A Mighty Big Fish

I’m an occasional fisherman with a casual approach and no special skills, but sometimes a fellow gets lucky. That’s what happened on a family vacation in early June off the shores of Apalachicola. It was a mighty big fish that came up from the deep blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico.      

My earliest memory of a family vacation is the Seahorse Motel in Jacksonville. My parents, grandmothers, brother, and I squeezed into our 1957 Chevrolet in the predawn hours. Our four-door sedan had two-tone paint with a snazzy combination of light and dark blue. The model designation, Two-Ten, was printed on the steering wheel.  

Daddy had packed the trunk with whatever luggage Mama deemed necessary for three nights and four days. Plus he took a couple of retired innertubes to use as floats. The tubes had too many patches to be roadworthy but were safe enough for kids to ride ocean waves.

The early morning departure allowed us to enjoy a couple hours of cool air coming through the rolled-down windows. Our vacations were taken during July’s heat, a slower time on the farm as crops were being laid by and nothing was ready for harvest.

Another reason we left before sunup was to have a lot of daylight once we reached our Florida destination. Traveling two-lane roads at speeds approaching 55 miles per hour could have us on the beach in time to get blistered the first afternoon. 

We switched from Jacksonville to Panama City somewhere during early childhood.  Daddy would pull into a motel and Mama would ask to see a room. They usually passed inspection, but sometimes she’d offer a few pointers to management and we’d drive on. I would have sacrificed cleanliness for swim time, but lodging was clearly my mother’s domain. 

Eventually we began staying at The Port of Call, a family owned establishment  whose owners my parents enjoyed getting to know. It was maintained well and had a seldom-used shuffleboard court. Before beginning a multi-year run there, we stayed at a variety of places, all with air conditioning sufficient to create arctic-like conditions.

Walking into a freezing room while wearing a wet bathing suit offered a pleasurable misery we could not resist. We knew the opportunity to be chilled to the bone would not come again until the next summer.      

The Bikini is the only name I recall in the pre-Port days. Perhaps I remember it because the marquis featured the silhouette of a bikini-clad woman. I only glanced a few times and kept one eye closed, which may explain why my vision today is better on the left.

Staying at The Bikini was a bit of a stretch for staunch Southern Baptists, but we’d passed several no-vacancy signs and I’d been asking, “How much farther?” for six hours. “We’ll be there before you know it,” Mama would say, then change the subject. 

One motel had a mynah bird. “Are you cold?” he’d ask repeatedly. Grandmama Hill would laughingly respond, “No, I’m not cold. Are you?” Mama Joiner took a different approach and tried to teach the bird the 23rd Psalm. He didn’t show much interest and had a rather foul attitude. She probably should have started with, “Jesus wept.”    

On one trip to Florida we stopped at a place offering free, freshly-squeezed orange juice. I had planned to fill my tank but flies in the packing shed guarding an open pitcher diminished my appetite. A small luke-warm serving in a paper cup was disappointing. That may be my first time realizing advertisements sometimes embellish the truth. I guess that’s okay because it works fine in politics.  

A glass of orange juice is how I start each day. That’s a habit I began in childhood when the lovely Anita Bryant said, “Breakfast without orange juice is like a day without sunshine,” She was a delightful spokesperson for the industry until taking a stand for biblical values got her canned. 

I was almost grown before I found out Daddy was adding extra water to our frozen orange juice concentrate. We had many good laughs after discovering his secret dilution. It’s not critical with juice, but sadly we’re following a similar plan with faith these days. It’s unpopular to embrace biblical values in society, so we water them down to avoid being offensive.

Maybe we can finish my fish tale next week. I got sidetracked reminiscing about family vacations. Our trips were short but led to long-lasting memories, and now I’ve added another. What came up from the deep blue water wasn’t quite large enough to swallow Jonah, but it was a mighty big fish.   

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6 Responses to A Mighty Big Fish

  1. Ellen Hunsucker says:

    Know you treasure these special memories! You were much more fortunate than we were! We only got an overnight beach trip to Mexico Beach once a year since Daddy couldn’t take time off from his business! You have certainly left us in suspense about your big fish. Of course, you won’t exaggerate, will you? Thinking of you!


  2. Edie(Bledsoe) Chambless says:

    Was so very sorry to read about Jimmy. You and your family have been in my thoughts and prayers!


  3. Melanie says:

    Wonderful memories for you and your family.


  4. Fran W. says:

    Good points, especially about our watered-down values.


  5. Judy says:

    This is a really good one Neil!


  6. smittydennard says:

    Oh Neil, this brought up so many memories as well!!! As a small spoiled child we also went to Jacksonville on our 3 night vacations. We had to stay 3 or 4 blocks off the beach, but they were wonderful times!! Later on, we graduated to Daytona Beach!!!!!! Beautiful memories!!!!!!!!! Hope Ms. Margret is doing well!!!!!!!!


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