The Sunshine State of Mind

 I sat here this morning and reread a few posts I wrote several months back touching on my childhood. I love to walk down memory lane and it’s fairly therapeutic to tell of my life, even if I’m the only one who ends up reading it. However, I can’t help but be frustrated and a little sad that there are huge chunks of my life that are literally indescribable. I can’t seem to put into words, that most people will grasp or understand enough to do the story justice, some of the fragments of my life. I have lived a rather strange life, plain and simple. I’m not apologetic, I’m just stating a fact.

 As I sat here for a moment this morning, wanting to write a little more about my life, I scanned through the files in my mind and came upon my teen years. The years between 13 and 19 are so chock full of rich history that makes me who I am today that it is impossible to truly know me without knowing all of that. However, it is also the most difficult part to tell, more difficult than my wild days as a young adult, more difficult than the loss of our business and the death of our daughter. Perhaps one day I will be able to put it into words, but that is not today.

 Instead, I’m going to call on a much earlier time frame, my childhood in Florida, and our recent vacation.

 All the memories of this happy time in my history came flooding back last summer when Josh and I went on the first real vacation of our married life and really since our childhood. He’d been to Florida on vacation several times with his parents and to visit friends long before he’d met me, but I had not been back to the state since my family left for Colorado when I was 9 years old. I had not seen the ocean at all since then, though I had been just a few hours away in  South Carolina, New York, and Texas at different points in time.

Me, my brothers Nick and Naaman, my mom, and our dog, Sandy. I think I was about 6 or 7 years old here

 My childhood in Florida ranks among the happiest years of my life. My family was all together in one state (my Gramma, Mom’s sisters, her brother, and their children.) and we were all close. We’d go to the beach together, go to the park, the mall, the flea market, hang out at my Gramma’s house and swim in the pool, there was almost not a day that went by that I didn’t spend time with my cousins, aunts, uncle, and grandmother.

 I remember cook outs by the pool, the grill fired up, chicken and corn on the cob and baked potatoes wrapped in shiny foil all laid across the grates, fresh fruit salad with kiwi and mangos and bananas and watermelon. (You could not have a cook out without watermelon.) All the kids would be splashing in the pool, my brothers and I, my cousins Jessica and Kaleb, sometimes cousins Jon and Greg, and later, Rebecca and little India. To this day, grilled chicken ranks among my favorite foods.

 We lived only fifteen minutes from the beach, so we went often. Back in the late ’80s and early ’90s there was very little environmental awareness connected to global warming and marine conservation. We would go to the Bathtub Beach and swim right out to the reef. When the tide was out it was very easy to access, sometimes you could even wade, you didn’t have to swim. We would climb right up on the reef and explore, searching for marine life and sea urchins, using our little snorkel sets to dip beneath the water and watch the fish and search for sand dollars. Today, this Beach is in danger of being shut down due to the deterioration of the reef. They started implementing a “no walking on the reef” regulation in 1994 as this problem began making itself apparent. I remember this because the very last time we went to the beach right before we left Florida the life guard was shouting for people to get off the reef and I was confused since we had always gone out there for as long as I can remember.

 In Florida’s hot, humid climate, knowing how to swim is all but a requirement. I learned at a very early age. I don’t think I can even remember as far back as when I didn’t know how, that’s how young I was when I learned. We might as well have been fish, that’s how much time we spent in the water. My Grandmother’s pool was an in-ground with a 7 foot deep end. I remember being very afraid of the suction cleaning system that rolled along the bottom of the pool when we weren’t using it, sucking up the debris that would fall in. My father had personally landscaped Gramma’s back yard while he was running his landscaping business when I was very little, and he had put in some big palm trees, nice and close to the concrete walkway around the pool. They made for some very nice shade, but they would also drop big round seeds, about twice the size of a marble. The pool system, nick-named “Creepy”, would suck them up when they would sink within reach of its submerged vacuum head. I remember frogs would fall into the pool too, eventually meeting the same fate, being sucked up through Creepy’s long hose and ending up in the filter basket. It was always fascinating to find them, in a gross sort of way, when we would clean the filter.

 Sometimes we would jump in the pool before Creepy could be taken out and coiled neatly out-of-the-way. I was always very careful to stay clear of “him”, but my brothers were not afraid of him at all. My older brother would often dive down and grab the vacuum head and chase me with it. It made a horrible, loud sucking noise when it reached the surface and started gulping air, helping to perpetuate its illusion of being alive. I was so terrified, I thought I would be sucked up through the hose and end up swirling in the filter, bloated and lifeless like one of those poor frogs. (I’ve always had a vivid, if rather unrealistic imagination.) I would swim for the nearest edge of the pool and bolt out, sometimes scraping my knees on the rough cement, and scream and cry until my mother or aunt or grandmother would come outside scolding, telling us we needed to take the vacuum out before we got in or we might break it. I would have gladly done this every time if I wasn’t so terrified of Creepy. I couldn’t even bear to touch him.

