Our Summer Vacation – Day 11
Our last morning in Fort Lauderdale was a whirlwind. Packing the cars, taking a headcount, checking out of the condo where we had spent a great week – then it was another two-car parade to the Fort Lauderdale airport where we dropped our son and his family off at the curb.
They would be sleeping in their own beds that night.
My wife and I were headed back to 1959 by car.
When my wife was a kid, a summer road trip was an annual event. Along with her Mom, Dad and two brothers, my wife vividly recalls exploring the United States by car. One of those trips, circa 1959, included a visit to Weeki Wachi, a roadside attraction north of Tampa on U.S. 19 featuring real, live mermaids.
The Weeki Wachee Mermaid Show was the fulfillment of the dream of former Navy Frogman, Newton Perry. In World War II he taught Frogmen how to navigate underwater. After the war, he scouted out pretty girls and taught them how to be mermaids with the aid of air hoses concealed in the scenery. Newton Perry’s typical mermaid could drink Grapette, eat a banana, do the ballet – all with a smile – twenty-feet under the surface of Weeki Wachee Spring.
My wife never forgot that.
On Day 11 of our vacation we hoped to end up at Weeki Wachee, now a Florida State Park, but still featuring daily mermaid shows.
To get there, we would have to navigate “Alligator Alley”, the nickname for the stretch of I-75 that traverses south Florida from Fort Lauderdale on the Atlantic to Naples on the Gulf of Mexico.
That actually sounds more treacherous than it was. Alligator Alley passes through the Everglades and Big Cypress National Park. Though there is no telling how many alligators saw us, we didn’t see any alligators. That might have changed had we been unlucky enough to have a flat.
Though the alligators didn’t slow us down, road construction, traffic signals and beach traffic did. By mid-afternoon it became clear we would not make it to Weeki Wachee before its 5 pm closing time. Since the next day was Sunday, the park didn’t open until 10 am.
Weeki Wachee would have to wait.
My wife wasn’t overly disappointed. What she REALLY wants is to take our 8 year-old granddaughter to see the mermaid show at Weeki Wachee and pass those memories to the next generation.
Whenever I revisit a spot I recall fondly from my childhood, a poem by Elizabeth Akers Allen titled “Rock Me to Sleep, Mother” sometimes comes to mind. That poem opens with the following lines:
Backward, turn backward, O Time, in your flight, Make me a child again, just for tonight!
The rest of that poem is a little dark, but I love those first two lines and imagining what it would be like to go back and experience life as a child again for a single day. The closest I’ve come is experiencing life through the eyes of a child, first our son, and now our grandkids.
We ended up spending the night in Valdosta, Ga. In 1967 I spent a night there prior to taking Army Basic Training and before the U.S. Army generously furnished a very large comfortable room for me and 23 other guys. The thing I most recall about Valdosta from that night was having to spend $8 for a room. My budget for that trip was $3-$5 a night.
Oh, yeah – one other Valdosta memory!
Doc Holliday was born there. Despite that fact, when I was making a reservation, the national Marriott reservations desk person had never heard of Valdosta.
“Where?” she asked.
“Valdosta, Ga” I replied.
“Never heard of it!” she responded.
“Ever heard of Doc Holliday?” I asked.
“Yes” she said, unconvincingly.
Well, Doc Holliday was born in Valdosta” I informed her.
She found us a room.
And it made the eight bucks I paid in 1967 sound really cheap.
With apologies to Elizabeth Akers Allen:
Backward, Turn Backward, Oh time in its flight. I want a room for 8 bucks, just for tonight!