Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A Trip To Florida

Paul with his big catch

When I was fourteen I got the opportunity to fly to Florida with my friend Paul and his dad. We visited Paul’s Aunt Elsie and Uncle Walter in Pompano Beach.
I emailed Paul that I was writing a blog about our 1962 Florida trip and he sent me some pictures.

His Aunt and Uncle's house looked like a normal suburban house from the front, but around back it was an entirely different world. A large screened porch looked out onto a perfectly green lawn and a few tropical fruit trees. At the lawn’s edge was a dock with steps going down to a canal where Uncle Walter’s private boat waited. These canals went everywhere. Paul's Aunt Elsie told us that she and Uncle Walt could hop in the boat and go shopping or out to dinner on these waterways. How cool is that?
As soon as we arrived, Aunt Elsie cautioned us about being out in the sun too long.  "The sun is a lot more intense here. You need to take it in small doses at first and build up your tolerance." So Paul and I rubbed sun tan lotion on ourselves and sat out in the sun in short intervals. Paul accurately timed each interval on his watch. We commented to each other how we could feel the superior intensity of the Florida sun on our skin.
Aunt Elsie out back by the canal

At night we slept on two army cots that Uncle Walt set up on the back screened porch. After Paul went to sleep, I lay still on my cot trying to remain awake for as long as possible. I wanted to savor the feeling of the cool breeze that rustled the palm leaves and blew across my face carrying the dizzying mixture of salt air and exotic flowers that smelled like the fruits we'd eaten the day before. But within a few minutes I fell under the spell of the rhythmical lapping of canal water against the sides of the boats and was lulled into a deep sleep.
Uncle Walter on the couch

During the day Paul’s aunt and uncle usually had something planned for us. One day we went to the Everglades and rode in an airboat, a light, flat boat with two huge airplane propellers on the back. When we were out on the open water, the driver gave it full throttle and the boat took off like a rocket. We skimmed over the surface of the water and through tall grass, making large circles and figure eights. It was exhilarating. The driver then slowed the craft down and we crept along the Bayou looking for alligators. We spotted a full grown alligator just as it was sliding off the bank and into the water.
When we returned to the tourist center, we watched Bayou Bob wrestle what looked like a half-dead alligator in a small fenced area. Bayou Bob had a big beer gut and quickly got out of breath as he moved the lifeless alligator around. Bob acted as if he were being viciously attacked, while the gator limply flopped from side to side. Paul and I thought the show was hysterical, but held back our laughter until we got out into the parking lot.
On another day, Paul's dad took us deep-sea fishing. The boat was small and rose and fell with the waves. The Captain showed us how to bait our hooks and cast our lines. My pole was the first to get a strike. It was a big fish and I needed help reeling it in. I had been fighting nausea from the time we’d set sail and when the crewman finally wrestled the twenty pound Kingfish up to the boat and gaffed it in the side, causing some of its guts to spill out, I had to abandon the task at hand and flee to the opposite side of the boat to throw up my breakfast. This however did not relieve the sick feeling. For the rest of the trip, I remained huddled in the corner moaning and praying for the fishing excursion to end. Amazingly when we reached shore, I stepped onto dry land and the sick feeling immediately went away. The captain informed me that I had caught the biggest fish of the day and my picture was taken as I struggled to hold up the big fish. Paul and his dad caught several Yellow tail of average size and we all were happy with the day’s take.
When we got back to Paul's aunt and uncle's house, we looked at the Polaroid pictures from the day. In the picture of me holding the fish, my legs appeared to be about half their normal size. I looked like I had two sticks for legs. “Something is obviously wrong with this photo.” I said to no one in particular. Paul's dad held out his hand, “Let me see.” He looked the picture over, then looked at my legs, and then back at the picture, "I don't see anything wrong with this picture, do you Walt?" He passed it over to Paul's

Me with my abnormally skinny legs and fish 
Uncle Walter who went through the same slow deliberate process of looking at the picture and then at my legs. “Nope, it looks fine to me.” Paul laughed so hard I thought he was going to wet his pants. Of course the more I protested, the more Paul's dad and uncle, denied that there was anything wrong with it. I didn’t really mind being the butt of the joke. I was in Florida with my best friend and we were having a great time. 
Paul's Aunt cleaned and cooked our fish and served them for dinner that evening. I never realized how much I enjoyed fish until then. For dessert she peeled and cut up fresh mangoes from the tree in the backyard. It was a heavenly meal.
The best part of that Florida trip was when no activities were planned by the adults and Paul and I went off on our own to explore and wander up and down the beach, along the canals, and in and out of the local stores. At fourteen, life ahead looked exciting and promising. We talked about comic book characters and TV shows and about girls. We were both extremely nervous about whether we would know what to do if the opportunity to kiss a girl presented itself. We swore an allegiance to each other that whoever entered this intimate realm first, would share all the details with the other.
I've been to Florida many times over the years, but none of them compare to that first trip with my best friend and his dad.