On our road trip across the US (south to Florida, then west to Tucson, Arizona, then north to Portland, Oregon) we spent nearly two weeks visiting family in the St. Petersburg area. Along the way, we stopped in Savannah, Georgia, my first time in that lovely city. An afternoon wasn’t nearly long enough, but we did visit The Book Lady Bookstore on East Liberty Street.
They had a display devoted to the Catholic writer Flannery O’Connor, who lived most of her life in Milledgeville, Georgia, where she raised peacocks and wrote short stories and novels. Her shocking story, “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” is taught in many high school English classes. If you haven’t read it, it’s well worth your time, I promise you. I’ve never forgotten that story, although I’m not a fan of O’Connor’s novels – her protagonists, obsessed with working out their salvation, are too strange for me.
But seeing the display called up memories and reminded me how much I enjoyed her collection of letters, The Habit of Being. Many years ago, when I lived in New York City, the assistant rector of the Episcopal church I attended taught a class on Flannery O’Connor. Fleming, our rector, who was from the South, led us in reading her stories and letters, and I was extra thrilled because The New Yorker writer, Joseph Mitchell, a Southerner himself, was in the class, too.
There are many things about Florida that I love, but I’m allergic to all the over-development and the acres of generic condos and shopping centers. There is plenty to do near the beautiful St. Pete waterfront though, and when our sons came down we enjoyed some of the shops and restaurants. (They enjoyed the music and night life, too.) We bought red snapper, grouper, and shrimp from a local fish market that had dozens of ice chests overflowing with fresh catches, and our sons did the cooking.
In Florida, I always look hard for bits of nature and local culture, so I was extra happy when we rented a sweet little apartment in a hidden alley in one of the older St. Petersburg neighborhoods. Some of the streets are cobblestone and lined with adorable Old Florida bungalows, many being renovated. Even though most of the windows of our airbnb were painted shut, we had air conditioning, and two large windows in the sleeping porch let in breezes from Tampa Bay two blocks away.
In the yard, I found lots of angel hair fern. We used to add this delicate bit of greenery to the roses we sold by the dozen in my family’s flower shop in Ohio.
This part of Florida reminds me of one of my favorite books growing up, The Yearling, by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. Years later, I discovered, and loved, Marjorie’s memoir, Cross Creek. (There is a Cross Creek Cookery book, too.)
We had many happy visits with extended family in the St. Pete suburbs after we left our airbnb. We walked in the neighborhood every day. It was warm and humid, with occasional light rain that felt wonderful.
We passed by this wind sculpture on our walk every day:
In the evenings, my niece, my sister-in-law and her mother, and I tried Chinese brush painting for the first time. We taught ourselves how to grind the ink, which is pressed into sticks and colorful rectangles, and mix it with water in an ink stone. Then we practiced brush strokes and painted our first, simple pictures. It was fun!
Eventually, it was time to say goodbye to family and move on to the Florida panhandle and points west along our Deep South route. We stayed in Destin, our final visit in Florida, which had a lovely beach that we had almost to ourselves. It was beside a sea turtle breeding ground and state park, and there was a hidden garden teeming with Monarch butterflies.
Coming up: Mobile, Alabama and New Orleans
Traveling, immersing in nature, visiting bookstores. Do these experiences call up memories of books read long ago?
12 thoughts on “Old Florida”
Yaaay! I finally get to see your paintings, Val. The chick is adorable. Thank you for sharing with us. I couldn’t stop laughing when I saw the cute crane waiting for the bus. The pictures are amazing. It feels like we are also travelling with you in manys ways. Thank you for including us. ❤
Deepika let’s hope I’m brave enough to show more!
Great photo @ Dawn on the Water ! Good energy coming through Val ! Thanks . Please keep the book recommendations coming …. Enjoy your adventures ,
Thanks, Bonnie! Miss you already!
I’m totally enjoying your travels through the South . I particularly got a kick out of imagining your boys cooking fresh seafood for you . Come t’invidio. I’m glad you’re still reading even on the road. And thanks for sharing your thoughts about books as you go .
PS: I showed your Instagram pictures from Destin Beach to Gina, she gasped and told me that is where Cory proposed to her!
Hi, Judy. Yes, I think I taught the boys well when it comes to cooking, although they really just picked up so much on their own – they have a knack for cooking. That is amazing about Destin. It was a truly lovely place…..just the color of the water alone was so vivid. And I’m liking that we have not yet really experienced colder weather. Thanks so much for following along….
Such a lovely tour, Valorie.
Cynthia, thank you!
So fun to journey with you on trip southward. I’ll have to look for Flannery’s “Habits of Being.” She has such a deep and original mind i sure it’s well worth the reading.
Deborah, she writes a lot about her faith. She’s a strong, opinionated woman. I think if I were to read her letters now, I’d still love them, but I’m in a very different place spiritually. I think, though, that I would still glean so much from her approach to faith and ways to live, if you know what I mean.
Sounds like a great road trip! Have you arrived in Portland yet and which part of town are you in?
Hi, Louisa! No, we’re in Austin, TX at the moment. I first saw your comment when we were navigating the highways around Houston – hopefully we will never in our lives have to do that again! Initially, we’ll be in Lake Oswego, and we’ll probably look for an apartment in a walkable neighborhood in Portland.