This is where it all began. Image Source: Zillow
This week I will be returning to northern Florida for the first time since September 12, 1986, my 14th birthday and the day we moved back home to Maine. What do I remember over the last quarter century? What is going through my mind? Let’s find out…
My dad was a travel agent in Brunswick, Maine. At some point in 1982, before I turned ten, it was announced that he got a job in Jacksonville, Florida. We had visited Orlando and Disney World plenty of times thanks to his work, but now we were moving to Jacksonville, a mere two-hour drive from Orlando. Okay, then.
I don’t recall being upset or excited. I don’t really remember any of the dirty business of moving, saying goodbye to friends, or any of the rest. I vaguely remember a Paul Arpin moving truck and boxes, but that’s about it. My dad preceded us down, and one day we just stepped into our new apartment, which was already furnished with two metal wire chairs, the same chairs as the Regency Square Mall Food Court in Jacksonville, where I had just discovered the joy of Chick-fil-a Waffle Fries. My dad, the bachelor.
We had Apartment 5G of The Gloucester Apartments, at 4915 Baymeadows Road. The complex has since been converted into condos, and apparently a previous management company is wanted in Florida, Ohio, New York and Nevada for such fun and games as fraud, embezzlement, absconding of funds and breach of contract. But, of course, that was long after my time.
My dad picked up my mother, brother and myself at Jacksonville International, and we drove to the complex in our silver-and-rust with black vinyl interior 1979 Ford Fairmont station wagon. The buildings of The Gloucester were a strange mix of Tudor and southern Colonial: Olde English font on the sign at the front of the complex, more pine trees than palm trees, gabled roofs with dormer windows, brick with shutters and coach lanterns. The effect was a bewildering middle finger to the endless waves of palm-tree-shrouded Spanish plaster and stucco that washed over the rest of the neighborhood.
I remember walking in the bare living room, saying,”well, there’s not much to it”, and we were home.
My favorite parts of my new home presented themselves immediately. The pool was great, and the pool was right next to the tennis court. And in the dark, Astroturf carpeted hallway between the pool and the rental office was a vending machine with Mr. Pibb, which didn’t exist in Maine. It was love at first taste, which was like Dr. Pepper on crack.
And, perhaps best of all, we had that newfangled Ted Turner Broadcasting Network, TBS, which brought us Atlanta Braves baseball EVERY night. As soon as the daily thunderstorms cleared out, it was Joe Torre’s Braves, with Dale Murphy and Claudell Washington in the outfield, Bob Horner and Chris Chambliss at the corners, Phil Niekro, Al Hrabosky (the Mad Hungarian) and Steve Bedrosian on the hill and Bruce Benedict and the immortal Biff Pocoroba behind the plate, Skip Caray and Pete Van Wieren with the play-by-play. I was a die-hard Red Sox fan from New England, but the 1982 National League West winning Braves became my second team.
The humidity was heavy, and the neighborhood reeked of sulfuric water from sprinklers on every lawn. But at the close of summer 1982, I was settling into my new home, happy to have Chick-fil-a, Mr. Pibb, a pool and tennis court and a ballgame on the tube every night. It was an easy transition.
Things would change when school started…