Friendship Found

Posted April 22, 2021 – Narrated by Carmen
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“I don’t ever say a final goodbye. I always say, “I’ll see you down the road.”

      – Bob Wells, Nomadland

This is Part II of Navy Brat Tour 2021.

And, yes … It was still raining, raining, raining like the opening scene in Rashomon.

On a wet and foggy Monday morn we pulled out of Presnell’s RV Resort and Marina. We would navigate across the Panhandle in two days with plans for some serious driveway camping at my cousin’s house in Middleburg. Driving along the historic and scenic 30-A, we passed through the sweet town of Carrabelle and pulled off at Ho-Hum RV Park.

Ho Hum RV park

Rob and Ozzie

Ho-Hum is one of our favorite parks, but we were not there to camp. We stopped to memorialize our rubber tramp friend, Rob Jones of “Ozzie on the Road.” Sadly, Rob’s blog – a tribute to Steinbeck’s Travels With Charlie – is currently inactive. As a former producer from Toronto, Rob had a way with dry humor and narrative. And, like Steinbeck in the mid-60’s, Rob’s heart, unbeknownst to us, was on a timer.

We met Rob and Ozzie (his canine companion and travel partner) at Ho-Hum in December of 2016. We were all newbies, thrilled to be on the first leg of our journeys. And as we prepared to go our separate ways, we exchanged contact info and agreed to someday meet again at Ho-Hum for a reprise of that warm and sunny Christmas miracle of friendship found.

Ho Hum RV Park
Christmas 2016 at Ho Hum RV Park. Rob, Ozzie and their 1967 VW Camper

But, The Road had other plans. Rob showed up to Ho-Hum in Christmas 2018 and we did not. In 2019 old Ozzie passed away and, a few months later, Rob followed him.

Jim, Pico and I walked over to Rob and Ozzie’s site near the pier and reminisced.

It’s strange how people either connect, or don’t – and either stay in touch, or don’t.

See you down the road, Rob and Ozzie.

Sopchoppy

Later that morning, we took the 319 spur along Florida’s Big Bend Scenic Highway. We passed through Sopchoppy in Wakulla County, home of the world’s best Tupelo honey. We were out of honey and I wanted to buy some Tupelo for some friends who’d never tasted it. That morning I tucked a Benjamin in my pocket, hoping to spot a Honey Man.

Besides honey, this place also oozes with mystique. Sopchoppy is known for its high priests of worm grunting. That’s right. Only heathens get their hands dirty grubbing for worms. When you need fishing worms in Sopchoppy, you don’t shove your hands down in that Sopchoppy mud. No, perish the thought. In Sopchoppy, you just “call them up” out of the ground with beautiful worm music.

Worm Gruntin' Festival
Photo from the Worm Gruntin’ Festival website.

Worm grunting is every bit as cool as dowsing, rainmaking, and snake handling and a whole lot more fun. There’s even a Festival in the Spring with a Worm Gruntin’ Queen and the whole kit and caboodle. Absolutely on the wish list.

The New Queen of the Sopchoppy Worm Gruntin’ Festival (seated and holding the sacred scepter) is welcomed by the “Old” Queen (at the mic) Had to be hard to give up that scepter.

Tupelo Honey

Well, on this particular Sopchoppy morning we drove along looking for roadside stands selling The Cadillac of Honey, that sweet tupelo Van Morrison sings about.

sopchoppy

Now, chances are slim that a brightly painted sign would catch our eye, more likely they would be homemade, rusty and faded from decades of hurricanes.

“Stop!” I shouted. As we rounded a curve. For I had spotted a Honey Man and his truck under the mossed oaks.

Jim didn’t have much time to make a decision, but he pulled hastily off onto the grassy shoulder of the narrow two-lane highway. I grabbed a mask and jumped out of The Beast, but the moment my feet touched earth they kept going and going … Sinking down, down, deep into the Sopchoppy mud, I grabbed the truck door handle for balance. The ground, wet from weeks of rain was so soft the rig was sinking too and tilted just slightly toward the culvert.

It began to rain, a thick fine mist. Jim said, “Get back in the truck!”

My feet were buried past the ankles but somehow, through force of will, I managed to extract them, shoes intact. “First, I’m buying honey!” I shouted, and made a bee-line, slinging mud clots (and probably worms) hither-thither while crossing the road. Jim yelled, “Be quick!,” and put the truck in four-wheel drive.

A lanky grim-faced man with steely blue eyes slipped out of the mossy shadows. Dressed plainly in a gingham shirt, jeans and a straw hat, his deeply wrinkled features aged him anywhere between thirty-five and fifty-five. The Honey Man said not a word but stretched his long arm in a slow, fluid gesture toward the honey trove displayed upon his truck hood.

