In 1982 my mother decided to run from her troubles and move to Florida. This run she took us kids with her, which I thought was very considerate of her, in later years she couldn’t be bothered with kids tagging along.
We were living on Elm Street in Whitehall WI at the time, I was 11 or 12. Mom was buying through a HUD loan and it was nice – the bedrooms were downstairs for us kids and I think we had bunk beds. There was a huge back yard and we had family friends that lived on the same block almost. Not to far away was the railroad tracks and the golf course – lots of things for a kid with an imagination to enjoy. We’d lived on this street before in a little red house where I broke my two front teeth and threw Kilo, the dog, down the stairs… long story. Aunt Gerry and her daughter Angie were living with us too, Gerry’s boys had opted to live with their dad. This was a house that has a lot of odd memories for me, I can recall us kids doing a performance for our parents (just like the Brady’s) a few times.
I can recall someone calling the house and asking if Mother was home and me telling them she went to the AAA Meeting – I had one to many A’s and Mom was very upset about me telling someone even though I named it incorrectly. So this was one of Mom’s attempts at getting sober, but all she really did in AA was date men, go to potlucks dances and complain about her life.
We lived there when Mom was out and about some night and Social Services came and took us to a temporary foster home one night, us kids plotted how to run away that night and into the morning before Mom got us back, I think the very next day. We were often left there alone with our big sister watching us, she was 12 or 13 and that seemed reasonable and safe, even though she was always bossy. 😉 (that’s what big sisters are for)
I have some memories of Joe (step dad #1) being there but it’s fuzzy and I’m not sure if he was there or not for brief periods, him being involved with the family never seemed to go well – at least it seemed that way for me.
I don’t recall how Mom told us we were leaving but I remember we were rushing to pack things. There were lots of large black garbage bags full of things we needed and I remember us having to choose what was really important to take with us.
We were so excited we were moving to Florida – oh my gosh and escape from winter I’d never be cold again. I associated Florida was summer and knew that I’d spend the rest of my days running barefoot on the beach in shorts with an impeccable tan. That kind of thinking in an 11 year old, I tossed out all my shoes and just kept my flip-flops – why on earth would I need shoes if I was going to live in summer… I never needed shoes in Wisconsin during summer and they wont be needed, how could they be? Mom was so mad a few days later when she found out “What were you thinking?” she asked… but it honestly seemed like the right thing at the time.
We were packing up the car, and I think a UHaul trailer, and the local authorities showed up and started to ask Mom questions. I thought that was kind of weird, didn’t people move all the time. Gerry and Mom were very defensive and didn’t answer a lot of questions, but just said they were in a hurry. I think Mom was leaving town because of racking up debt so it was probably a Saturday or Sunday, nothing got done on the weekends in a small town back then.
It felt wrong suddenly and I started to wonder why we were really leaving, I had apprehension enough as we were moving to Florida to live with Joe again.. and even though he promised this time he wouldn’t hit her I knew he would. So the cops being there, us kids having to choose between what we had to have and what we could live without – that’s a hard place to be at 11.
The Ford Pinto was all packed up, the UHaul was too and Mom and Gerry said their good byes… zoom we were on our way. It was Mom, the dog Frannie and us kids (I think Dawn stayed in WI with an Aunt and moved down later, but I can’t recall for sure. She was a teenager so it’s likely, Mom couldn’t deal with teenagers) in the Pinto. Typical of any trip in the car we sang songs together, talked about old times and picked on one another. It probably got boring really quickly, I don’t recall most of the trip down. I know we stopped in Illinois overnight with one of Mom’s friends, I didn’t recognize this person so I wasn’t sure where Mom ever met her… in the morning we were off again.
The closer we’d get to Florida the more excited we’d get. We started to see signs for Sunken Garden’s and Bush Garden’s and start to judge our time left in the car based on those signs… 76 Miles to Sunken Gardens it would say and have images of large gold-fish the like we’d never seen before. Sunken Garden’s became an obsession on the way down, I associated it with escape and starting over. But it turns out our escape was a little further away than those signs suggested and man did they have those signs out there for a long time.
I don’t recall arriving in St. Petersburg… I don’t remember being awed by big buildings or overwhelmed by traffic… I don’t recall any of that. I can’t even remember unpacking. I associate images of Joe and uncle Robert (who was diabetic and not diagnosed until after he left – shortly after we arrived I think). The house was ok, I think Amy had her own room and Ryan and I shared a room. Mattresses were on the floor for us and we were amazed by the little lizards that we saw – sooner than I’d like I was introduced to Palmetto Bugs – large roaches that seemed to be everywhere…. ick.
It wasn’t long before we made friends with the Baptist family down the street, we had our first rain that flooded the streets, and Dad left Mom bloody and bruised… The escape was just another temporary detour into the same old thing.