Blog challenge. I think it was to write about the one place you’d love to return to as a favorite. I’m not a big traveler right now in my life, but the one place I would go is Sanibel Island, Florida.
Dad keeps the Corolla just at the speed limit on the causeway and we turn onto the sleepy two-lane island road. My mother smokes another cigarette. Even she looks a bit happier. I am 11 years old. Florida!
The bay separates Fort Meyers from the lighthouse side of the island. I count the bumps in the road and roll the window all the way down and put my face in the wind. Sanibel is a place to relax, a gem that hasn’t been destroyed by the greed monster of growth…the year is 1964.
We pass the one of two gas stations on the island and savor the salty air. There’s a book store, a market, the real estate bungalows, a pink cottage motel, a yellow cottage motel, and the entrance to the campground. An Italian restaurant, a seafood shack, the Community Center. The Pirate Playhouse is painted brightly, and the parking lot is marked with thick shipping ropes. I’m drawn to the Playhouse.
Soon we are on the Gulf side of the island and at the rental.
The island! Life is an adventure here. Everything tropical and exotic, is Sanibel. Long, long stretches of beaches. A retired admiral. People who water ski. Nature conservationists. Local kids with worn deck shoes are off-putting because we’re tourists. But they’re curious, and after a while, friendly.
Saw palmettos and pelicans. Seafood. Salty coquinas. Sea urchins. Angelwing shells, periwinkles, and conches. Crab. Bass. Key lime pie with frothy meringue topping. Oranges. Spawning turtles. Lights out when the turtles are spawning. They creep across the sand towards the Gulf and the people protect them. Alligators in the bayous. Dripping moss and banyan trees. Cormorants.
Sanibel is the third largest shelling beach in the world says my father. Palm trees drop their fronds. Coconuts thump to the ground without warning. Stories of women held captive on Captiva Island to the north make me queasy. Seminole legends whisper at the swamp edges as alligator eyes lower into the brackish water.
I rush out to the water’s edge just to see an ebony fin dip into the water. Seagulls cry over head, the balmy air kisses my toes, my hands, my shoulders. I shout to mom as she unpacks, not really asking if I can go…but trotting away before she can say no. I know she’ll let me with the usual warnings.
I set out along the shoreline, free to trudge for miles until I catch a glimpse of the old riverboat back in on land past Bowman’s Beach. It’s fenced in and has a guard. I creep toward it anyway, pretending I can’t be seen by the figure who patrols the property.
16 on Sanibel