When I was in grade school, my family would drive to Florida in the summer.
We’d stay at a vacation rental spot called “Midnight Cove”.
Right outside of Sarasota, Siesta Key (from what I remember), was quiet and beautiful. The sand really was white. We could walk a short distance and find ourselves on a private beach.
On the drive down, my brother and I would fight over the coveted “captain’s” chair in our champagne colored Dodge minivan, the one that had the cup holders and slot for random books or magazines. My parents would lose their minds, yelling “they’re exactly the same, that’s why we didn’t get the bench seat!” and we’d insist there was a better chair.
One of the games we’d play together was to write down all of the different license plates we’d see from St. Louis to Florida. We’d usually get to the upper 20’s pretty easily, and it was always fun to see something random like Alaska. Aside from this game, it’s the most interaction we’d have, since he didn’t like the water and given the chance, I’d do everything short of drowning him if left alone in the pool or ocean.
We’d have a variety of snacks and my mom would pack us individual sandwiches of our choosing that we’d keep in a cooler alongside their favorite beverage of choice: Caffeine Free Diet Coke. I was rarely the reason we had to pull into a rest stop for a bathroom break, conscientious of how much liquid I was consuming. Dad ALWAYS drove and mom was the perfect shotgun rider, ready to hand you a tissue, stick of gum, pen, or your half of a sandwich neatly wrapped in a napkin. My dad would keep a very accurate calculation of how long it was taking us, how far we’d gotten the year before, and the gas mileage. The ONE time my brother got to sit up front, he accidentally reset the mileage and I think my dad might have momentarily lost his mind. We’d always make a stop, typically somewhere in Georgia, eat a meal and spend the night in a hotel.
The condo had a kitchen, so we’d usually have breakfast in. We’d stop at the local grocery store and pick up frozen Lenders bagels and a multi-pack of cereal. Each morning, we’d devour Fruit Loops and Pops, leaving the chocolate Rice Krispies for my dad and hoping “someone else” would eat the boring corn flakes.
I’d head to the beach with my dad. My mom wasn’t much of a water or sun fan, which seems weird to me now since that was our one big vacation every year. He and I would leave early, an hour or two after the sun would come up. Over the years, we got a little savvier with our beach furniture. Better chairs and an umbrella (or so I recall). He’d bring a book and I’d do my thing, heading straight for the ocean, sitting in the shallow areas, lying on a raft floating around or using it to catch waves and ride into the surf.
We’d come back around lunch time. I’d be starving, always happy to chug a glass of lemonade or eat a piece of refrigerated fruit. Sometimes I’d retire to my room to nap or read. Back then I consumed books like food.
I never really liked being away from home, so it was always an adjustment moving around the condo, with its unfamiliar tile and carpet. The stiff sheets and hard mattress. The strange feel of air conditioning and humidity.
But it was always relaxing. There was a nice rhythm to each day, with small variations like lunch at Hooters with my dad. Yes, THAT Hooters, where one of the waitresses told nine year old me that they didn’t have a big enough kid t-shirt. Some nights we’d walk to a local restaurant for dinner and on the way back, stop and get ice cream.
I miss those vacations in particular. Everything felt very simple and calm.
I’m grateful to my parents for those summers.