A Bubble Off Plumb

A bittersweet memory of Florida

Posted 5/13/21

I have long searched for a way to describe how I feel about my home state of Florida, without success, until I discovered a word in Welsh that has no English equivalent. 

The word is …

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A Bubble Off Plumb

A bittersweet memory of Florida

Posted

I have long searched for a way to describe how I feel about my home state of Florida, without success, until I discovered a word in Welsh that has no English equivalent. 

The word is “hiraeth.” It combines nostalgia, longing, a yearning for something lost forever, a mix of people, place and time that cannot be revisited, bringing with it a sense of grief. 

Growing up the barefooted daughter of a milkman/farmer, I never realized the freedom that early life afforded me. It was in the days before each newscast carried child abduction, murder, molestation. Life was simpler, fuller, better. 

We girls ran as wild as the ponies that carried us bareback into our next adventure, in which we raced through the pine forests and oak hammocks outrunning imaginary villains or wild beasts. 

They usually bore a striking resemblance to the evildoers from that week’s episode of Bonanza and we all wanted to be Little Joe Cartwright.

When you grow up in Florida, a beach vacation isn’t that out of the ordinary, but there was one for our rural, impoverished family that stands out in memory. 

The boys stayed home, with only we girls and our girl cousins going to Sanibel Island with our Aunt Lil, who was always a stitch.

The thing about Sanibel then was that it was empty. Nothing. There were the little cabins where we stayed and, several miles away, a mom and pop grocery store and gas station. It sold bread, bait and beer and not much else.

We stayed there for what seemed like a month, but was probably six or seven days. We girls spent every day all day splashing around where the water met the sand. It seemed like heaven on earth, because at 6 years old, I had to wear neither shirt nor shoes.

Unfortunately, I got a very serious sunburn and had to spend the end of our vacation inside or in the shade to protect my fair skin from any worse damage.

Today that empty island sprouts condos like warts on a toad. The little cabins are long gone, as is the mom and pop gas station.

There are other recollections that make my memory ache; thunderstorms should be a terrifying force of nature, but as youngsters we sat on the porch until mama made us come inside. 

There were dairies and dirt roads and hammocks — a place of shade — that were dark and silent, unless you counted the chatter of squirrels. There were days spent fishing at the ponds and nights spent on the riverbank in a tent, listening to the far-off scream of a Florida panther.

They were the days before Disney World was even planned, when the average Joe could park along the road and walk down to the beach at Pensacola without worrying about trespassing charges. 

Change came so slowly, at least at first, we never noticed it. But by the time high school rolled around, it was hard to ignore the housing developments built in old cow pastures, widened highways that paved over the oak hammocks, houses so close together on the beach that the water could no longer be seen from the road.

There were still good times, like going out to that beach after prom and hanging out at various parental motorhomes until sunrise, or taking one of the cotton-candy pastel cottages with 10 friends after graduation. 

But that slow-moving tea-colored stream of childhood reminisces, of days so hot and humid nighttime seemed like a blessed reprieve until it arrived, hotter and muggier than the day, those times and days and ways of life have disappeared, gone forever. 

No more are there hurricane watch parties, living and waiting patiently with bathtubs full of water and coolers full of block ice until the Gulf Power trucks righted the destruction. Now there are down-to-the-second weather reports, instant assessment of the damages, FEMA trailers and Red Cross shelters, generators and cooling stations.

And I miss those days, those people and times, knowing what to do to go on living until things were back to normal. 

That place will never be again. It is dead and gone and washed out to sea, leaving only a salt breeze, a memory and a sense of hiraeth.

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