Jofiss…Let’s Go To Florida

On this Father’s Day, my thoughts, of course, drift to all of the fathers I know as well as my own father. My father, Joseph John Fletcher, (as a toddler, I called him Jofiss – the best I could do with Joseph) was born in May of 1927, passed away in July of 1989, 3 days after my 27th birthday. I have been on the planet almost as long without him as I was with him. I miss him and think of him often…like every morning that I wake up living in Florida.

It was my Dad who wanted to move to Florida. He, like so many others, got caught up in “Vacation Florida.” Sun, sand and salt lured him to sell our home in Illinois and head south to live in the land of perpetual sunshine. It was quite a ballsy move for someone who had lived in the same area all of his life. Fletcher family culture is not particularly adventurous. A lot of my family still live in the same area with no intention or desire to leave.

So move to Florida we did. The summer of 1972 we loaded up the Family Truckster and my mother drove us (me, my brother and my cat Tigger) along with a friend of my father’s, Dick Rounds, to Orlando, Florida. My father was already in Florida as he had to start his new, Florida job. On my 10th birthday, we found our rental house and began to become Floridians.

In 1972, Orlando was not the busy, internationally known city it is today. In 1972, Disney World had only been open a year and it’s impact had not yet been felt. When you live that close to Disney, you go to Disney. So one of the first outings we talked my Dad into was, of course, to go see the mouse. Now, you just have to know that my Dad was not in the pro amusement park camp. He hated lines, crowds and paying too much for food, but he always sucked it up and took us where we wanted to go. We had to use I4 to get there from my birthday house, and on this day, the drive on I4 toward Disney is where his family wanted to go, so there we were. The Family Truckster still had Illinois plates on it, so we fit right in with all of the other tourists on the highway.

Speed limits were also different in 1972, there really weren’t any, on the highway at least. On that sunny day we found ourselves behind another car, with another family on their way to see the mouse, however, they were not quite as excited as us. They couldn’t be…they were driving SO SLOWLY!! My father, who was not a speed demon, but figured, I guess, that the quicker we got there, the quicker we could leave, mumbled, “Damn tourists. Wish they would all go home.” We had lived in Florida for all of 10 days…maybe.

Happy Father’s Day, Jofiss….


Fletcher’s Florida

Facebook Takes Over My Life – And Reminds Me of a Florida Gone By

“You can stay in touch with friends and family far away, share photos and trade flair.” As I think back on those early days of Facebook, my mind’s eye sees a side show barker at the fair trying to talk me out of my hard earned quarters to see the two headed snake. I know I shouldn’t, but I am lured like metal shavings to a magnet. Facebook has dragged me along as it makes the most of new technology (I mean, c’mon, I used Face Time today, for pete’s sake!!!). So now I am firmly entrenched. I check hourly. I click like on all the cute cat pictures, argue football with predominately male crew on my Tottenham Hotspur page, and I check in via FourSquare so that all know I made it to work on time. So, Daun, how does this relate to Florida you may ask. Well, I will tell you….

There is a group on Facebook called “You Know You Grew Up In Old Clearwater, Florida…” The vintage photos of Clearwater were the enticement on this one. Beautiful, color or black and white photos of long gone Mom and Pop motels on Gulf to Bay Blvd, personal of photos of the owner and his/her high school friends leaning on huge cars at Pier 60, forlorn discussions about the best restaurant or bar that used to reside in the area, as if those long closed establishments were deceased family members. I joined even though I didn’t technically grow up in Clearwater (I went to Largo High School) and the things that they were discussing when I first joined, pre-dated me just a tad.

Once I was firmly part of group, I started to know who was talking about 1950s Clearwater versus 1970s Clearwater. What struck me was both groups had virtually the same memories. The restaurants or make out spots changed, but the activities stayed the same.

