When I was young my family came to Florida every year. We didn’t come to the beach, because my father and grandfather came to fish, not to soak up the sun.
I remember the concrete block motor hotels we stayed in near the fishing marinas, and the tourist-y souvenir shops with the shells, pens, postcards, and orange blossom drawer sachets.
I remember sitting outside at night in folding chairs on the oyster shell parking areas and eating watermelon that we bought on the way down (the farther south the better the melon, my dad always believed). Usually I would get lucky one or two days during our stay and my parents would take me out to the gulf, but most of our trip was about deep sea fishing, although I never went myself.
Later when I was a teenager and my grandfather no longer traveled with us, we would stay in a motel on the beach, which I thought was heaven. I am an only child, so I always got to bring along a friend. We would spend our days at the pool and on the beach, and the nights were filled with trips to the amusement park and playing putt-putt golf. I can remember the sunsets at the pier, the Miracle Strip Amusement Park, Goofy Golf, and the Observation Tower – sights that are hard to find in today’s Panama City Beach, but are still vivid in my mind.
When my husband and I married we did not have much of a vacation budget, so our trips to Florida were nonexistent for a few years. After our children were born we (finally) decided to come back to the beach. Even though we stayed at a different beach in another state, I experienced déjà-vu on our first trip there. All those memories of past years came rushing back – things and feelings I hadn’t thought of in years. Every detail was so clear and fresh, as if there hadn’t been any space and time between then and now at all.
We have continued our annual beach trip every year since then. Now I have memories of our children and their sunburns and bleached hair and diving for pennies in the hotel pool. I remember jellyfish stings and colorful rafts to ride the waves after they got over their fears of “the big waters.” There were putt putt games and daring sky coaster rides and days at the Big Kahuna water park. Our children grew up going to the beach, and I have a feeling that one day they will continue that tradition with their own families, too.