Our family traveled to Daytona every July for a week’s vacation, goofy golf, shuffleboard, frolicking in the pool and ocean, and dinner out. It was the one week of the year when I was a regular kid – not the principal’s and guidance counselor’s daughter.
Daytona was not Mama’s favorite place to visit, but since it did wonders for Daddy’s arthritis, she was a sport about it year-after-year. And that’s saying a lot. First of all, she was the only person I know who could get sunburned in the shade and completely covered with Coppertone. Mama was also very fearful of the water. When we took early morning walks, she became squeamish when the tide got above her instep. But like I said, she was a sport and supported the family on this much-anticipated family outing.
Daddy, on the other hand, loved the ocean. He swam and body-surfed at least twice a day and spent considerable time basking in the sun. He said it made him feel better for the entire next year.
Vacations were pretty routine. We stayed in an ocean front cottage at Membrey’s Ocean Courts. Mary and I loved the swimming pool and the ocean. We reveled in making Mama nervous as she watch us from under the umbrella do double dives, flips and cartwheels off the diving board.
Our traditions included breakfast and lunch in our cabin and dinner out every night. Mama’s favorite was the S & S cafeteria. We didn’t have those in Bartow County and we humored her by not complaining about the time away from the beach as we crossed the bridge to the town of Daytona.
When we were younger, Mary and I came straight from the beach and tossed on shorts and T-shirts for dinner. As we got older, getting ready took longer. We showered and wore our cutest outfits. Mary spent forever trying to tame her naturally curly hair and I spent just as much time trying to add curls to my straight locks. We both knew the humidity would do a number on our do’s before we even got to the car and used an entire can of Final Net hairspray each vacation trying to look our best in case we saw some boys.
Most of the time twin cousins Martha Jean and Margaret were with us. They were older by 15 months than me and being from Atlanta were much more cosmopolitan. They helped us learn to use make-up and shared their hand-me-downs. One summer Aunt Lucile made all of us two-piece bathing suits. Mine was a salmon color and set off my tan perfectly. In my dreams I looked like the girls in Beach Blanket Bingo.
The summer of ’66 Martha and Margaret turned 16 just before our trip. My parents thought “the twins” were smart girls who made good decisions. After all, they achieved the status of Queen in the Girls Auxiliary at church. You didn’t get to be Queen if you didn’t learn a lot of Bible scripture and devote yourself to Christian principles. That is why they decided to trust the twins with the car for us to go out at night. We headed straight to the Boardwalk and to the Steak ’n Shake. I was ecstatic eating the french fries and steak burgers – and ogling the nearby teenage boys.
After college, our family trips came to an end. Daddy suffered an aneurism and lost a lot of his mobility. But before he became completely immobile, Mama and I decided to take him to the beach one last time. We chose Panama City because the waters were calmer. Daddy’s spindly legs peeked out from under his bathing suit as he made the walker-assisted trek to the beach. Mama and I supported him as he stumbled through the soft sand and finally reached the water. Daddy sat down and to let the waves splash over him, but could not hold himself upright. Realizing this, I sat down behind him and held him secure in my arms as he had a last soaking in the salty water. It was a trip I’ll never forget.
After Daddy died, Uncle Lloyd and Aunt Barbara took Mama back to Daytona. She arrived home sunburned, with photos of her nose because she had her instamatic camera backwards, and a realization that finally Daddy was free of arthritic pain. It gave her peace.
I’ve made yearly excursions to the beach, but none measure up to those of my youth. One day soon I’m going to put on a little Coppertone, spray some Final Net in my hair, put on my best casual outfit and invite my cousins to the Carrollton Steak ‘N Shake. And on top of that, I’m going to throw caution to the wind, order a double Steakburger and large fries and be a normal kid again.
Garrett, a Carroll County resident, writes a weekly column for the Times-Georgian.