After a painful and protracted flight from Philadelphia, one of the worst in memory, we touched down in West Palm Beach Saturday to discover we’d gained 44 degrees in one day. It was 87. “I love Florida,” Georgia, 6, said as she stripped off her fleece and sweatpants next to the rental car and pulled on shorts and a T-shirt.
Driving into Vero Beach, we passed lanes with names like “Bougainvillea” and “Gayfeather.” We ate pizza at the boardwalk and had to switch on the air conditioning in the house we were renting. Sunblock stung my eyes during my run the next morning. The steepest hill I had to climb was up a dune to the beach. Instead of showering, I dove into the saltwater pool out back. “Look at me! I’m a jelly fish,” Georgia cried, emerging, be-goggled, before plunging down again to perform a wriggly underwater dance.
That afternoon, our daughters hopped waves at the beach, squealing and clutching my husband’s hands. A pair of local boys, Cody and Wyatt, pointed out the sea turtles bobbing just off the shore. Georgia’s twin brother lost his tooth in the sand. We fished around for it and came up with what may have actually been a shell. But Griffin was none the wiser and pleased with the dollar bill I later slipped under his pillow.
As my in-laws babysat that evening, my husband and I stopped by the outdoor deck at the Driftwood. “We’re shutting down the patio because of the change in the weather,” the hostess informed us. But we didn’t care. We perched on the railing with beers, gazing at the waves and the storm clouds rolling in. I watched a couple, with southern accents and matching “FAMIGLIA” tattoos decorating their shoulders, shake out their towels and collect their Miller Lite bottles. My eavesdropping soon revealed that they were not husband and wife as I had surmised, but rather brother and sister.
My own husband mused about how, by the time our youngest, Jane, was a teenager, we’d be pushing 60. “Let’s go get some dinner,” I said, and we darted onto the street and into a torrential downpour. We jogged past Gloria Estefan’s new restaurant to Citrus Grillhouse, where there was a 45-minute wait. By that time, we were drenched anyway. So we ducked under the awning of a store called “Very Fitting” and, like a pair of adolescents, phoned Jeff’s dad to pick us up.
The next morning dawned clear and bright. Too cold to swim right away, I strolled around town with our children, buying flip-flops and Wiffle balls. That afternoon, we ate ice cream. We spied a tortoise humping its shell across a park. “I love Flor-i-da,” our 2-year-old kept chanting, separating out the syllables and accenting the “i” to emphasize her pleasure.
Even I, who generally have trouble relaxing, have found this vacation to be restorative. The fact that I contracted some kind of infection could not quite deflate my spirits. I got to spend 24 hours in bed, albeit aching, my throat too sore to holler at my kids. But my husband shifted fairly well on his own. I nearly finished Alice Munro’s “Selected Stories” and found a German design magazine, in the house we’re renting, with startlingly original pictures and expressions such as, “Wohnen macht Spafs!” I didn’t know what that meant, but it sounded exciting.
“Why do we have to pack tomorrow?” Griffin lamented this afternoon, as we snacked on watermelon and potato chips and discussed our final day. “The trip went by too fast!”
“I wish,” Georgia added, “that vacation could never end.”
As I sit typing on the porch in the evening sun, Spanish moss dangling from the Live Oaks and stirring in the breeze, I can smell dinner someone's grilling. My husband is reading “Mary Poppins in The Park” out loud to our children, who are perfumed with a mixture of saltwater, chlorine, sunblock and ice cream. And we still have one last day to savor. Maybe tomorrow I’ll even manage to burn my nose.