There is the Florida that most tourists see: white sandy beaches, Disney, buildings newly painted in ocean foam green, vibrant tropical shirts over 3rd degree sunburns.
Then there is the Florida that I see: 600 year old gnarled old man oak trees, manatee sliding through greenish hued waters, the light crunching sound when walking on a deep bed of pine needles, the luring smell of magnolias and jasmine.
I grew up in north central Florida and I recently went back for a family vacation. The highlights were: boating in Crystal River with my mom, dad, brothers, sister, husband and kids, to a nothing special waterside restaurant, canoeing around the small islands in the morning and listening to the soft sounds of the canoe paddle pulling through the water, and the surprise of when a manatee bumped the bottom of my son’s canoe and almost sent him out of it! Then while in Tampa Bay, watching my sons experience the thrill of catching sharks, and holding on to my kids and onto dear life, as one of my brother’s boats skipped across the water at 65 miles per hour.
A harder part of the trip though, is the emotional. For the first time in my life, while in Tampa, I was boating with my all of my siblings, but my dad (who had gone back home) wasn’t there. When I realized the reason for my odd feelings, I almost cried. I know he would have been out there if his health would have allowed it. He would have been at the helm. And when we landed on a barrier island, he would have been walking with that bouncy walking style, down the beach to explore with my mom (who would have already served our lunches and made sure everyone had on sun block).
We were there for a week and now I’m need some down time. Family vacations are not relaxing. Everyone is constantly trying to make up for lost time. It’s can be raucous, intense, loving, sweet and bitter sweet.
It was hard to say good.