Reflections on Florida – The Calm after the Storm (or Oppressive Humidity Fogs Glasses)

We drove from Charleston, SC to Mexico Beach, FL (near Panama City Beach in north Florida), our longest driving stretch on this trip so far. Sad we couldn’t spend more in beautiful Savannah, GA, we stopped for lunch at the Sentient Bean Café. We tend to gravitate to dining and coffee spots where we like the name or sign or storefront. Instead of numbers or steel markers to identify your order, The Sentient Bean hands you a trophy, making each customer feel like “a winner” (and recycling all of those trophies that none of us know what to do with in the process!).  A little later, we passed the Hooterville Diner (for those of us who watched Green Acres!!!), stopped at a roadside stand in Georgia to sample (and buy) boiled peanuts, drove through at least ten thousand black lovebugs (they stick to windshields, car bumpers and everything else they come into contact with!!), and, finally, arrived at Kurt and Chelsea’s in Mexico Beach. Hurricane Isaac had moved north, the waters were receded and calm and we had a relaxing few days with the kids and their cats, Dog and Panda.

Though we visited PCB in April for Kurt and Chelsea’s wedding and enjoyed the warm spring temps, we were both reminded this time of the weather term “Heat Index” and many summer days of our youths. If the outside temperature is 82 degrees but the humidity is 97%, it actually FEELS like it is 95 degrees (basically 24 hrs a day, every day in August and early September in north Florida) so when you say “let’s do that when it cools off a little”, what it translates to is “let’s do that next time we visit when it isn’t so hot and humid!”.  The local news forecast in PCB includes perfectly described admonitions of “oppressive humidity”.  Oh how I’ve acclimated to the dry climate of southern Oregon.

Our one daytime outing to a place other than the beach was a visit to The Man and the Sea Museum, a small treasure of a museum devoted to the history of diving and home to the U.S. Navy’s SEALAB-1, 
the world’s first underwater living facility. Packed into a relatively small space is a fascinating accumulation of exhibits and equipment all related to the history and progress of man’s exploration of the sea.

We taught Chelsea to play the card game Hearts (and she kicked us all to the curb the second time we played!) and, one night, we headed into PCB for dinner at the Mellow Mushroom and a very competitive game of Miniature Golf (Kurt prevailed that night!). Weather doesn’t matter, though, when spending time with people you love. This notion proves itself over and over in life. We are so thankful to have had several days with our kids, their cats, the beautiful beaches, and, even the north Florida summertime weather.

 

SEE ROCK CITY

After 53 years, I’ve finally been to see Rock City. For those of you who grew up in the Mid-West, or the Great Lake States, or the Southeast or travelled through any of those states in the 60s and 70s, you likely remember passing red barns with black roofs that were painted with big bold white advertising letters “SEE ROCK CITY” and underneath “Chattanooga, Tenn.”  And how nostalgic and appropriate for me that it would be today, the fifth anniversary of my mom’s death.

We took numerous summer vacations in the 1960s and 1970s, many in the southeast US; one when I was nine years old, not far from here, in Gatlinburg, TN on the edge of the Great Smokey Mountains. I remember with fondness those vacations because we would do all the “touristy” local things: all the attractions, bumper cars, go-carts, spin art, mini-bikes, and amusement parks. We bought Fireworks (you can still buy fireworks housed in large warehouse style buildings, [including bottle rockets!],  year ‘round here in Tennessee, North and South Carolina and Florida) and swam in hotel pools to fight off the oppressive humidity.  We bought fudge and salt water taffy, rock candy on sticks, and ate peanut butter on saltines for snacks.  I don’t remember staying in fancy hotels, just ones with adequate swimming pools (that usually meant ones with diving boards). I don’t remember eating at fancy restaurants.  What I remember is that for my siblings and me, the vacations were always a lot of fun and for Mimi, these vacations were a time for family togetherness, away from phones and television and our hectic schedule of activities.   She graced this earth for seventy years.

So today, as we remembered Mimi, we were tourists in beautiful Chattanooga: we saw Rock City, toured Ruby Falls, a 145 ft. water fall in a cave 1085 feet below the top of Lookout Mountain (and both agree that the original cave explorers were a special group of adrenaline junkies) , and went to the Moon Pie General Store. I only bought a couple of Moon Pies, and mostly just ogled the old time candies such as Turkish Taffy, Slap Sticks and Caramel Cremes.  On this road trip into our empty nest, I thoroughly enjoyed the day but, mostly, pushing that turnstile and walking down the ramp to See Rock City.

