Jan Norris: Food and Florida

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The Keys I Miss

August 27th, 2008 · 1 Comment

(Editor’s note: The links in this post take you to old postcards from the Florida Photographic Collection, maintained by the Florida State Library. It’s part of the State Archives.)

A trip earlier this summer to the Keys just made me nostalgic for what was. I passed far too many cars, condos, new developments and shops on the way down.


Scarier bridges in my memory

I’ve been going to the Keys by car since I was about six. A few years later, my cousin Doug Ward, from Pensacola, was in the Little League Championships, and the playoffs were in Marathon. The Ward family –  and a bunch of the team – came to stay with us in Fort Lauderdale before traveling down to the Keys.

old-bridgeThe new seven-mile bridge hadn’t yet been built; the old one was two-lane and narrow, with short guardrails. I was too young to be frightened of it but there was a mother of one of the ballplayers who was literally petrified of bridges — this was the trip from hell as far as she was concerned. Miles of nothing but two-lane bridges over such expanses of water you’ve never seen…she had to be tranquilized.

Go by boat if you can

The year after that, we began going down by boat, and we’d sleep aboard. It was a two-day trip down; the first night got us to Biscayne Bay, where we’d eat fried chicken at sunset on deck, then play Yahtzee or Monopoly until midnight. We’d spend several days aboard, docked at the Islamorada Yacht Club — now called Lorelei’s. We met the same folks at the docks every time we went — sailors going down to the West Indies and fishermen who had brought their boats from St. Petersburg to fish. 

 keys-Gulf-sunsetWe had great meals — a lot of fish if the grownups did well, and eye roasts and other foods my aunt and my mother packed for the trip as backup. Dining on deck, with that full horizon sea view of the sunset as a backdrop was magical.

wilddolphinsThere was literally nothing like this experience. Dolphins would follow in our wake for hours at a time on the way down. It was nothing to see huge pods of them playing around, jumping or swimming and nuzzling each other with those permanent smiles.

 Off Florida Bay, we’d see schools of giant manta rays — some six feet across — leaping out of the water and gliding as though flying — then landing with as much grace as a swan diver. One of those things that you could never catch on camera back then. You can see vestiges of these on YouTube, but this amazing sight is something you must experience in the wild to fully appreciate.

Giant tarpon flashing everywhere

The huge tarpon were everywhere, it seems; today, they’re almost tame and keep to the marinas. We could see so many different reef fish at the docks — it was like a living aquarium under you as you dangled your legs over the water.

In later years, my cousin and I both had ski boats of our own. We’d drive them down, following our parents’ cabin cruisers, and spend all day skiing while our parents fished and caught our dinner.

Unbelievable when I think back on all we did as kids down there, left to our own devices — with two boats, no less — and it didn’t kill us. The most dangerous thing that ever happened was we got into a school of sharks one day skiing out on the ocean side. The lone skier behind the boat nearly walked on water to get back in the boat once he saw all the fins. Scared us into staying on the Gulf side after that. What made us think the sharks weren’t there, too — well, that’s just kid logic.

Cider vinegar for sunburn

These trips were when I first learned about cider vinegar being the best thing for taking the burn out of a sunburn. It really works. Other than good old Noxema, it’s the greatest thing going. You can keep your aloe — give me my vinegar. Well, OK, aloe’s great after the fact and you’re peeling all over the place, and it doesn’t smell so bad, I suppose.

Wish there were something that easy that would cure the Keys’ march of progress.

Tags: Old Florida

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 hazmat1225 // Sep 11, 2008 at 4:37 pm

    We can recreate those days anytime, need the boat though…

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