Forgotten Florida Vacations

Back when I was young, our family would travel to Florida for a week’s vacation at the beach every summer. We would get up at about 3:00 in the morning, load the car, engage the 4/50 air conditioning, and off we would go. What is 4/50 air conditioning, you ask? Why you simply roll down all four windows and drive 50 miles an hour. Thus the reason for leaving in the wee hours of the morning.

On these trips, we would head to one of the beaches outside Tampa/St. Pete and begin the search for a motel that met my parent’s approval. Back in the day they were all small, mom and pop type motels, most with cinder block buildings and the requisite shuffleboard court. If we were lucky they might also have a ping pong table and/or a palm leaf covered gazebo.

Those were magical trips. We always stayed right on the beach and we would get up early to go for a swim before breakfast. My mother, who was scared to death of water, would stay in our efficiency apartment and cook a massive breakfast so when my dad pulled my brother and me out of the water, we would alway have a meal waiting for us.

I would say I learned to swim then, and I guess I did. In truth, I don’t remember learning to swim, I just remember always knowing how. Magical times were spent “diving” from my dad’s shoulders into the crystal clear waters of the gulf. In the long afternoons, when we were required to stay either indoors or under shade because we burned so quickly and never tanned, we would spend time reading, hanging out under the gazebo, or, again if luck would have it, in a small rec room or breezeway playing ping pong.

Those kinds of vacations have almost completely disappeared now with the advent of mega resorts and condominiums taking up the Florida coastline. Sure, there was the “forgotten coast” of the panhandle and Mexico Beach, St. Joe’s Beach and some of Apalachicola where you might find something like that, but that was before Hurricane Michael in 2018. Who knows what will eventually be rebuilt on that portion of the coast.

Still, the memories are some of my favorites because it was such a different time from our usual routine. To be able to swim every day, not once but several times. That was heaven for me. Then there was the year my brother and I won the ping pong tournament. I’d never won anything in my life, especially not even remotely related to sports activities. What a rush!

So, you can imagine my pleasure in having the chance to read Mary Kay Andrews’ latest novel, The Newcomer. It’s a contemporary cozy mystery, and the central character, Letty is running from being accused of her sister’s murder back in New York. Because of a magazine article she found in her sister’s things, Letty runs to an old mom and pop motel on the gulf coast, one of the last still in existence.

Once at the motel, Letty is befriended by the owner, catches the eye of the owner’s police detective son, and finds she has a talent for helping manage bookings for the hotel as well as staging the various rooms and cottages. In short, she makes herself invaluable, all while hoping no one discovers she’s wanted by the police in New York, at least not until she can figure out what her sister was up to.

It’s a great story, both because the characters are well written, the place is one where you think you might like to vacation next year if you can just find it, and the mystery is tightly woven with a satisfying conclusion. I’ve got more to say about the book, just click **HERE** for the full review.

I hope you enjoy the review, and maybe you’ll even find a special way to step back in time a few years for a brief vacation. As for me, I’m thinking of heading to the coast, just as soon as I get fully vaccinated from Covid. Until next time, Happy Reading!