This/That: The Road To Naples – Florida Tan Tuesday – Part 6

The next morning, secure in knowing Linda had returned home safely to her mother’s care the day before, we began our trip to visit “that” grandmother, Grandma S, my father’s mother who lived in Naples, Florida, since she moved there from NJ some years before. The “that” refers to the way I used to indicate, when I was a young’n, which grandma I wanted to visit; the left index finger meant a left hand turn, once we got to the Garden State Parkway because she lived to the north of us and “this” referred to the right hand turn we made to the south to go see Grandma B. So, in essence, here in Florida, we were with this grandma, going to see that one.

Since my grandfather had never been that far south in Florida before, he took as gospel the driving directions of an uncle, by marriage, to “that” grandma’s daughter, who was a beast of a man in both stature and oftentimes demeanor. “Two hours. Two and a half, tops,” he said with an assuring tone. We’d realize later that tone was laced with deception. “We do it all the time,” he said, referring to my aunt and himself, because sometimes, when he wasn’t busy “wrastlin'” or “chawing tabacky” or some other manly thing, he would go to rub grandma’s sore feet, with his “magical healing hands”. Armed with my medication and the two tiered candle we bought at Volusia Mall, near the airport where we waved goodbye to Linda the day before, we struck out on our journey at 10am on the dot.

The directions were clear, the day was pleasant, but long into the ride my arms were rethinking their agreement to be hooked over the front seat, the stance I elected to take to avoid the smallest amount of jostling against the burned skin on my back, in spite of having the softest pillow to rest against “this” grandma could find. Grandpa stopped to top off the gas tank and take a recalculating second look at the map. And yeah, it looked like we could be getting there soon.

That “soon” had long since passed by the time we were on a long road, barren of any signs of civilization, all of us in desperate need of food and drink. Finally (could it really have been an hour later?) the road opened up and were passing some Hall of Fame Wax Museum. I don’t know which it was and of course, we didn’t stop.

But like a gift from the heavens, we came to a place we could stop to eat. The exterior decor was like a Swiss ski chalet and once inside the heavy oaken doors, we were greeted by a smiling waitress in her peasant dress uniform, looking like she had just come down off the mountain, victorious in a yodeling contest. Great, I thought, I can put my years of honor-winning studies of high school German to the test. We shuffled to a corner table, of my choosing, so I would not be the subject of jeering and jokes by others in the place and the waitress took our order then disappeared into the kitchen. I don’t remember if I put any of my German skills to the test.

We ate our meal–I remember I had the Sauerbraten–and as we were leaving, Hans (I’m assuming), the yodel queen’s cook husband, a dark haired man with a rubbery face met us to suggest rubbing the sap from the Aloe Vera plant on my four day old and worsening sunburn. Aloe Vera? What is that? It was hard not to take such friendly and concerned advice from someone with a malleable and sympathetic face. He also suggested we consider a day trip to the Wax Museum and to the Shell Factory next door and of course to be his guests at his restaurant when we did so. Time was slipping away, and already, not counting the lunch stop, three hours of traveling had gone by and after our good-byes to Hans and his wife, we were back on the road hoping that Naples wouldn’t be much further and I could find relief for my tense cramped body and stiffened back from having to hold myself upright during this “two and a half hour tops” drive.

We were finally closing in on our target, we could just sense it, as the sky was turning a queer rusty hue. The sound of electrical interference crackled on the AM radio station but through the static we did hear warnings of a tornado and the blowing wind quickly ushered in a deluge of rain so violent that driving was impossible and grandpa pulled over to the shoulder. We sat in the car in the blinding downpour, fearing for our safety on the side of the highway, but as abruptly as the rain had begun, that’s how quickly it stopped. I pulled myself up from the few moments of resting against my downy soft pillow and hooked my arms over the front seat yet again while we maneuvered across the highway to the parking lot of a shopping center in hopes of finding a phone to call Grandma S to see just how much further we had to go, which, gratefully was within another thirty minutes.

Travel time tally, not including lunch or storm stopover: we were closing in on 7 hours and my poor purple feet were about as swollen and stretched as they could be without bursting–one had to look closely to see that I had toes–and my insteps had a slick translucence to them with spidery veins creating intricate patterns like the road map we were following all over them.

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