Florida bound: My first trip south Sixth of 26 posts in the April 2023 Blogging From #AtoZChallenge. Theme: Endwell: My High School Years — adding my story to the family history mix. Please join me on the journey.
In November of junior year, my best friend Marilyn’s family moved to Florida. She and I had a call-every-day-after-school relationship, so her departure was a big blow. But we vowed to keep in touch — which back then meant constant letter writing and a brief monthly phone chat.
As teens, our lives were in our parents’ hands – but we hoped we’d still get to see one another again if her family made an Endwell visit, or if I could somehow get to Florida. What were the chances, right? Yet teens can be persistent, and that’s how I found myself Florida bound at 17!
Florida road trip
A couple of my female high school teachers were driving to Miami for the 1967 spring break and had room in the car – and somehow my folks agreed I could go, along with my friend Sue and a senior student, Kathy. Sue and I would be dropped off at Marilyn’s house in Largo, Fla., and picked up on the way back. Hurray!
Marilyn and I had a joke-around friendship, and as a nostalgic gag gift I decided to bring her a snowball from the frozen north – carefully stored in our freezer, then put into a wide-necked thermos for the drive south. The Florida trip was the first on my own without my family, and an eye-opening journey in many ways.
Superhighways weren’t fully constructed yet, so I think we took two-lane U.S. Route 17, which ran through local communities. As Spanish moss appeared on the trees and home fries gave way to grits and biscuits on breakfast menus, we rolled steadily south and watched another world unfold out the window – the landscape often dotted with distressed housing that became a target of the Poor People’s March later that year.
Arriving in Florida
Once we reached Florida, plans changed slightly. To save time, the teachers dropped Sue and me off at the Tampa bus station and Marilyn drove over to pick us up – a change I never told my parents about!
I still remember the breathtaking drive over the 9.9-mile Courtney Campbell Causeway from Tampa to Clearwater, when we seemed to be suspended atop the water.
At Marilyn’s house in Largo, I marveled at the poinsettia plants growing as shrubs in people’s yards and the flat, ranch-style homes everyone lived in – and she laughed out loud when I presented the snowball.
Neither Marilyn nor I can recall exactly what we did the week Sue and I stayed with her, but we both remember being very excited to see one another again. Marilyn says she was especially thrilled to see us because she was so homesick that first year in Florida.
Yet all too quickly, the wonderful week was over, and our teachers picked us up for the long drive home — and according to my high school journal, I brought back an interesting Florida souvenir:
Aug. 3, 1967: Recently I’ve started swearing a lot. I started in around April after I went to Florida to see my best friend who moved there. Down there everybody swears and no big deal, which there shouldn’t be anyway cos it’s only alotta words.
Apparently I was finally getting to use the colorful vocabulary I’d overheard from Cursing Dad up the street during my elementary years!
A North Carolina revelation
My Florida story might have ended there, except for one more interesting development on the trip home.
En route we stopped at a North Carolina motel for the night, which was crowded because there was a Classic Antique Car Show in the area.
It was a beautiful, cool night, so I was hanging out by the pool, and that’s when I got talking to Paul — a nice looking guy my age, tan, blonde hair, lovely accent, who was there with his dad for the car show.
My friend Sue always had a boyfriend and Kathy was a popular cheerleader, yet Paul was clearly interested in me — and I remember thinking, “Wow, this is new!”
We talked for quite a while, really hit it off, and I was reluctant to end our conversation — so much so that one of the teachers came out twice to check on me.
Finally, when it was clear we both had to return to our rooms, Paul and I exchanged addresses and phone numbers and promised to stay in touch.
Although chances of seeing one another again were remote (and never did happen), Paul and I still wrote back and forth regularly for a while. In one of his letters, Paul sent me a 10k gold ring with a pearl solitaire – a touching and surprising memento!
And every now and then, when I notice the ring in my jewelry box, I fondly recall that remarkable Florida trip at age 17.
Up next, G is for Guitar Lessons at Matty’s Music Centre. Please stop back!
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