Summer vacation in July 1956 in Clearwater Beach, Florida.
By James K. Sayre
My family's two-week summer vacations in the early 1950s had mostly been drives from Pittsburgh, PA up to the Detroit, Michigan area to visit with my two sets of grandparents and an uncle and an aunt, along with some of my cousins. Visits was always a bit awkward and off-putting, since we saw them once a year at best and we were stuck in new neighborhoods with little to do. Sometimes we pushed on to cottages on small lakes in lower Michigan for some swimming and fishing.
However, in July, 1956, my parents splurged and rented cottage in on the Gulf of Mexico in Clearwater Beach, Florida for two weeks. We flew down from Pittsburgh. The flowers, shrubs and trees were lush and exotic, especially the Palm trees. I was entranced with the tropics, having only lived in temperate, four-season climates of northern New Jersey and western Pennsylvania.
We had all tried to work on our suntans in preparation for this trip, but the Florida sun was quite intense. (This was a time before effective sunscreens had been invented). We wore T-shirts on top and tried to avoid the most intense midday rays. I was almost 14 at the time, armed with a new 35mm camera and a pair of 7x35 binoculars. We had a couple of family expeditions: deep-sea fishing (we hauled in over fifty fish, and my mother got stuck with cleaning and cooking them; fortunately, none of them were really large fish). We also went "scalloping" in shallow water and got some nice sunburns as well as a bucket of scallops.
Most of the time we just went swimming and shelling along the beach and collected many nice shells, two processed-cheese-boxes full, which I recently discovered in some family possessions. There was an amazing about of life in the ocean water: fish of many sizes, manta rays and once we even saw a large shark with a dorsal fin out about a hundred yards from the shore; we gave up swimming that day. We also tried and learned to play shuffleboard, sort of a lightweight, warm dry verion of curling.
I screwed up a little courage and started talking to a pretty brunette girl who was sitting on the beach in front of our group of cottages. She was my age and was from Kansas City and was on a summer vacation as I was, with family.
My big personal expedition was to take a solo bus ride up to Silver Springs, which is east of Ocala, and enjoy the sights. (You should know that I had been leading a pretty sheltered life in suburbia). Anyway, after a three-hour bus ride, I arrived at Silver Springs, undoubtedly took some scenic pictures, bought some post cards, took a ride in the glass-bottomed boat, saw the "mermaids," had lunch and then took took the bus back to Clearwater Beach.
Besides our shell collections and our suntans, we brought back some clumps Spanish Moss, which is a grayish-green air plant. It was draped over tree limbs, and seemingly lived on air. My mother kept one clump of it alive for several years, although it slowly shrank in volume. It was tough to replicate the tropical sunny Florida climate indoors in a house in the Northeast part of the country.
I purchased a small collection of Florida post cards for tourists, with the inevitable Pelicans ("Hellicans") and other local themes.
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