Your average Wakulla County Tupelo Honey stand … on a sunny day.

I tried not to think about my filthy legs, and the Honey Man – whether through deliberate politeness or because harrowing experiences with mud are fairly commonplace in Sopchoppy – appeared not to notice.

Staying focused, I said the name of each friend aloud as I placed honey jars on the opposite side of the truck hood. The utterance of each name made the Honey Man’s pencil wag side-to-side like a happy dog’s tail as he kept tally in a tiny spiral notebook. In the background I could hear Jim gunning the engine to hurry me up.

Shopping concluded, I reached into my pocket for the money – but the honey man extended his iPhone so I could pay on Square. Of course, it’s safer. The thought of this gentle honey man being victimized saddened me.

After closing the purchase on credit (in the middle of nowhere), the honey man thoughtfully and expertly packed my honey stash in a single paper bag for safe passage across the road where Jim watched … rather impatiently, and justifiably so.

By now, the rain was really coming down. Handing over the bag, the shy Honey Man mumbled awkwardly about, “a little something special inside.” Having no idea what he meant or time to ask but figuring it had something to do with honey, I thanked him.

Gripping my toes into the insoles of my slippery mud slimed shoes, I strained to keep balance while holding a hundred bucks worth of honey jars in a paper bag, in a downpour. From opposite sides of the road, Jim and I watched for a clearing. Seeing an opportunity he pulled the rig out, splattering mud a good twelve feet up into the air covering Beauty’s bow top-to-bottom.

I jumped in and fastened my seatbelt. As the truck lurched onto the road, a small pamphlet fell out of the bag – a theological argument against measures to prevent the pandemic. My “something special.” Sweet.

All I could do was muster a cold and broken “Hallelujah,” as I used my mask to dig mud from between my toes.

It was still morning and all I wanted was a hot shower, a warm bed and a book. Thanks to Harvest Hosts, we enjoyed quiet neighborhood accommodations at Country Club at Lake City Golf Course.

It rained all night at Lake City

Ocean Pond

The next morning we made coffee and set out for my old family campground, Ocean Pond, in Osceola National Forest – a place where the Perry family made many happy memories.

But, sadly, due to the pandemic, the National Forest campground was closed.

Figuring the road block was intended for vehicles, not pedestrians, we pulled into a lot and toured the park on foot – even though it was still misting.

Other than asphalt paved campsites and bathhouses with flushing toilets, the grounds looked about the same as I remembered. Memories of childhood, our old dog, the trailer and even the hammock came rushing back.

Carmen, her sister, Debbie and Mom at Ocean Pond – 1965

I escorted Jim, locating spots where we probably camped more than 55 years ago, the place where we fished off the pier, the hiking paths, the swimming holes.

Same area the 1965 photo above was taken – 56 years later

Every loop had a campground host, but no campers. Weird.

Ocean Pond is a gorgeous park which primarily serves the local community. I hope it opens soon.

Closures cause crowding in the parks which remain open. We feel that all publicly funded campgrounds should open with universal rules for maximum camping safety.

My Old House

Thirty minutes later we were in my old Jacksonville hood. We couldn’t find the elementary school I attended, but the old Beefy Burger was still there under a different name.

On Friday nights the Beefy Burger parking lot transformed into a dance venue with a live band of local high-school boys who were either the early Lynyrd Skynyrd Band or their classmates.

My home on Redstone Drive – 1959

Now, surrounded by old growth trees and shrubs, and painted in festive colors, and so much closer to the intersection than I remember – my eyes instantly latched on home.

I leapt out of the truck where a buddha-faced man stood out front, smiling, as if he were waiting for me. “I lived here as a child,” I explained. He puffed his chest, radiating joy. He asked if I had a happy life here. “Yes. Very much,” I said. He turned his head toward a man I presume was his father and they flashed each other a knowing smile, nodding their heads in satisfaction. He looked adoringly at the house “This is a good place,” he said, “and the house is strong.”

From the cars parked in the front, I gathered the current occupant was a mechanic, so I told him that my dad was a mechanic too, and that he often fixed the neighbors cars. He glowed, exultant. I told him I lived there from 1959-1961 and then again 1964-1966. He took a moment to calculate, then his jaw dropped as he feigned disbelief that I could be of such an age, and then looked at me and beamed some more.

So, this old-home reunion thing was an entirely worthwhile experience.

A Home by the riverside – Peter and Argie

From my old house it wasn’t far to my cousin’s place – a pristine and cozy riverfront home in Middleburg. Three years ago, Pete, and his wife Argie, visited for a half-day when we were at Sunny South RV Resort in Sarasota. Other than a family reunion about twenty-five years ago, we hadn’t seen much of each other since we were kids.

