Fort Myers Memories

Three Christmases bring three road trips down to Fort Myers beach in the 1980s with Dad and Win. Oh dear.

When 16 to 18, Dad and his new wife Wendy took my little brother, Luke and I, to Florida with them for Christmas break (our older five siblings were all moved out by then). Except for the first year, we drove down, all 2500 km in Dad’s Mercury Zephyr. Yes, there used to be a car called a Zephyr.  Dad had a skin-tone coloured one.  It was super sexy. Not.

skin tine zephyrThe first year, however, Dad put Luke and I on a Greyhound bus for the forty hour trip. We had to change buses at 2 o’clock in the morning in Detroit, Michigan which is known to be one of the most dangerous cities in the US of A.  Let’s face it,  Grey Hound bus stations are not usually located in the nicest parts of town.  I was  16 and Luke was 13. Dad’s best advice was to use my scarf to tie my purse tight to my body. Luke and I found a seat on the dingy molded plastic chairs and linked arms with eye-balls peeled. We were terrified. Since I am writing this today, I guess we survived the Detroit Bus Station, twice, actually.  We were there on the way home too.

Ever organized, we packed this little cooler with things like hard-boiled eggs, fruit, cheese, bread so that we didn’t have to spend much on restaurant stops.  All we wanted to do was get off that bus as much as possible and stretch our legs.  A long Greyhound ride gets rather ripe, especially after eating one too many hard-boiled eggs.  By the time we arrived at Valdosta, Georgia, we were overjoyed to see Palm trees, finally.


When we finally arrived in Fort Myers, we were picked up by our eldest brothers wife, June’s Mother, who’s name is also June (rest in peace), driving a huge caddy and telling us in a thick Southern accent that she would adopt while in Florida for the winter, how very dANgerous it was here: ‘Nevah take out your wallet in pahblic’, she advised. ‘Almost ahveryone has a GUUN so just be caheful’ and then she accelerated to get across a lane of traffic and screamed: ‘HANG ON!!’  June Senior was quite a character.  She took us in and fed us (I remember one meal in particular was turkey necks — I had never had a meal of turkey necks before) and made sure we had everything we needed for the couple of days before Dad and Wen arrived and we would move into the motel that Dad had booked from afar.

FortMyersBeachFlorida3Luke and I spent many hours on the beach and walking around the town of Fort Myers. We didn’t have much spending money so we would usually have an ice-cream and maybe some fries around lunch time. Then we would walk all the way back the couple miles to where we were staying with Dad and Wen.  By that time, we were wiped. We had swam, sunbathed, played frisbee plus the walk to and from the beach. Luke would carry his boom box on his shoulder and play music for us all the way.

Sometimes we would eat supper all together or we would go to a very good value All-U-Can-Eat Buffet which are prevalent in Florida.  The odd time Dad would say, you kids are on your own, we are going out for supper without you.  After supper, Dad would get us into the car and we would drive through the well-to-do neighbourhoods looking at the Christmas lights.  It was so strange to see this without snow.  Sometimes Dad would take us to some random high school gym to watch basketball.  There seemed to always be a basketball game on somewhere and both Luke and I were big fans of the game.  Luke could even spin a basketball for a significant length of time on his finger, then bounce it off his knee and back to his finger.  In basketball practice with Mr. Laset, ball-handling drills had been highly encouraged.  Luke and I would often play hours of 21 in our driveway and when sitting watching a television program, we would often be holding and spinning the ball.

One day, we met this family on the beach.  The Bates’.  There was a boy my age, a girl one year older and they were from Indiana. We hung out.  They were really nice and we loved their accent and they liked ours.  They arranged for Luke and I to go out for supper with them at a Mexican restaurant.  We had never eaten Mexican food and we were so eager to give it a try.  That was a fun night.  Especially trying hot sauces and pico de gallo for the first time. The virgin lime margarita was spectacular too.  Sour, sweet and salty all at once.  I still love margaritas today. We ended up staying over at their house, which was actually their relatives house, in Fort Myers, for the night.  Luke and I slept on the couches in the den.  I was astounded by their generosity.  In fact, I have been astounded at the generosity of Americans again and again when I lived there over the decades. The Bates’ were good people and they liked us.  It was a nice feeling.  We kept in touch and saw them the next years too.

lovers-key-state-parkWendy found this beach park for us to go explore.  No one was there and it was gorgeous.  We walked along the sand and found wee little treasures while a very relaxed Dad slept on a towel on the beach.  Luke and I jokingly calling him a beached whale, when we were out of earshot.  After a good snore, he awoke and sat up with sand all over the side of his face and pine needles in his hair.  Oh my, we chuckled.  Perhaps he did these things on purpose to get a reaction.  I’m still not sure about that.

That pure white-sand crescent-shaped beach was just spectacular and I have always enjoyed, for some reason, the places where few people go, but which are incredible.  I have also enjoyed the wondering.  The wondering why they are not there.


When it was time to head North, I dreaded it.  Going back to the cold, dark North after all this sun, sea and sand.  The only cool thing would be showing off our sun-kissed tan skin to all of our pasty white friends.

