Florida 1973 Part 1

In The 70's on July 2, 2013 at 5:36 pm

The annual trek down to Casselberry, Florida became a fixed part of our summer schedule for almost a decade. My brothers and I would fly out of New York City’s Kennedy Airport at the end of each June,  after school let out for summer vacation.  Sitting together in roomy blue airplane seats,  we would anticipate the delightful tray of airline food (scrambled eggs, silver dollar sized pancakes, orange juice, small carton of milk and a golden dinner roll with fancy foil wrapped squares of butter) by meticulously uniformed, friendly stewardesses. (Of course, David only ate the pancakes plain- he would have much preferred his go-to summer breakfast of dry Rice Krispies and Tang, a habit my grandmother would nix so quick he’d get whiplash) The kind stewardesses  would then gift us with metal wings to pin onto our shirts, insisting we were all co-captains, which thank Christ wasn’t actually true. (The way my brothers commandeered their Huffy sting-rays and mini-bikes, we’d have all been goners)

Remember the tarmac?

Nan and Pop-pop would excitedly greet us, as we entered the airport from the tarmac, beads of sweat instantly forming on our brows as we walked from the plane down steep metal stairs and across the asphalt runway.

Once we entered the lavishly air-conditioned terminal, Nan and Pop formed a dual octopus of flailing arms, kisses and boisterous greetings. (This must be how the Beatles felt in 1963!) Nan was dressed in her ‘special occasion’ duds- a short sleeved, polyester double knit dress (in a half size) two strands of pearls (graduated lengths) support hose and white, cushioned easy steppers. Clip-on costume pearl earrings, and rose red lipstick meant she’d gone all out. She was barely 5’1, so I had to crouch to greet her- the familiar smell of L’Air Du Temps and Sen-Sens transporting me back to my childhood.

After happily mauling the three of us and marveling at our growth  (“You’ve grown like weeds!”) Nan would snap open her cream colored purse by the costume jeweled clasp and pull out a plastic baggie containing three packets of mini-Chiclets, a handful of sour balls (“I get the red!” called Rob, beating David and I to the punch while we scowled) and several cellophane wrapped butterscotch  discs especially for me-( the boys hated the flavor and referred to it as ‘buttercrotch’ Such class!) This seemingly small candy-bag ritual signaled the official beginning of our summer in Florida. My grandparents would be in charge of us for six chaos-filled weeks. It’s a wonder they were so into it.

My grandfather was as excited as a Labrador at a frisbee match- a big grin on his deeply tanned face, his dark brown comb-over slicked neatly across his reddened forehead, which he tended to with a cloth hankie. He wore a light, short sleeve button down shirt, dove-gray sansabelt slacks and white leather loafers as required by law for all men over 65 in Florida. He hugged me and guffawed: ‘Ahhh, yessirree- we sure missed you, Young Lady! Ahhhh….look at the three of you!’, hugging my brothers, ruffling the tops of their hair, the whole time exclaiming ‘Ahhh haha” “That’s right!” and ‘you…betcha!”

With the greeting ceremony over, it was time to walk to baggage claim, hopefully stopping first at the orange juice kiosk that sold freshly squeezed juice in plastic novelty containers shaped liked authentic Florida Oranges- a green plastic leaf and straw sprouting from its lid. My brothers weren’t interested in this item, and sighed heavily when I insisted we stop.

“She only wants it coz of the container! And she had orange juice on the plane!” Rob huffed, like there was a legal limit, then  cawed in a sing song voice “it’s so cuuute!”

“Shut-up, Hot-Wheel Head!” I retorted- the implication that at ten, Rob still played with Hot Wheels. Which he did.

“Be quiet before I sell you both to the gypsies!” threatened Nan, with David adding an enthusiastic ‘Yeah!” into the mix as if he had any authority.

