On spring break with my girls, I rediscover bits of my Old Florida childhood hiding under the new.
Growing up in Florida, I found spring break redundant. Unlike families who spent days in tick-tight station wagons, speeding toward almost certain sunburn, our clan toddled up the road a half hour to Amelia Island and Fernandina Beach, a former home of actual pirates and now folks who like to dress up as pirates whenever there happens to be a pirate-y occasion.
When I was a kid, Fernandina and Amelia were undeveloped oases of piney woods, empty beachfront, and swamp pockets where you could ride your bike right up to the edge and spy an alligator if you were lucky. My friend Betsy and I would pedal all over the island, hopping stumps and ducking beneath low-hanging Spanish moss, tracking raccoons, which we were certain we could tame as pets so long as we carried enough peanut butter. The grown-ups stayed back at our modest rental condo, telling jokes, drinking canned beer, and grilling hot dogs on a barbecue thick with several inches of residual burn while snow-white egrets perched in the distance like marble sculptures.
For that spring break week, at least, all of us were happy. The adults relaxed their shoulders and tilted their chins sunward, mindful of where they chose to live, and why. The younger kids scrambled over sand dunes or fled the chase of waves, squealing with delight and the sweet, salted taste of freedom. The teens and tweens found their own joys in bare, brown shoulders and soggy bags of hot boiled peanuts spiced with cayenne.
Such is life in Florida, where the thick, immutable presence of nature resets your clock to its primordial rhythm, a reminder that existence is both fleeting and wondrous.
And so it was during a recent spring break with my own children, when I brought them to the island of my youth and found it, of course, profoundly changed—luxury hotels, gourmet markets, cigar bars—but also, exactly the same. There are still gators in the (much smaller) swamps. The bugs are still big as baseballs, the heat still feels like a wet cape, and the rains still fall sudden and hard as if from firehoses. As it has ever done, the tide comes in and the tide goes out and little ones trip along the edge, exhilarated and afraid.
In the afternoons, my girls walked the same paths Betsy and I did. I told them about the raccoons and how we wanted to be biologists, and they nodded and asked about rabies. I showed them the Spanish moss and the fist-size toads and the sky the color of a blank canvas, and we paused by the shrimpboats, listening to the clang of their masts.
It was the music of my childhood. And now it would be theirs.
People say that you experience life only once, as a child, and the rest is memory. I say those people ought to have a couple of kids. (Moving to Florida wouldn’t hurt either.)
Allison Glock’s wildest spring break involved lanyards and canoeing.