My mother’s parents lived in Fort Myers, Florida in a modest trailer park designed for retirees. They had an Airstream mobile home with a beautiful mahogany interior and they were perhaps the happiest couple I had ever known. These were kind, loving, and unassuming people. Over the coming years, I would play many games of pinochle with my grandmother and my grandfather would teach me to fish. Somehow, he seemed in tune with all things in nature. We would sit on the porch and he would crack peanuts or pecans for us to eat. Then he would stop and hold a single peanut in the palm of his hand and wait. Sure enough, a beautiful red cardinal would fly in and land on his finger, snatch the peanut, and fly away. It was magical to be there.
Once a year, usually in February, we would take our vacation to Ft. Myers. My father would rent a beach house and we would spend lots of time visiting the grandparents and playing on the beach. I have only vague memories of those times although I do remember sailing a toy sailboat on the Gulf, climbing an orange tree and picking oranges, and walking the beach and collecting shells. Then there was the year I was out in the sun too long and my ears were burned so badly I had to stay inside. That was not fun.
The really cool part for me was the trip down to Florida. This was before the Interstate Highway System was constructed. President Eisenhower had conceived of the system during WWII in Europe and construction had barely begun. The trip consisted of a series of 2-lane roads that passed through every town along the way. The sensible thing to do of course was to fly there and rent a car. But my father, famously, ranted that he ‘already owned a car and why would he want to rent someone else’s car when he got there?’ Therefore, he always drove to Florida, usually at a dizzying pace. To us he represented the cartoon of the man who arrives in Florida with snow still on his car.
Usually one or more of my sisters would accompany him for the drive. My mother and I would always fly. Among my friends, I was the only kid that had ever been on an airplane and I got to do it every year! This wasn’t just any airplane, this was a 4-engine propeller driven Lockheed Constellation. It was beyond cool. I was always the youngest person on the flight and usually I was invited up to the cockpit (while we were in flight) to see all the magical dials and gadgets. If there was a heaven on earth for a young boy, this was surely it!
The good part of flying to Florida (besides the magical dials and gadgets) was that we got there a couple of days before the rest of the family. I got to visit with my grandparents for a while and had their complete attention. I could also play at the beach, collect shells, and pretty much do whatever I wanted without any competition from my sisters. The bad part about flying, even though I didn’t appreciate it at the time, was that I didn’t get to see the country along the way. At my young age though, flying was much cooler. There would come a time in my life when I would take advantage of the opportunity so see the whole country.
© J T Weaver
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