Before our trip to Florida, our daughter Abbie was discussing our itinerary with Ruben, her significant other, and he said, “So, essentially, all we’re going to do is eat.” Well, yes, restaurants comprise a large part of every Florida visit.
At One Ocean, where we stay in Atlantic Beach, and the young men who open the doors say, “Hello, Mrs. Winship, welcome back,” it’s all about breakfast. Lunch and dinner, we tend to gravitate to North Beach Fish Camp. Lunch on this occasion might have been poolside at One Ocean, but the pool was closed. The ocean, however, was open so Laurie and I walked a lot on the beach, smiled at the birds and collected shells. We also met a four-month-old dachshund who was so cute she almost moved me to tears.
Our two eldest granddaughters, Bella and Mariya, spent one night with us, camping out in the hotel room in their sleeping bags.
At The BookMark in Neptune Beach, a regular stop for us, I found a copy, in a gilt-edged and beribboned Macmillan Collector’s edition, of The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I have no idea how I got this far in life without reading it, but it vaulted instantly into my top ten. Not sure what book it pushed out, but it truly belongs in my pantheon of favorites. What a delicious, heartening book. To Laurie, I read aloud a passage about the coming of spring; it’s one of those books where you just have to stop reading and say, “Oh, listen to this.”
In order to cut down on Abbie’s travel time, we next moved closer to Middleburg, to a hotel that’s just down the street from a dog track, Bestbet Orange Park. I have never gone to the dogs, but made a note to include this on a future excursion.
In Middleburg, I had a wonderful conversation with Ruben in the backyard. I watched small birds flit from tree to tree, and then looked up to see about 20 considerably larger vultures wheeling overhead. We do not have vultures in Skaneateles. I moved in my chair from time to time to discourage them.
Dinner was at G’s Slow Smoked BBQ, which was really, really good. We did have one dinner at home, featuring Abbie’s shepherd’s pie, which was, as always, excellent. Ava Luna, now one-year-old, has learned to dance, and busted a few moves for us.
Sherman, my granddog, is not allowed on the sofa. But grandpa invites him up onto the sofa, cherishes his company and pets him into a stupor. Until Abbie comes into the room, stops and stares at the two of us; Sherman’s eyes widen as he fears expulsion and I smile in contentment. Abbie rolls her eyes, moves on, and Sherman relaxes. He knows he has a pass. Ruben’s dog, Marcus, is also a love-sponge, but of a size that precludes his being a lap dog.
Our trip, this time, included a drive south to Stuart in a rent-a-car, which needed gas, prompting us to leave Route 95 and enter another world, one paved with a pebbly kind of concrete I had not seen since I was a boy. At the gas station, a woman was buying some candy and answering her phone. She was wearing flip-flops, tight jeans and a cropped top, the jeans and top framing a roll of fat which a more charitable observer might have overlooked had it not been accented by a tattoo of the sun, with wavy rays, surrounding her navel. While she looked for coins in her purse, she shouted into the phone, “Yes, I’m going to the job interview!”
In Stuart, to get into Mike and Mary’s enclave we had to punch a secret code into a keypad hidden in a hedge. The search for the box took just five minutes.
At their house, I settled into my Silver Bay routine: a nap in the morning, a swim, lunch, a nap, and, unlike Silver Bay, the cocktail hour. To prepare for this latter activity, Mike took me to Home Run Liquors. As you might expect from the name, the proprietors appeared to be from India. The bourbon selection was generous; I avoided those that seemed to be named and labeled for tourists, and chose instead a recognizable bottle of Michter’s.
I also took a walk. There was a lone pelican in the retaining pond, black ducks with red bills (either moorhens or muscovy ducks), and little white ibises. I did not see any of the local whistling tree ducks, but I did hear a rooster, who lives on a nearby farm.
Mike and Mary took us to Chuckles Antiques & Books in Hobe Sound, a sprawling warren of rooms filled with treasures. I wanted everything, but was limited to something I could pack, and found a copy of Cinderella Stamps (1970) by L.N. & M. Williams which meshed perfectly with my passion for faux postage and later led me to Fred Melville’s gem, Phantom Philately (1923). This excursion also took us down a banyan tree-canopied road which was quite magical.
In downtown Stuart, I enticed my brother and his wife to drive across the bridge from Jensen Beach and join us for lunch at Sailor’s Return. Now in his fifteen year of retirement, Kent was glowing with good health but not happy with his golf swing.
One evening we motored to West Palm Beach to have dinner with Mary’s daughter, Beth, and her family. Beth was one of Abbie’s babysitters, some 25 or 30 years ago, and easily the funniest; I thought her destined for stand-up comedy but she chose instead to become a math teacher. We were dining outdoors because in Florida you can do that and because Beth’s three children have an abundance of energy. Placed on treadmills, they could power a city. So they played hide & seek in the plaza while we perused Amici’s menu. I don’t remember what I ate; I just remember having a wonderful talk with Beth.
After dinner, Beth pointed out that the plaza hosted a day care center that was right next to a cigar store. The oddness of the adjacency was not lost on me, but I didn’t dwell on it because I love cigar stores. My great-great-grandfather, John Thomas Lang, was a cigar maker. I feel a bond. I love the smell of tobacco, the richly colored art on the labels and boxes, the symmetry of a hand-rolled cigar, the texture of the leaf, the shades of brown, the neatness of the cigars in rows and bundles. I was into the cigar store (The Smoke Inn II) in a heartbeat, wide-eyed and breathing deeply, walking reverently up and down the aisles. And then I spotted a beautiful box with just two cigars left, and asked if I could have the box if I bought the last two. I don’t smoke, but I wanted the box. It had everything: a parrot, fields of tobacco, a ship on the high seas, gold lettering. And thanks to the helpful clerk, it became mine. Beth’s daughter appeared in the doorway and shouted, “It’s time to go!” and I emerged triumphant.
Our return journey was uneventful, which is how we like it. On the roof of the airport garage, our car awaited us, under a coating of frozen sleet and wind-driven snow. Home again, home again.