Back in the ’60’s, Pete’s dad (my Dad’s brother), was stationed in Kaiserslautern, Germany. At the same time, Dad was stationed in Naples, Italy. The brothers – Pete’s Army dad and my Navy dad – synchronized their annual leave. So, in the summer, our family piled into the Plymouth Fury station wagon and drove up to Germany – tent-camping through Italy and Switzerland and Austria – and then, all the way back again.

Our view from the Airstream at Pete and Argie’s home

Pete’s mom, my sweet Aunt Lily, was German. Staying in Worms with her family was a child’s dream-come-true. Aunt Honey and Uncle Walter had a candy shop, carnival rides, an elephant, a dachshund, and like Argie and Pete, were the most hospitable people I have ever met.

Argie and Miss Stella

As soon as we pulled in under Pete’s house the decades of separation melted like warm buttery strudel. No strangers here. And, just like a bunch’a hell-raisin,’ dirt-farmin’ Perrys, we were telling dirty jokes by suppertime.

Pete and Argie had hoped to take us on the river in their boat, but the wind and rain were too stout for a pleasure trip.

Yet, for the first time, Jim and I experienced the charm of a waterfront home in an area teeming with wildlife …

Hmm … I stalked the local real estate listings. Very interesting.

We loved our wonderful private home digs. But the weather wasn’t behaving and we had non-refundable reservations in Saint Augustine.

Thanks for having us Pete and Argie!

Anastasia State Park

As I drove the rig across the Bridge Of Lions into Anastasia State Park, Jim checked the weather.

St. Augustine

It would be a challenge to unpack Saint Augustine with only six days of mostly wet weather.

St. Augustine

So whenever there was a break in the rain, we escaped for a hike or a bike ride …

St. Augustine
St. Augustine
Palatka State Trail

But, the beach, was the major attraction …

St. Augustine
St. Augustine
St. Augustine
St. Augustine
St. Augustine

Our final two days were mostly clear, so we strolled through the oldest city in North America.

The brick streets and old Spanish architecture …

St. Augustine

tabby walls

and old-growth trees reminded us a bit of Santa Barbara in California

St. Augustine

This shady community is actually quite small. A walking tour is easy to accomplish in a day.

St. Augustine
St. Augustine

But, we avoided the many indoor attractions and museums.

St. Augustine
St. Augustine
A shady, tropical city

Anastasia State Park is lush and flourishing with avian wildlife. It’s an urban beach paradise.

Anastasia State Park
Our beautiful home in the hammock at Anastasia State Park – largest site on the most quiet loop

Conditions were wet with slight breaks in the weather, but fortunately the temperature was warm.

St. Augustine
One suspicious osprey

Even on wet evenings we cracked open the window and listened to the rain tapping on the palmetto fronds and thousands of song birds in the hammock. It reminded us of Hawaii.

Homemade mushroom quiche with string potato crust

But if dinner-hour conditions were dry, we went out.

Andaman Asian Bistro
Fried soft-shell Crab Sushi at Andaman Asian Bistro, one of our top-three favorite sushi bar finds in the US.
Andaman Asian Bistro
Seaweed Salad

But, rain or shine, Jim found excellent IPA for his growler.

In six rainy days, what more could you hope for, right?

No, there’s more.

Marybeth and Rich

At almost the last minute, I recalled seeing a recent Facebook post announcing that our old next-door neighbors from Coronado had moved to this area. Jim double-checked the post for accuracy and sent them a text. Sure enough, they were only a half-mile down the beach.

Captain Rich and Marybeth kindly invited us over to their beautiful home in a private beach community where we enjoyed a small, joyful and delicious Coronado reunion.

Then, as we were pulling out of the campground, the Rashomon Rain suddenly stopped … but the wind made a ferocious entrance and stalked us up the coast to Georgia.

Ichi-go Ichi-e

Ichi-go Ichi-e: “one chance-one meeting” is an esteemed Japanese idiom spoken in the Tea Ceremony. It expresses the fleeting beauty of passing time, the transience of life, the changing of the seasons.

St. Augustine

Ichi-go Ichi-e also implies that every moment matters and each encounter is unique and fleeting. Like waves intersecting on the seashore, there will never be an identical meeting in the same place, at the same time, or in the same way.

St. Augustine

For a navy brat, I was late to grasp the concept of moving on. The fleeting times between anchoring and pulling up anchor – that painful ritual of departing – leaving friends, schools and neighbors. Now, looking back, I realize the sea – always in the background – constantly urged, “Cherish each moment, let this time flow through your heart and then … move on.

St. Augustine

If you want to see our exact route, click here.

*photos in this post (unless otherwise noted) were taken and copyrighted by Living In Beauty.