 

Wide Range of North Carolina Attractions

No road trip through central North Carolina would be complete for Clay without a stop in Pittsboro, home to Roy Underhill’s Woodwright’s School.  While the classes are booked months and months in advance and somewhat sporadically spaced throughout the summer, we at least were able to gaze in the windows and smile at the thought of coming back and attending the school some time in the future.

In our search for a cup of coffee we happened upon the Davenport and Winkelperry (you-wouldn’t-expect-it-in-Pittsboro) Steampunk gallery, café and lounge, where we were told that the ex-Squirrel Nut Zippers musician,  Ken Mosher, frequently plays in the evening. Hannah had never heard of the SNZ so Pandora radio provided a short blast of some of our favorites. (the SNZs hailed from Chapel Hill, NC)

 

We missed Western North Carolina’s largest Corn Maze’s (12 acres) grand opening by one week. Darn…. But we enjoyed the last day of the Goombay Festival of African and Caribbean Drumming and Culture in Asheville, NC.

“A rhinestone on the buckle of the Bible Belt”

“Green Mecca of the South”

“Most vegetarian friendly small city in America”

“Sits atop a giant crystal that entices eclectic and artsy people”

All four phrases were used to describe Asheville, a town of about 80,000 nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western NC.    We visited the stately Grove Park Inn, built in 1900, and still magnificently perched on Sunset Mountain.

After an enlightening tour of Warren Wilson College, one of seven “working colleges” in the US, we lunched at a vegetarian drive-thru. Woohoo !!!!

We ended our visit in Asheville with an afternoon at the Biltmore Estate and Gardens.  The largest privately-owned home in the US, the Biltmore is 175,000 sq. ft,  has 250 rooms and was crafted at the height of the Gilded Age of architecture and is commonly referred to as a Chateauesque-styled mansion.    The estate now sits on 8000 acres and includes a winery, a hotel, a small amphitheater and magnificent gardens.  Asheville provided a fascinating mixture of old and new.

Ya Gotta LOVE Craigslist

Mexico Beach, FL   Time: 9:30 am, Temp. 82, Humidity 97%

Yes… to our friends in the Northwest, 97% humidity and it was ONLY 82 degrees when we headed out on our inaugural tandem bike ride this morning!!! Woohoo.  Our new toy (new to us, anyway) and means of exercise on this road trip is a Burley 21-speed tandem bicycle we picked up in South Carolina via a Craigslist ad.  We had some conversation with Kurt and Chelsea about whether we would have ridden a tandem “our first time around” (aka when we were younger and decided we probably wouldn’t have) but we’re both (I think) looking forward to it now that we are older…. and ?????

In my mind I’m gone to Carolina

How serendipitous that lyrics from one of my favorite songs by one of my favorite singers of all time (James Taylor, born in Carrboro, NC) would run through my head as I was driving away from Elon University after saying good-bye to Sara.

Are you sad?  Will you cry?  How can you be excited for your baby to go ALL THE WAY TO NORTH CAROLINA to college?  What will you do with your empty nest? I’ve been asked all of these questions and more over the past months.

I truly believe that our children are gifts from heaven, sent down to be among our greatest teachers in life.  Our job as parents, I’ve always felt, is to love them, teach them, encourage and nourish them to become confident young adults who are ready to go out into the world and find their place.  How can I be sad when I see that Sara is so excited for this adventure? My goal has always been to foster in my kids a sense of adventure, to be ready to take things on, to try doing things that are outside the box.  Sara is ready to get started on this college adventure and that is to be celebrated.

That time passes so quickly is what is hardest for me to comprehend.  When I think of my kids growing up,  when I conjure up images of them and their friends, and then to reminisce in my mind and feel like those times were just a few years ago,  to think of how the past 21 years has flown by in a literal “blink of an eye” is what makes me teary and have a lump in my throat.

I’ve thought today of that old tv show Empty Nest and while the premise of the show isn’t the same as what we are starting today, I like the theme song to that show:

Life goes on, and so do we,
Just how we do it is no mystery.
One by one, we fill the days,
We find a thousand different ways.

Sometimes the answer can be hard to find,
That’s something I will never be.
I’m always here, for anything you need.

Rain or shine, I’ll be the one,
to share it all as life goes on.
We share it all, as life goes on.

By John Bettis and George Tipton

I’ve been so blessed to share all these years with Chelsea and Sara.  My baby is off to college. Our nest is empty but life, indeed, charges on.  An adventure is in store for all of us, I’m sure.

Asheboro, NC  (by way of Elon and Pittsboro, NC) August 25, 2012