Thursday, October 09, 2008
George Honey was the best uncle four girls could have.
I hate to write in the past tense because he's still hanging on, bless his frail, sweet heart, but the George that he used to be has been gone for a while.
George has a condition similar to Alzheimer's Disease; the symptoms are similar, but his was caused by too much pressure in his spinal fluid. He was a candidate for surgery to correct it, but something went horribly wrong during the 24-hour test and spinal fluid leaked all over the bed. In the hospital. Where no one noticed.
George Honey (we didn't know exactly why our aunt called him that until much later; one of his former girlfriends called him that and Dorothy teased him that way) lived in Miami when we were little, along with our aunt Dorothy and our grandparents. Every summer, from the time they moved there, our family went down for a two-week vacation. I can't imagine what it was like for them, an invasion of four fairly-well-mannered kids, but kids nonetheless, when Dorothy and George didn't have any. The house was a very nice 1950s-style Florida home, everything in its place, and then we'd invade.
And they had air conditioning, something we'd never had (and never would until Mom and Dad's last move to Chester) and certainly didn't have in our cars back then. Can you imagine 3 and then 4 kids packed into a station wagon with no a/c for a 21+ hour trip, with stops for gas, food, and, occasionally, potty breaks. Oh, we had the Pink Pot when we were smaller. Didn't even have to stop the car to use that. It was pleasant for all us in the back seat, but it was a part of vacation. We'd stop at roadside picnic tables and eat our box cereal (a treat, since we never got that at home!) and sandwiches. Later we'd stop at fast food places, which were also a vacations-only treat for years. Every year, we'd eat at McDonald's on the way home from the beach.
Oh, the beach. That beautiful blue/green water, so warm. The burning sand. The walk through the tunnel under the road from the parking lot to the beach. Some days it was choppy and the undertow was bad, but some times it was smooth as glass. We treasured those days.
With 3 and, later, 4 kids, it was too expensive to stop in a motel on the way down and back in the early years. We slept in the car as Dad drove; occasionally, I think we may have stopped along the way and all slept, although I may be mixing that up with a weekend trip. We were bribed to behave, although we basically could tell the lay of the land by watching Dad's neck. He, like most of our family, has a light red birthmark at the bottom of his hairline in the back. When he's frustrated, it gets darker. I'd watch that and gauge my behavior accordingly.
The bribery, as I remember it, involved being given a quarter each time we stopped for gas (remember Stuckey's?). We could spend it right then or save it and really blow it later. A quarter in 1958 was a lot of money to us kids.
Once, Nana (Mom's mother) made a wonderful game plan for our trip. She knew exactly how many miles it was from her house to Muck and Poppa's house in Miami, and she wrote things like "mile _ to mile _, read a book. mile _ to mile _, take a nap. Mile _ to mile_, look for such and such." The last few miles were listed as "look for Muck and Poppa's house". I think that we followed that list pretty closely, and it made the trip (for the kids, at least) so much fun.
George Honey (we dropped the Honey in later years, but as children, that's how we knew him) was always willing to play with us, talk, tell stories, entertain us. We must have bored him silly, but we loved him to pieces. He was a big part of the trip, for us.
Around 1990, Muck, Dorothy, and George moved back to Virginia, just two doors down from Mom and Dad. I still can't fathom that someone would leave the sun and palm trees and beaches and shells and St. Augustine grass to return to a place where it's cold a good 6 months of the year, with snow and ice, and maybe four months of reliably comfortable weather. But Miami had become a rathole and it was time to leave it, so leave it they did. Hurricanes also factored into their decision; they lived only a couple of miles from the coast and a storm surge could potentially reach that far.
Dorothy and George enjoyed camping in the Great Smokey Mountains. They had a nice tent, then a Volkswagen pop-up van. They'd spend part of their vacation in the mountains, then they'd stay with us for a week or so. We so looked forward to those visits. When Betty and I were 13 and 14 (we're 15 months apart), they took us on a two-or-three-night trip to Gettysburg, I think. Somewhere in PA. That was such a treat. The year before they were visiting us right before our family was taking our vacation to Miami, and D&G took us home with them about a week before the rest of the family came down. We went to Six Gun Territory somewhere along the way where we got to meet Jerry Mathers, The Beaver. And one night while playing in the swimming pool at the motel, Betty and I met a girl our age and became pen pals for years. I lost track of that girl years later after her second marriage. I'd sure like to know how she is.
