Friday, June 15, 2012

Florida: A Tradition in Mayonnaise

It takes my breath away how a place almost 900 miles from where I grew up can hold such vivid, beautiful and heartbreaking memories.  Maybe it is the regularity of it.  As certainly as spring arrives, we make the trek to northern Florida.  Over sixteen years, our family has grown, we have spread out further and further across the country, and our schedules have diversified; but still, we meet at the Gulf with tenacity.
Years ago, I would spend the night before our trip making sandwiches.  The way I remember it is endless rows of rolls that needed to sawed in half, the crumbs going everywhere.  Armed with a large jar of Hellmans and a butter knife, I would slap mayonnaise on the top half of each roll.  Faced with such a mundane task, my imagination ran wild.  As I put mayonnaise on roll after roll after roll, I was struck that, "the mayonnaise quivered expectantly." 

So thrilled was I with this description of making sandwiches, that I put down my knife, ran to my room and wrote it down.  As though there was a chance someone might steal it.  I don't know what I thought the mayonnaise was expecting.  Perhaps the anticipation of sharing its existence with shaved turkey was almost more than it could take?

Obviously, I was destined to write obnoxiously about food.

Three weeks ago, I stood at my kitchen counter and made sandwiches for our trip.  I boiled some eggs and toasted some seeded bread.  As I added the mayo to the crumbled egg, I snickered at the memory of my anthropomorphizing of mayonnaise.  And I rejoiced in my heritage of making sandwiches: the food that sustained us as we rushed towards the salty air full of memories. 

Mater and pater familias

Our first year in  Florida, I was twelve years old and writing my first research paper.  While my little brothers and sisters were putting on swimsuits and sunscreen, I was settling down with a laptop to write about Florence Nightingale.  The required daily two hours of writing were painful.  But not as painful as the sunburn we Anglo-Saxons all inevitably endured. 

My dad let us buy as many cans of International Delight powdered coffee mix as we wanted.  I remember sitting on the porch, carefully drinking French vanilla something out of a coffee cup.  I was pretty sophisticated. 

Books defined our vacation.  We would pass them back and forth with most of us reading the same things.  I read An Old-Fashioned Girl in a beach chair while idly shuffling my feet through the powdery sand.  I finished Gaudy Night sprawled on the floor of the beach house living room and then promptly began to reread it.  My mom read Tale of Two Cities out-loud to us while I painted her toes a delicate shade of purple. And one summer we all devoured Quo Vadis - frantically passing the 600 dog-eared pages between us.

Six summers ago, Matthew came with me.  We spent the warm days stuffing linen envelopes with wedding invitations.  He grabbed my hand and said, "Let's come here for our honeymoon." So three months later, we drove back to Florida as Mr. and Mrs.

 During the drive down, we listened to a recording of our wedding and relished all the things that had been lost in the haze of getting married.  Every year after that, I brought the CD with us to listen to on the road.  This year I forgot.  Sorely disapointed, I mentioned it to Matthew.

"It's ok," he said.  "We don't have to listen to it.  We're living it."

This spring, on a deck overlooking the ocean, I pulled out my computer and wrote a little bit.  I've come a ways from a three page research paper on "the Lady with the Lamp."  Cans of powder coffee have been replaced with mile long walks to Starbucks where we sip iced coffee and sit by a choi pond.  When we revist the places where we landmarked our journeys coming together forever, Matthew and I share a secret smile because we know that our partnership has taken us places we never could have forseen.

In sixteen years, our family has gone from nine to fifteen.  We've moved through five different beach houses and seen restaurants and shops come and go.  But for as long as we live, warm days, trees blossoming, and graduation will indicate the necessity of Florida.   There we relearn the machinery of being a family.  As we jump the waves, share a kitchen and silently run miles of pine-lined trails we remember how we coexist.  And in the gleaming white heat, we see the glimmer of the threads binding us all inseperably together.

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