - not something she'd have wanted to be touching, much less carrying to the trash can. . .

Also, 1F had a pathological fear of sharks. Years previously, she was reluctant to swim in Lake Michigan, for fear of sharks that might be lurking beneath the waves. We got her to go in by telling her that sharks didn't live in Lake Michigan, they only live in the ocean; so no problem. But she remembered that for several years, so that, when we DID go to the ocean, she wouldn't go in the water, because there's sharks in there, and you told me there weren't sharks in Lake Michigan, only in the ocean, and this, by golly, is the ocean, and it's got sharks in it, so I'm not goin' in there. . . I forget how we convinced her that her odds of getting munched were really, really small, but she did eventually consent to get her feet wet; probably just made sure that someone else was always closer to the sharks than she was. . .

lime said...

two more good stories. thanks ;)