We also went to Silver Springs, home of the glass-bottom boats. What a treat that trip was. With so many kids it was too expensive for all of us to do things like that.
Then that summer Dorothy took us camping with the girls from her church group (I can't remember the name of the group to save me) who were about our age, a little older. We spent two or three nights camping at a state park an hour or two north of Miami, and it had a creek with a swimming hole. What a treat! The only part we didn't care for was walking to the bath house (yes, a real bathroom!) in the dark. No way would I sleep that far from a bathroom now!!!
On my 13th birthday, which occurred while we were camping, Dorothy went into town for an hour or so and left us to play in the creek. It was cool in the hot sun, trees, little fishes, wonderful. Then one of the older girls, who could swim (and we couldn't) persuaded Betty to hang onto her and she'd take her through the "deep" water. She assured us it would be safe. But something went wrong and Betty nearly drowned, or so I thought. I don't know what she thought, but I was convinced that she was drowning. She didn't, though, but I wouldn't go back out in the water above my knees. It was at that moment that I realized how much I love and need Betty. A life without her flashed before my eyes and I didn't think I could live without her. I still don't.
One summer, Dorothy took us all to the Miami Seaquarium. I was about 12 and didn't think it was worth the trip, but I was wrong. We spent the day there; we may have seen Flipper, or something named Flipper, anyway. About that same time Dorothy took Betty and me to the house where the older kid on Flipper, Luke Halpern, I think, lived. The studio where Flipper was filmed was just up the road from Dorothy's house but you couldn't see much from the road.
Dorothy was a nurse who worked in a surgeon's office. She worked half-days on Wednesday; once each summer (or maybe only a couple of times, but it seems like more than that) she'd take Betty and me to work with her on a Wednesday. We loved that. We felt so grown up.
We took day trips to the Everglades. Of course, the mosquitos were terrible in the summer, but we went anyway. How lucky we were to be able to experience that.
When I was about 5, the whole family (Betty, me, Mom and Dad, Muck and Poppa) made the loooonnnnngggg drive to Key West. That was back in the day of the wooden bridges. I remember bumping over them, and I remember the smell of dead fish all over Key West. (There'd been a fish kill, maybe a red tide.) Key West was just a tiny town then, mostly military. I remember being so thirsty on that ride that I thought I'd die.
We took a trip from Miami to Boca Raton beach when it was actually still beach. It hadn't been built up. There were wonderful tide pools and lots of shells.
We'd play outside in the St. Augustine grass, that thick, springy grass that says "Florida" to us now. They had a cherry bush; sometimes they were ripe while we were there. They also had some bananas growing in the back yard; maybe once they were ripe when we visited. They were small, fat things that tasted almost like strawberries. On the side of the house brightly-colored snails crawled up the house; they'd fascinate us for whole minutes at a time. (Note to self: Proofread. Shells didn't crawl up the wall of the house; snails did. And learn to type.)
We'd all sit on the porch while the sun went down and it was cool enough to actually stay outside for a while. Then the mosquito truck would rumble by and we'd be shooed inside, quickly closing the jalousie windows so the poison wouldn't get in.
Those were the days.
Forever, vacation is Florida. I always have to go back. I feel as though I'm home in Florida, even though I've never lived there. If we're able to retire, that's where we're going.
George Honey is intertwined in all of those memories. He had these tattoos on his arms (Navy days) and they fascinated us. We'd climb all over him like little monkeys and he'd just laugh.
When I can find it, I'll share a photo of George I took several years ago, just as he was beginning his slide into dementia. I had taken tiny Mia, my elderly Yorkshire Terrier, with me for the weekend. She was a skittish little thing, very highly strung, very dainty, and she didn't take to many people. She adored George and he held her for a long time, talking to her, pretending to cut her hair, and she just ate it up. Mia left us shortly after that, but I'll always remember how she enjoyed that day.
Betty said it best:
"It's so sad to think of George being gone, but you are right...he hasn't been George for a while, although we would still see glimpses from time to time. He's such a part of our childhood that it's hard to see him go, but I know that it's really a blessing....he couldn't have been very happy the way he was and who knows how he was treated at the nursing home when Dorothy wasn't there. Dear, sweet, funny George....he always treated us so nicely, even though it couldn't have been all that much fun for him to have all of us kids around for two weeks at a time! I hope he knows how much we love him."