Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Groundhog's Day

In 1975 Groundhog’s Day fell on a Sunday. That seems weird, because I distinctly remember a speech about the holiday on a Saturday morning that year. It was a holiday always celebrated in my family when I was growing up, but not for what you might expect. That day just happened to be my father’s birthday.

It was cold and clear that morning. I could look up into the sky and see the stars. At least if I was away from the driveway, that is. . A very few flakes of snow were swirling around. The large floodlights on the end of the barn were lit as well as the light at the backdoor illuminating the driveway. It was perhaps 5:30 when the garage door went up and dad pulled the Chrysler Newport, bought around Christmastime, out and backed it up to the stall that was an addition onto the side of the garage. I helped him hook-up and soon he was pulling forward with the travel trailer emerging into the driveway. Mom came out with another load of stuff and into the trailer she went. I returned to helping her finish loading things into the camper. Bedding, clothes and such were already put away in the proceeding days, now we were mostly carting food and a few personal items out.

That’s when Dad made his speech to Mom and I, which went something, like this:

“Go use the bathroom, turn out the lights, make sure the doors are locked. Into the backseat kiddo. I don’t want any birthday presents or songs. Not a cake either. This Groundhog predicts spring-like weather in 3 days or less! I’m hell-bent for Florida and I don’t expect to stop until I see that welcome to Florida sign in my rearview mirror! Let’s hit the road!”

Arrived in Florida
We drove through Pennsylvania in snow and ice in some locations. I remember one steep incline where we creeped to the bottom along with several tractor-trailers. It was treacherous, but the farther south we went the better it got. By late afternoon we were over on Interstate 95 and headed through Richmond. I remember a campground in a place called Ashland, where there was a playground with the push type merry-go-round. I had so much fun on it that my head was still going in circles when I laid down to sleep that night.

Was it that night or maybe actually the next that Mom brought out her surprise after supper was ended. Stashed away was, not a cake, but a pie for Dad’s birthday. He always preferred pie to cake and she’d had her birthday just the week before, so that was his usual birthday treat.

The weather was warming and we stopped the next night in Florence, South Carolina. Something was wrong with the car and Dad was worried. But the owners of the KOA that we stayed at told him of the dealership there and he had the car at their service door as they opened the next morning. Whatever was wrong, was under warranty, and they had him out within an hour free of charge and we were on the road again. Dad talked about that for years, and though I don’t remember what was wrong, I do remember he wrote several letters to the dealership and Chrysler itself praising their work.

Me posing with goat at Alligator Alley
By mid-afternoon that day we were in Saint Augustine, Florida. Here we would stay for a few days and tour and relax. After all these years, I can’t remember how long we stayed or where we camped. However, over 3 weeks time, we saw Alligator Alley, Circus World, Disney World, Six Gun Territory, the Citrus Tower and probably a few other places. One campground, called Lake Maikai, had a swimming pool and it was warm enough that I went swimming in February. This campground was built in an old orange grove and we only had to go out behind the camper a few feet to pick fresh oranges! That campground was a favorite of mine for many years.

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