The memory that EVERYONE had was cruising Clearwater Beach, a rite of passage in this area. Like Clearwater Mall, it is long gone as the City of Clearwater no longer allows it (in fact there is beach lore that lost tourists looking for things on Clearwater Beach have been stopped for making too many trips up and down the beach. Picture it – Mom, Dad and the brood in the clink for cruisin’ Clearwater Beach!) The kids in the 50s cruised the same as the kids in the 70s. Along the coast on the beach, over the Memorial Causeway, through downtown Clearwater, up Gulf to Bay (GTB), swing through the drive thru of your era (I think the early cruisers actually stopped and ate – Steak N Shake – roller skate clad employees taking your order at the car and bringing it back. Nice…), back down GTB, downtown Clearwater, the Memorial Causeway, and back to the beach to drink clandestine beers, smoke cigarettes and hang, all of it to accompanied by loud music.

The other common thread was the nostalgia. Everyone missed that simpler time (that was the phrase most used). The 50’s kids didn’t remember the threat of the Red Menace, air raid drills, or bomb shelters. The 70’s kids didn’t remember still feeling the fall out of the Civil Rights Movement, horrible fashions or gas shortages. They only remembered great restaurants whose food and service has enhanced by time, great bars whose drinks have only gotten stronger over the years and friends who never did you wrong.

Sometimes, someone would just post a question, “Do you remember this?” or “Have you seen so and so?” Then someone asked, “What do you miss the most?” My answer, as I am always driven by food, was Browns Chicken which used to fry up some of the best chicken on the corner of Drew St. and Missouri Ave. As I scrolled through the responses, so many people said “my youth.” I found that sad. Live for today baby! As I tell so many opposing sports fans who like to throw past trophies in my face, live in the now. As much as I love history, antiques and old, musty things, yesterday is a place I like to visit, but I don’t want to stay there.

I got a chance to see my Florida through others eyes in that Facebook page. Some of it I liked, some of it I didn’t and some of it I know for sure happened a little differently. I have left the group now. The post notifications were relentless and in truth, they are a little too sad for me. They miss too much of today by trying to live in yesterday. I still take a gander at the photos every once in a while, but “old Florida” only becomes “today’s Florida” if we get out and make it so and we can only change what we don’t like about “today’s Florida” if we push away from our laptops.


Fletcher’s Florida

Another One from the Couch – The Marlin Motel

Ok, so that non profit I started with some friends?  Yeah, we are not so organized.  Well that is not true, we are organized, we just lack the spare time to follow up on things.  It happens…It does all eventually get done, but not always when we think it will.  That is a sort of explanation as to why this is another solitary trip and not a whole gaggle of USFSP grads.  Is a traveling group of college grads a gaggle?  A gaggle of grads?  I don’t know….maybe I will see that trending on Twitter soon…LOL!!

So this was another one that I could do from memory, although I did stop and take a couple of pics in preparation.  This one will culminate from a whole host of childhood memories from the days before I lived in Florida.  Road trips, egg salad/ham salad/tuna salad ribbon sandwiches in the car, reading via the lights on the highway (why did I NEVER remember a flashlight??) and finally seeing that flashing neon marlin sign, you know the kind that make it look like the fish is jumping.  My Florida…the Florida of the 1960s, awaited the kid that saw that sign first.

I was born in Chicago in 1962.  1962 was really still part of the 50s.  We still feared the Russians (can you say Bay of Pigs?), Donna Reed still ruled the airwaves doing her housework in pearls and heels, and Kennedy was still alive.  A perfect time to be born if you ask me.  I was an only child for my first 7 years, so it was me and my ‘rents doing stuff.  And twice a year, at Christmas and Easter, that stuff involved Florida and the Marlin Motel.

I don’t know how my parents found the Marlin Motel.  I think they had been there PK (Pre Kids) as a young married couple.  But find it they did.  I wonder if they knew that it would be such a predominant part of my growing up, so firmly entrenched in my memory that even now when I pass it, I involuntarily think, “I saw the sign first!” (That probably bears explanation – the person who saw the sign first didn’t have to help unload the car.  Somehow that was always me.)  We will go on the assumption that they did not and move on.

