Goin’ South

Mom and Dad stayed, for several winters, with the Tylers, when they went to Florida to get away from the Southern Ontario winters.  Eventually, Bogey Tyler changed his crop schedule and needed his 55-foot trailers for migrant workers again.  My brother had lost a long-term job and got another in the grounds-crew of a local golf course.  This gave him eight to nine months of work, and then off for the winter.

After a couple of years, he got a better paying job with a small company that made commercial window and door awnings.  Sadly, the same eight to nine months of work still applied.  Nobody wants to purchase, or install outdoor awnings, in February.  Ineligible for unemployment insurance, he felt he might as well spend some time in the warm south, and joined the parents.  Recently divorced, he had to sell “their” house and split the money.  He was wondering what to do with his meager half, when the news came that they would have to find new quarters for the next winter.

The parents’ house came with a small upstairs apartment.  For years they rented to a local nurse, but eventually she moved on.  Then followed a series of worse and worse tenants, until finally Dad just said no more.  When the brother lost his house, the parents let him move in upstairs at no cost.  He was there to do yard work, run errands and keep an eye on them.  He decided to purchase a mobile home in a nearby Florida park so that they would all have a place to go in the winter.

The parents eventually reached a point where it was physically impossible for them to drive to Florida.  Mom and I used to correspond a letter a week.  One day I got a letter from her that said, “I had a heart attack.”  She hadn’t, but I almost did.  That is not the kind of information to convey in a letter, a middle-of-the-night phone call perhaps, but not a letter.  The next winter Dad thought he was having a heart attack, and my brother drove for three days to get him to a hospital in Windsor, because they could not get health insurance.

Just when they could no longer go south, my brother got a year-round job and had to stay north, both to work, and to take care of them.  He made arrangements with the park management to administer winter rental on the unit, but still had to make sure it was cleaned, the furnace worked and propane, water and electricity were supplied.  These were best done in person. His new employer was busy in the summer and slow at the end of year.  The first year they allowed him a week’s holiday near the first of December, and he called me to ask if I wanted to go on the trip with him.  I didn’t have to work as hard readying the trailer as I did at the plant, and I hadn’t been south of the Canada/US border in twenty years, so I jumped at the chance.  I had enough seniority that I could book the week off easily.

In his early retirement, Dad had driven to both Canadian coasts, but as they both aged, the long drive from Ontario to Florida became three short days of driving, and two nights in motels.  My brother however, loved to drive, and with only nine days to get a lot accomplished, saw no reason to waste valuable time or money.  I was warned that we would be driving straight through, and I was expected to spell him at the wheel.

I’ve said that my brother is an early morning person.  Excitement may have prevented a lot of sleep after finishing work Friday night, but at least he finished at 5 PM.  I had an afternoon shift, and wasn’t home till after eleven.  I don’t know what time he was up, but he told me he left home at five.  From his place, straight to the border was almost four hours.  The run to pick me up was two hours, and we were still almost four hours from Windsor.  I climbed in his van at 7 AM, and the race was on.

The connection from the bridge at Detroit to I-75 is two miles and seven stop lights.  The back-up at customs was relatively light.  Once we were on I-75, it’s a straight run to within fifteen miles of his camp in Florida.  I saw Michigan, Ohio and the beginning of Kentucky before it got dark.  After that, I knew we were in the mountains, because I could look out the window and doowwnn, and see lights, but entirely missed the vistas.

The sun came up again when we were just north of Atlanta, Georgia.  Just in time to catch the morning rush.  Down the hill into town, over a little flat spot, and down again, and traffic came to a complete stop for no apparent reason.  All except the guy in the next lane.  Screeeech, bang!  I didn’t witness anything, keep moving!  Nothing against Georgia but, unlike the beautiful mountain scenery I’d missed up north, in the dark, Georgia is flat, and orange.  People say the soil is red.  It’s prison jumpsuit orange.  I’ve seen roadside billboards, but this was the first trip I’d seen them on top of fifty, or hundred-foot steel poles.  Hotels?  Okay!  Restaurants?  Okay!  Boiled peanuts at every exit?  It was several years before I got a chance to try them.

We drove on into Florida, slid off I-75 onto the Florida Turnpike, slid off again onto a smaller highway, and climbed out of the van in front of the trailer at about nine AM.  We napped (?) until mid-afternoon and went looking for supper.  This, the first year I went down, we went to Daytona Beach and I swam, for the first time in the Atlantic.  My brother does not swim, and begrudged me the time.  Then we went back to Daytona, where he wasted an hour at the museum, while I explored the stands at the Freeway.

This was a strange, rushed way to travel, but it did leave time for me to see and experience some pleasant and interesting things.  Some day, when you’ve all had lots of sleep, I’ll tell you all about them.

 

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