Those trips to Florida were bittersweet.  In one sense it was amazing to be with my little brother, Luke and be on an adventure together down to Florida, especially for three years in a row, making it almost a tradition. Luke and I were very close. In another sense it was tough to be trapped with our parents in a car for several days on a road trip.  The travail of teenagers, perhaps?

In the car, Luke and I would be in the back seat finding any reason to laugh hysterically at Dad.  Dad had these habits that drove us wild with hilarity.  Every so often, he would reach up to daintily scratch his balding pate with just his middle sausage-shaped finger.  Next he would be asking Wendy if she wanted to split a black coffee.  He would pull into a gas station, struggle into his huge down coat, and pay a quarter for the gut-rot coffee on offer.  With a big smile on his face he would come back to the Zephyr with a single styrofoam coffee cup which was barely visible in his large hand.  Wendy would hold it.

Dad would pull out and get back onto the highway and only then would he take off his huge coat.  Every time, while driving and with the three of us helping to get his coat off, narrowly missing oncoming traffic.  Another time, we were at some diner in a tiny little town, for some lunch.  Dad asked the server a question about her hometown, the very town she had lived in her whole life.  The server answers but her answer is not what Dad was expecting.  Much to the embarrassment of Luke and I, and as we would have liked to slide off our chairs and hide under the table, Dad says, ‘Honey baby,’ waving his thumb at himself and Wendy,  ‘We’re both teachers.  You must be mixed up.  That can’t be right.


There was one thing about Dad.  He was not boring and he enjoyed both a good argument and a good adventure, as long as he didn’t have to walk too far.

Rest in Peace, Dad. And you too, Wen.

20 thoughts on “Fort Myers Memories

  1. I was on the floor in hysterics about that troublesome winter coat that he had on that became a straight-jacket behind the wheel. He was all flustered and frustrated. Why not, before you get your 5th coffee of the morning, take off the jacket and lock it in the trunk. His jacket definitely did become a menace because of his attention not being on the road in heavy traffic.

    The restaurant scene, with his breath-taking arrogance, is still in my mind and quite possibly still with the unfortunate waitress as well. We were outside of Atlanta, I believe. Georgia has that red soil that is magnificent.

    I recalled a time in another car with a local Floridian that drove like she was in a Formula 1 race as she yelled, ‘Hang on!” . She suddenly accelerated and pushed the car out onto at least 4 lanes of heavy traffic. I thought we were already killed. I still do not know how she was not hit by a group of cars. We were both being toured around by her for some reason. A complete bird-brain move on the road. I am still wiping my forehead from the sweat of near death.

    Fort Myers Beach in the 1980s was a real experience. The Gulf of Mexico area has that uniquely wonderful flora and fauna that should always be protected.(Sidebar: I was furious with BP for what they let happen there with the Deepwater Horizon tragedy. Why is transporting or drilling for oil in precious seawater better than our own AB oil? That pipe-line should be complete.)

    Anyway, I have to return to those shell beaches. I drove right down to the Hemingway House one year on Key West. All the scenes of turquoise water on proper beaches for miles and miles remains with me always.

    You always have relevant photos that go very well with your writing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We were being ferried around by “June Bazerk” because Dad sent us down to Fort Myers on the bus from Barrie to save money. He and Wen flew down a few days after we got there. June picked us up at the bus station and we hung out with her. I’ll never forget the meal of turkey necks she made us. I had never experienced a meal of turkey necks. They were surprisingly tasty, if a little boney. Remember her telling us not to take out our wallets in front of ANYBODY (exclaimed with a Floridian accent )? A character for sure.
      Thanks for reading Little Bro.


  2. That disposable car (haha) you show in the picture is THE ZEFF, right? That notorious bucket of bolts started to fall apart if you sneezed hard. Horrible vehicle. I remember Eric and Peter VanWesenBeak (after we beat them both) were in the ZEFF one day after school and the car actually started falling apart like right in their hands. We were laughing so hard it still hurts. I remember that day vividly because Marshall (basketball buddy) was over and we also played an intense game of 2 on 2. You were inside getting something or on a call. In fact, I swished everything because no one was defeating me on the home hoop. Tim and I shut them down. Centre out! His brother Eric is a great guy. Anyway, I remember after we were laughing so hard with Eric because everything fell off the car that he touched but unlike in the Bumblebee (Transformers) the ZEFF never went back together again. And, MM, I know they will deny it but it happened and it was well before the mobile days or we would have had it on video. The win was sweet. As you remember Eric is pretty tall and Marshall was faster with passes from me that made us unstoppable. Incredible Barrie days before the family scattered to the wind. I remember the ZEFF always because of that day.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Actually, the picture is one I found on the Internet. But I remember what a piece of junk that car was. We used to call it the skin-tone Zephyr. One thing for sure is that it was unique – just one of them in the area (thank god!).
      Eric reads this blog and certainly is quite the gentleman. I saw him a few years ago at Win’s funeral in Minesing and we had a very nice little visit. He brought Mrs. VW with him and it was so amazing to talk to her as well. Memories of the old days in Barrie. Bitter-sweet for sure. I also saw Maurice Gervais and Jim O’Hara who were students of Win’s in elementary school and who I later went to school with at St Joe’s and they raved about what an amazing teacher she was (honey baby). They actually each said that she was their all-time favourite teacher. Imagine! Such a lovely thing to say. I certainly didn’t really appreciate her in that way as there was so much dirty laundry between us and I missed mom so badly when Win joined our family.
      There is another story featuring Eric and his sister Harriet called ‘my flute playing friend’.
      I super enjoyed reading this story of your basketball game with the buddies on the home loop! I can see it happening. I can hear it and I can almost taste it. The days before the Internet and all the technology. Things happened so much more randomly. We gravitated to those folks we loved and appreciated. We didn’t ‘follow’ anyone because of nicely edited pictures. We befriended folks because there was chemistry (like maybe we sat beside them in chemistry class -haha) and we just wanted to be in their presence.
      Love you little brother.