After Nan bought me my juice ,which I took a long, purposeful sip of, shooting dagger eyes at both bros. I’d drink the whole thing just to prove I was actually thirsty, though I was not. Maybe I did just want it for the container. (Who wouldn’t? They were adorable!)  We made our way through the airport in order to retrieve our bags. We each had a separate suitcase, hefty blue vinyl Samsonites with silver buckles. We watched with eagle eyes as the conveyor belt spit out the luggage from our flight. My suitcase took the longest, because, according to Rob, it was filled with ‘stupid stuff she doesn’t even need’ to which I replied with a noisy bottom of the cup slurp, followed by a heartfelt, citrus scented burp. 

“Why don’t we all act act our age instead of our shoe size?” suggested Nan. I looked down at my white clogs, and realized my grandmother was accusing me of being seven and a half. We’d only just gotten here, and her job as referee was already in full swing. She happily took the wheel our mom was no doubt tired of white-knuckling.

As soon as we exited the airport doors, a wall of sauna-like heat hit us square on. My grandmother, who wasn’t a big heat fan to say the least, rolled her eyes dramatically and began to fan her face with her free hand. Meanwhile, my grandfather took in a hearty breath and insisted “Now this is living!’ ‘You betcha, Florida sunshine!” as a counter strike.

“Sheesh! You and your Florida! I’m melting into the sidewalk and you’re over the moon!” she marveled, and then added “If you ask me, it’s all a bunch of malarkey, Mister!” My grandfather just chuckled and shook his head in disbelief that Nan could see anything negative in his idea of paradise.

We were with Pop-pop on this one- the heat didn’t bother us all that much (it was a novelty) and we were jacked up for this vacation. We had bikes to ride, games to play (baseball, kickball, Nerf football, clackers, super balls, frisbees) people to see (all of the neighborhood kids we’d hung out with last year) and more touristy places to visit than you could shake a stick at.

Anything within a three hour distance was on our radar, and our grandfather was beyond game. We went to Disney World, Busch Gardens. Gatorland and Lion Country Safari (where we observed animals in deep slumber-all but the looney ostrich at the entrance gate who pranced around the car, pecked at the windows and put on a big show, gearing us up for the eventual letdown) We hit pools, ponds, lakes and oceans-I’m certain Pops would have driven us to a puddle, were it in a brochure. 

 Even the local stores were exotic to the three of us: Zayre, Jordan Marsh, Burdines, The Altamonte Mall, The Winter Park Mall.  The convenience stores (7-11, Speedy’s) were a source of endless fascination, with their risque vacation postcards depicting alligators about to take bites out of bikini-clad, tan-lined buttocks, bronzed and oiled hunks drinking out of coconuts in neon colored bathing suits, the whole Snow vs. Sun debate that mocked their recipients. There were wacky straw hats, shelves flooding with Coppertone and Solarcaine, cheap t-shirts with iron on stencils: Flip Wilson: The Devil made me Do It! ,’Keep On Truckin’ and monstrous 70’s muscle cars, their engines and wheels exploding out from underneath them.

There were ‘Arrive Stoned’ license plates-(scary to us still in its blatant defiance to the law! Ridiculously coveted by us a couple of years later) and key-chains with dangling shells and freeze-dried seahorses.  They sold cheap, scratchy towels touting beach  scenes, orange sunsets and state maps dotted in endless tourist attractions. And treats: Yellow Scooter pies (my god, so exotic!) pixie sticks, Fruit stripe gum, and an endless array of novelty candy. And the mother of all cash cows: cigarettes and beer. All this, plus  major blasts of ice-cold air-conditioning. We could spend hours in these stores, a dollar bill burning a hole in our pockets.

 'Wish You Were Here!'



  1. I love this! My brother and cousin used to go to my Aunts for a month every summer for years…i laughed so loud about the scratchy towel: we still have a few at the house,the fav being the one with the quasi sexy cartoon bikini body and your head up at the top. Heaven forbid you needed that oj fix!!lol

    Sent from my LG Smartphone on Sprint

    A Kick


    • Yes! I remember that towel!! I may reference it – thanks to you! Old Florida was such a kitschy, cool place to be- it fit the 70’s like a glove! Hope you like Part 2! Happy Fourth!!


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