Days at the Marlin (which by the way is now the Hotel Isis located in Redington Shores) started with breakfast at Kenny’s Corner, a diner just a block or so North down Gulf Blvd. It is still there and looks exactly the same.  Once the chore of breakfast (or any meal for that matter) was out of the way, the water beckoned.  Pool water, Gulf water, it didn’t matter.  I loved to be in the water.   Because I was an only child, I often swam alone, but sometimes I would ask my father to go swimming with me.  His answer always was, “Go swimming?  And get all wet?  Why would I want to do that?”  More often than not, he joined me and did indeed get wet.

Swimming was my Dad’s gig, but shelling was my Mom’s.  She would often rise very early in the morning just after daybreak, get her bathing suit on in the dark while my father and I slept peacefully to the hum of the AC window unit, and head to the beach.  She always came back with the most amazing things.  Her eye would spot the smallest Florida Button or Cat’s Paw. Because she shelled so early in the morning, she had first dibs on all the treasures the Gulf spit up on the beach.  The elusive Left-handed Whelks, Cockle shells big enough to use as ash trays, beautiful sunset colored Scallops…all packed lovingly into the car for the drive home.  Years later when we moved to Florida, many of those finds made their way back to Florida in a moving van and are still on display in my home today.  It is a habit that I have never been able to break.  I never walk on the beach without a shelling bag.

While my days were filled with sunshine, chlorine and Desitin (yes, baby bottom rash cream was the only thing that would stay on my nose to keep it from burning off of my face!), my evenings were spent at local restaurants. Mom made lunches and we always had an effeciency rooms so that my father could make a sandwich when he wanted, but Mom was on vacation too, so we ate out at night.  One of our favorites was Tiki Gardens.  Even after we moved here, Tiki Gardens always won the vote when we were deciding where to go on a sunny afternoon.  There is a classic photo of my brother at about 3 or 4 with big rubber plant leaves in his hands and a sulky face because he didn’t want to stop playing to take the photo.  Sadly, the Easter Island statuary, peacocks and monkeys are gone.  Nothing remains but the Tiki Gardens public parking lot.  But in the mid 60’s, Tiki Gardens was the place to be.  Trader Frank’s, the restaurant, in my memory is dark, blue and filled with women in sleeveless shift dresses in bright colors, purchased for vacation that would probably never be worn again.  My parents did not drink, but I thought I was pretty cool with my Shirley Temple with extra cherries.  After dinner, we would wander through the shops. There was a tiny shop in the back with curious finds from the Far East.  Loads of candies, snacks and flavorings like orange and anise.  I always got some rice candy that melted in my mouth and some flavoring to bring home.

And so the two weeks would wind down, slowly at first, but as that checkout date got closer, time sped by, almost as if Florida couldn’t wait for us to leave and the next family to arrive.  Coolers loaded, new treasures carefully packed in suitcases and pillows and blankets stowed within reach for that “I am SO bored” nap.  The long drive stretched out in front of us and with a reluctance that I never saw again after we moved to Florida, my father would start up the Fletcher Family Truckster and head for home.

The Marlin Motel of my youth is the Isis of today.

The Marlin Motel of my youth is the Isis of today.

The large facade was not there when it was The Marlin.  It looked like your basic Mom & Pop motel.

The large facade was not there when it was The Marlin. It looked like your basic Mom & Pop motel.

My First Road Trip…Well Sort Of.

So if you read my last post (admittedly I just did it about an hour ago, so no hard feelings if you haven’t yet), you will know that I am doing little road trips here in my home state of Florida to practice writing, get my name out there and really use my Florida Studies Masters Degree all while awaiting the perfect job.  Here is my first one.

One of the best kept secrets in Pinellas County is a park nestled in the pine trees and scrub brush of old Florida.  Heritage Village, part of the Pinellas County Park system, is a 21 acre stroll through the history of settlement in Pinellas County.  The reason I say that this is sort of a road trip is that I volunteered here for 5 years and I am kind of cheating on this one.  I am actually writing it from my couch and I will try to make sure that there is the proper amount of wanderlust involved even though I have not actually wandered anywhere today!