  3. And, MM, I have literally hundreds (maybe thousands) of areas where you can expand on. Follow the minutiae in your memory and in your unique and original life. You have been an inspiration to me my entire life.

    Keyword: minutia, minutiae

    * Borrowed into English in the late 18th century from the Latin plural noun minutiae, meaning “trifles” or “details” and derived from the singular noun minutia. In English, minutia is most often used in the plural as minutiae.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I am aware of the word minutiae which I used the other day when speaking to Jaden. He looked at me quizzically as if it wasn’t actually a word. I love throwing some seldom used word at him to see the wheels turning. He is quite good with the English language, likely taking after yourself and his Dad. (One of the first things that turned my head with regard to his dad was his 100% perfect score on the military’s English grammar test in 1988. (I wrote about this in the story ‘RMC, Comox and Borden, Oh My’).
      Please reply with one two or three different ideas that I could expound on.


  4. Dearest Brother, you brought tears to my eyes . While reading this I hear your voice and felt your presence. You have lived large and I realized this is your destiny. Thank you for sharing this work of art.
    Love you Eternally

    Liked by 1 person

  5. “Sister Sanibel”

    Smell of fresh coffee
    Ephemeral dawn
    Birds of all colours chirping a tropical song
    Fresh fruit on the front lawn
    The juice of the juiciest grapefruit
    On our tongues
    Scent of jasmine and palm dates
    Oh, blessed turquoise sea you have melted
    our cold northern souls once more

    Our Florida fortnight held real adventure
    You were everything to us
    Finally winter brain washed clean
    Feeling of warm sun on warm water days
    Swim strong under glorious rays

    Fresh fruit, date palms, blooming flowers, sand and warm sun
    The world the way it should be
    We got rolling early
    Along lands of the ethereal Apalachee

    We felt infinite explorations of Ponce De Leon
    He was pure adventureman
    Seize the day down from contrived, cold Orange mountain
    We acted on salubrious ways
    Real 20th century cult of youth fountain
    Running young and under an equatorial sun
    Digital craze foreign to our eyes and ears

    We rolled along coastal roadways
    Simple objective no one needed to sell
    To find a shell beach called the Sanibel
    We stood humbled by Seno Mexicano
    As we thought of golden dreams
    That time America right, happy with inner peace
    Oh, nation of the free wake again to your divinity

    Collecting tiny shells as sun kissed us
    By a mouth swiftly flowing freshwater river
    Do you still see the eternal confluence my sister?
    La Florida you return Hope once more
    Dynamic, proud Sister Sanibel with a solution
    You a quaint 5 foot something with a 7 foot constitution

    As warm air blanketed us for a fortnight in feelings of glee
    Our new converse on
    Sister Sanibel on the foul line swishing and swishing
    Along a coast played out tragedies of fate
    This flare to travel made a forefather desire
    Could they rub out the spirit of Calusa and Karankawa?

    Sunshine State I feel you on the air tonight
    10,000 miles from your shores
    You return to me on warm Andaman breeze
    Across a troubled world of such need
    In an ancient land of graceful Buddha, spicy smiles of honesty
    I thank La Florida and the Mexico inland sea
    White powder sand of mystery
    Our internal buoyancy
    Sister Sanibel and me

    Written by RD Valiquette, May. 2018

    Liked by 1 person

  6. After living in the tropics for years and experiencing the beach culture all over the North and South Pacific I always recall how marvelous the shell beaches are near Naples. And, the time I drove from Toronto to Key West to tour the home of Hemingway. I prefer the Gulf side and I was shocked and saddened to see that oil spill a few years ago caused by the greed of BP.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is a great question Laura, and I should’ve explained that a bit better. The first year we went down the Christmas break was unusual in its dates and it was much cheaper for Dad and Wendy to fly down. Luke and I were out of school earlier and so we took the bus down and back. For the second and third year, Dad determined that it was a lot cheaper for all of us just to drive together in the car, there and back. And yes, he was very frugal. I don’t think I ever saw each of them with a coffee of their own from a takeout place.

      Liked by 1 person

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