 Such carefree days those were! The year round warm weather made it seem like summer all year. There was no division of the seasons and time seemed to float by lazily. I was so young, my biggest worry was when lunch would arrive. (All the swimming and out doors play made us very hungry.) Even back then I had very few friends and while my brothers were hanging out with the neighborhood kids, I was hanging out with my mom and Gramma and Aunt Shanny at the bead table in the living room.

 Ah, beads! Yet another fond memory and love that carries into my life today. My grandmother and aunt Shannon had their own business, they created unique beaded jewelry and would sell it at the flea market and to area surf shops and high-end consignment stores. Their work was always in demand and my mom would often help. It was a great time for family bonding. Since I was the only girl and my brothers were always off doing their own thing, Gramma, Shanny, and Mom would often let me have my own corner of the big bead table set up in the living room. It was a big formal dining table, completely covered in plastic containers of beads, leaving just enough space for 4 or 5 people to work on a piece of jewelry. There were seed beads and clay beads, trade beads, polished stone beads, round, square, cubical, large, small, shiny, dull. Every kind of bead you could think of in every color of the rainbow. And not just on the table, but in boxes and bins and drawers under the table and around the table. It was an artist’s heaven.

 We would spend weekends just sitting and making jewelry. Necklaces, earrings, anklets, bracelets, whatever our creative juices would demand. I would usually have the job of making the coffee, you could not make jewelry with out a cup of coffee to stimulate your creativity, and the older ladies would talk and visit and I was allowed to be right there, feeling all grown up, if I promised not to get too chatty. (I was a very “talk your ear off” kind of kid once I was allowed to get going.) I think most of the jewelry I made was disassembled when I was done, but I remember some pieces were deemed good enough to put on the “sell” rack. I was so proud when this happened, and even prouder when I’d hear the news that one of my creations had sold. To this day, my grandmother and aunt Shannon make beaded jewelry and sell it. They live in Arizona now, and they have a few other irons in the fire in addition to beaded jewelry, but it is still a family passion.

One of my Grandmother's lastest creations for sale online in her Etsy store.

(Feel free to check out my grandmother’s Etsy store, it’s becoming quite popular in the short time she’s had it open, just since early 2010.

http://www.etsy.com/shop/DesertHippie642?ga_search_query=deserthippie642&ga_search_type=seller_usernames 

My aunt Shannon also has an online Etsy store she has been filling with her own line of creations and neat treasures she has picked up from here and there.

 http://www.etsy.com/shop/JunqueyardRoyalty?ref=pr_shop )

 All these wonderful memories and more were pulled out and dusted off on mine and Josh’s recent trip to Florida for a much-needed and long-awaited vacation. Granted, we stayed on Fort Walton Beach, and that is a long ways from where I grew up in Stuart on the East Coast, and very different, but it was Florida and it was ocean and beach. It was fantastic! The weather was beautiful the whole time and there were barely any people for the beginning of August. The oil spill in the gulf had scared a lot of vacationers away, but there wasn’t a trace of oil to be seen where we stayed. We left Faith home with her grandmothers and it was just me and him, very carefree and romantic.

 I’d never been to the Destin area, and could not believe the scenery. I now know why they call it the Emerald Coast and talk about the sugar white sand. It was so different from what I remember as a kid, yet comfortably familiar. The water was the color of green Listerine. I don’t really know how else to describe it. It was crystal clear, beautiful emerald-green.

Listerine Green!

 We were able to do a lot of activities that we hadn’t counted on because our condo came with discount offers and we didn’t have the baby to think about. We were very busy for being on vacation. We went snorkeling and road a giant speed boat called the Seablaster, and we went deep-sea fishing. (Josh caught fish, I did not, but we had loads of fun.) We got sunburned in spite of plenty of sunscreen, and we went sand crabbing well into the night every night. We didn’t do much sleeping because we tried to catch the sunrise on the beach, coffee in hand, almost every morning. It was glorious to be back in the sun and the sand after years of being away. We spent five days there, a rather generous amount of time for a vacation, but it still wasn’t even close to enough. We were like most people I’m sure, spending the whole drive home trying to figure out how we could move there permanently and not be excommunicated by our families. Of course, once we got home and settled back into normal life those thoughts were replaced by reality and common sense.

Destin's Harbour Village from the bay.

 Still, on cold days like this, with snow piling up outside my door, I think about Florida and relive the good times. I’m back in the sun with a really nice tan and there is water everywhere I go. Walks on the beach, fishing from the pier, salty ocean air, seagulls, and all the other sweet memories. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll figure out how to make a relocation work. (Not anytime soon, don’t worry.) For now, I’ll just treasure the recollections.

Taken on our deep-sea fishing trip.

Dawn

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