Heritage Village is an open air museum.  The buildings housed and lovingly cared for by the staff of 3 (and hoards of dedicated volunteers who do everything from greet people and lead tours to blacksmithing and pulling weeds) have all been painstakingly moved here from somewhere in Pinellas County.  The train depot and the refurbished train were moved from Sulpher Springs, which is now part of Hillsborough County, although was not at the time.

Each building represent different times, different socio-economic backgrounds, different walks of life, but all represent the pioneer spirit of those who braved the heat, the mosquitoes and alligators to make the Sunshine State home.  Florida was a wild place well into the 20th century.  It was only the introduction of air conditioning and DDT that made Florida palatable for the masses.  But I digress…

Certainly the jewel of Heritage Village (commonly referred to as “The Village” to those of us in the know), is the House of the Seven Gables.  A beautiful Victorian style house with a cheerful yellow exterior, Seven Gables is the one everyone comes to see.  There are guided tours, on the hour and half hour (she says in her best receptionist voice).  Just wait on the porch for the next one.  The interior has been restored and you can walk thru with the tour guide and gaze upon beautiful china, sparkly silver tea sets and marvel at what the inhabitants thought of as state of the art  kitchen innovations.

There are other houses in the park. There is the McMullen log cabin, a real log cabin used by one of the founding families of this area.  You can learn all about air movement and keeping cool with this one.  There is the Boyer Cottage, a one room fishing cottage (my sister in law’s favorite).  There is the Lowe House and Barn, the Moore House with a real working garden, a fire house, a church where folks get married every year, a general store with dollar Cokes, and two schools, one that taught white kids and one that taught African American kids, just to name a few.

Make the trip.  It is well worth it.  It is free admission, but a donation to help keep the place going will always be accepted.  Bring your lunch.  There are picnic tables, green St. Petersburg benches and a bandstand where you are likely to see kids dancing to their own tune. Stop in to the Information Center, get a map and wander at your own pace.  It is a great day out!

Like the old PBS trailer…”If you would like to read more about our topic today…”, here is The Village’s website:


Fletcher’s Florida

Let’s Do This!

Ok, so this is SO out of my comfort zone.  I don’t write, not really.  I don’t usually put anything of myself out there for people to judge…whether they are likely to applaud it or completely destroy it.  On the surface, I am outgoing and confident, but inside I am a blob of grape jelly.  TIme for that to change!  Let’s do this!

I am a 50-year-old woman…I know right??  It always surprises me when I write that down.  I forget that I am not a kid anymore.  I graduated with a BA in History in 2009 and a MLA in Florida Studies in 2011.  I loved school.  I never wanted it to end, but eventually all good things and all of that, so now I am on the hunt for a full-time job.  I am currently working part-time at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg as the Program Assistant for the Honors College and my beloved Florida Studies Graduate Program.  I would love that to be my full-time position, but it is just not in the cards.  More realistically, it is just not in the budget.  So my search continues.

My best friend, who lives in Denver (I am sure you will hear more about her in the future), suggested as a way to get “me” out there, something more than clicking like on a Grumpy Cat photo, would be to blog.  About what I asked.  Anything you want said she.  Um, ok, that is a little wide open, but I might be able to manage that.  What do I want to write about?  Me?  Yeah, uh, no.  Write about something you love, she said.  Well, that made it easier.  I love history.  Medieval Europe, WWII era home front and anything having to do with Florida are my favorites but most history interests me in some way. Ok, now I have a subject now what?

One of the ways I sought to extend my graduate school experience was to stay involved with the program, in addition to my 20 or so hours a week helping students find classes and scheduling time with professors.  A couple of fellow graduates and I created a non-profit organization to help with fundraising, field trip organization and morale support for those who were tearing their hair out from yet another rewrite on their thesis.  One project we are planning is to create short travel type videos of some of the lesser known or weird places in Florida to get them on the map, so to speak.  So I decided that a blog should go with those videos.  Sort of a “making of”, behind the scenes sort of thing, along with additional facts about the location.  How else is everyone else going to know the fun and craziness of a Florida Studies road trip?

So that is my plan.  The video trips are still in the planning sessions, so I am going to do a few on my own first, just to get the hang of this.  So stay tuned….


Fletcher’s Florida