On November 12th I once again left the Pacific Northwest, this time bound cross-country for Florida to do research for my current project, a book about my father. I homebased in Navarre, a strip of beachtown tucked between Pensacola and Destin. It lacks many restaurants but has surfing and several places to run, which I do, and I did and was nice. Due to the constant slamming of doors at 6:30 – a norm in hotels, I’ve learned over this autumn – I was typically up early. But this was the sunrise from my window.
As I kid, I spent parts of many summers in the Florida panhandle and in eastern Alabama, visiting the criminally-minded Skipper half of my family. Mainly great aunts and uncles. They grew up in the quaint, balmy town of Cottondale, Florida during the twenties, until their father – a railroad worker – was shot in a card game and his body thrown overboard. It wasn’t until many years later that this was discovered; to the family of six, he simply never came home. My great aunt Lois – who would later become the first female realtor in Florida – took care of everyone and moved them further south. The four younger kids grew older, married off, and my grandfather Buster became heavily involved with criminal activities. Having recently learned where my father’s half of the family came from, I ventured out to Cottondale, where they now sell Bonzai trees for $20.00 at wooden stands on the roadside. I’ve always wanted a Bonzai tree – despite the fact I decimate every plant I touch – and I was tempted to get one. But this was early into my travels and I had two more plane rides ahead; I couldn’t see myself getting on a plane and sitting with this tree in my lap, or how I’d explain it. So, instead, I stopped off at an antique store and bought these wooden salt and pepper shakers for Jen. As they proudly announce, they are magnetic:
Tuesday I drove east to Panama City, where my aunt Lois lived. Every summer that my two brothers and I visited we were promised a trip to Disney World, using coins she’d collected in a large glass jug over the year. We would spend a day counting and rolling the money, then take it to the bank. Only we never went to Disney World; instead we went to Pensacola and blew the money on arcade games. To this day, I still love skee-ball, collecting the gazillion tickets, and selecting whichever ashtray or switchblade comb these gazillion tickets can buy. Years later, I learned that my aunt had not actually collected the coins over the year, but had in fact bought them at the bank just prior to our arrival and made us spend a day counting them, so she could work.
On Wednesday I headed west to Alabama. Here, I visited Atmore and the house where Buster and my father once set up an operation to run roofing scams (similar to those discussed in Hustle), where my mother flew in from Massachusetts to meet up with my father, before they married. As I neared the small town, passing acres of cotton fields, I happened upon a radio show on FM WYDH 105.9 where people call in to try to sell their things or name what they want to buy – a sort of radio classifieds. The most interesting was a man who had fifteen feet of ribbon, and he wanted to pay someone to tie the ribbon into bows for his Christmas tree. Here’s a picture of the house where Buster and my father slept on the porch:
Then I went to Mobile to see the courthouse where my parents married – only to learn from a police officer (who gave me a weird look) that the courthouse was recently torn down. To culminate the day, and the trip, I drove out to Theodore and visited the property where they had their first house, a trailer, and I was promptly engulfed in a swarm of mosquitoes while trying to take pictures.
As the sun set, I headed back to Navarre and I decided to not eat at the Chinese buffet where I’d been eating, because – though it was the only place to get vegetables with my food – going alone to buffets is a sad affair. I personally don’t care, but it’s that look you get when people pass by… examining you for the reason you are eating at a buffet alone. Instead I stopped at a place called Daddy’s for BBQ, where I was the day’s final customer. Afterward I went back to my hotel room, where I did laundry, and I was reminded by the first load why I don’t use powder detergent..
All in all, a good trip, despite some minor hiccups along the way. It might sound a bit dosconcerting unless you’re me, but it wasn’t until my next trip (to the Miami Book Fair) that I realized, just before going to do a radio interview, that I’d not had a face-to-face conversation with anyone that lasted for over five minutes in approximately nine days. This means loneliness, but also something kind of wonderful, especially when you’re trying to get to know the people your parents were when they were in their late teens and early twenties. I am happy I get to say I’ve done this, even if I went a little bonkers at times.
Currently Reading: Arcadia, by Lauren Groff
Currently Listening To: The Minutes, by The Minutes
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