Two weeks ago I said yes to a spur-of-the-moment offer to share a friend’s company-provided hotel room on the beach in Florida for a few days. In an uncharacteristically impetuous burst, I realized I could shift the meeting or two on my calendar, and next thing I knew, I was online watching the price of the tickets I was trying to buy climb steadily. But my tired body needed time away from my tired winter routine, and while Florida is far down the list of my preferred states, it’s warm, it’s sunny and it’s away.
For several years, until I was 5, my maternal grandmother lived in Florida with her sister, just up the coast a bit from our hotel. My childhood memories are sparse: there were multiple visits, at least once on the train, but I can’t quite see it. I have sometimes shared my most vivid memory, from a visit just after Aunt Bob died (poor Great-Aunt Harriett, even years after divorcing Uncle Bob, she was stuck with both his names). I was too young for funerals, so was deposited with a couple of teenage neighbors who styled my white-blond hair and subjected me to a B-grade horror flick that left me with nightmares for seven years. It involved a small worm and a laboratory and, well, I’m sure you know where that was going.
But other memories surfaced with the seaweed on a recent morning as I walked the ribbon of shoreline just down from the hotel. A dark night on which I am still awake, just yards from the ocean and watching as Aunt Bob painstakingly counts the hundreds of eggs being deposited into a depression in the sand by a giant mama sea turtle.
My mother, as we walked up from the beach, stepping on a pull-tab from a soda can (in the days when they came completely detached) and left with a deep and painful gash in her heel. My mom wasn’t much for Florida, either, and after this incident, I didn’t blame her.
My California cousins and I at a small animal/amusement-type park. There is an alligator, and my oldest cousin and I are wearing garishly colored complementary outfits. They might have been pink and green
And the shells – oh, the shells. There were so many shells on the beach you could barely walk without hurting your feet (rendering injury by pull-tab somewhat ironic). My mom collected them by the boxful. Later, on annual trips to a lake in Michigan, she would collect shoeboxes of smooth, round rocks, destined – like the shells – for multiple crafts projects. My father, peeved at having to haul them back home, stashed them in the basement, but not before labeling them Rocques in his controlled, angular handwriting.
There are few shells on the beach now. Instead, an endless line of high-rises marches from south to north, farther than the eye can see. But in among the cabanas and condos, I unexpectedly unearthed the Florida of my youth. The sun and the sand, and even the afternoon thunderstorm, were wonderfully restorative. The memories were an unexpected bonus.