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Saturday, January 29, 2005

Remembrance of Things Past

I was tossing a few post ideas around in my head last night, but I was unable to or uninterested in pursuing any of them.

Then, this morning in a very Proustian way, I was inspired to finally tell you, per Sarah's request, about growing up in Florida. What triggered these remembrances was the smell of a passionfruit, cut, seeded and left to dry on my kitchen counter. The aroma always stirred some vague memory but today it hit me: Passionfruits smell like the delightful cloud of insecticide that sprayed out the back of the mosquito truck late summer afternoons. I distinctly recall swimming in the pool, hearing the hissing, chugging truck approach, bursting up though the water in anticipation of the sweet smell of bug spray about to envelop us. My husband used to ride his bike behind the truck to prolong the experience. That's probably what's wrong with us.

Anyway, growing up in South Florida was probably not a whole lot different from where you grew up, except for the opportunity to occasionally play hide and seek with the police helicopter's searchlight when they were out looking for escaped felons. We would wait until they got close and then scatter, diving into bushes or rolling under the stationwagon. The sweeping light would remain fixed on your position until they identified you and then would move on. That momentary pause of the light meant success!

There were lots of other fun things to do. My mother and brother shared a special game performing undercover surveillance on, and recording license plate numbers of visitors to our suspected drug dealing neighbors. It was a great way for him to learn his letters and numbers and encouraged his inherent talents. He went on to become a police officer and insurance fraud investigator, supporting the notion that you should discover and develop your children's interests at an early age.

We had the usual neighborhood bullies. Their techniques may have varied slightly, considering the differences in environment. I was once put into an underground garbage can enclosure and not allowed to leave until I had undressed. Suffocating was less a concern to me than preserving my dignity, and it never seemed to be a major concern anyway since the lid was opened every few minutes to determine if I had complied. I refused. My mother became suspicious when she noticed the group of boys gathered around the lid and I was nowhere to be seen. Another of their tricks was to ask me to go fishing with them in the canal behind our houses. Fences would be mended, all would be forgiven. Let's be friends! Then they would dangle me off the dock for gator bait. This began a series of recurring nightmares and a mortal fear of alligators. Years later, when the state of Florida opened up a legal hunting season for alligators, G and I were first in line to apply for a license. He was excited by the potentially lucrative harvest. I was excited figuring the best way to overcome my fear of the loathsome reptiles would be to kill one. Who needs expensive therapy? As is usually the case though, the limited number of permits all seemed to fall into the hands of large developers and other friends of the state.

Other fauna was no less threatening. Blissfully riding my bike through puddles up and down our street after a typical window-shaking afternoon thunderstorm, I was unaware of the danger about to strike. Fwoomp, fwoomp, fwoomp. Something from behind knocked me clean off my bike. Something very hard was repeatedly striking me in the head. I instinctively curled into a fetal position and covered my eyes. An old woman two doors down, sweeping her porch ran over and began bashing me and the offending creature with her broom. Someone else, alerted by the old lady's screams, raced over and apprehended the crazed Muscovy Duck. Apparently I had trespassed into one of his puddles and enraged him. The police came. Animal Control came. It was all very frightening. I was sure the horrible thing would escape police custody before he could be taken away and tested for rabies. There might even be helicopters with searchlights. Fortunately he was not rabid and strangely enough, I have never had either a mortal fear of, nor desire to kill a duck. Another terror we suffered was the constant threat of bufo toads fatally poisoning our daschsund, Henry. We found him several times on his back, short legs straight in the air, foaming at the mouth. The garden hose was dragged out and Henry's mouth well flushed. It kept happening. It always scared us. I think Henry liked it.

The best part of growing up in Florida in the early 70s was the proximity to Disney World. At the time there was still only one two-lane road through the cow pastures to the Magic Kingdom, and we made the pilgrimage at least once a year when relatives from Up North would descend upon us. Not only would we be treated to a trip there and a box of doughnuts while waiting for the park to open, we would score all the extra tickets left over at the end of the day. Of course, all the "E" tickets were used up so we ended up with mostly "A" tickets, good for not much more than the carousel, but we still thought it was pretty cool.

So, really, no matter where you grow up, some things are universal.

Off to enjoy my madeleines, I mean, passionfruit...

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