Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The glass-bottomed boat

February 21, 2018—“Memories, like the corners of my mind, misty water-colored memories, of the way we were…”

The lyrics of Barbra Streisand’s song rang clear as Jim and I paid admission to Silver Springs State Park and boarded a glass-bottom boat. Jim said he had been there when he was a small boy. Likewise, I remember when I was here: It was the same vacation when we we went to see the mermaids frolic in the clear waters at Weeki Wachee Springs.

Pan fish seen through the glass-bottomed boat.

Both Silver Springs and Weeki Wachee were private entertainment centers back then. The company that owned Silver Springs offered it at a bargain to the State of Florida in 1993. The state also turned Weeki Wachee into a state park in 2008.

It must have been in 1950 or 1951 when my parents loaded up the car with me, my older sister Judy, and my younger brother John. I remember that Johnny was probably a toddler, so I had to have been no older than 5 or 6. We drove all the way down to Miami Beach, where we played in the ocean, and along the way down (or back home), we stopped in these tourist areas.

Silver Springs actually has a number of different springs that spew water from the aquifer to form the river. The waters are crystal clear and, according to the guide, about 98% pure. The tour allows guests to see the springs (yes, you can actually see the springs gushing water from the aquifer into the river), as well as the various fresh-water fishes, such as blue gill, bass, and fresh-water mullet. 

When I took the glass-bottomed boat ride 65 years ago, the boats seemed magical. The center of the boat had a clear glass plate; you could see down into the depths of the waters, watching fish go by, and if you were lucky, some manatees. To a child, this was pretty exciting, almost as good as being able to dive right into the water itself and swim with the fish. We also oohed and aahed over alligators, as well as turtles and assorted “foreign” birds (foreign because they did not live in the northern climates of the Midwest). Now, of course, alligators, turtles, cranes and cormorants are commonplace to me, as a long-time transplant to Florida. They remain, however, fascinating to watch.

The boats are the same as they were years ago. But the spring beds are not. Because of fertilizer runoff, the white sandy floors of the springs are dying with algae. The turtles and alligators come out of the water with their shells covered in algae. As they dry off, the algae does too, and it washes away when they dive back into the cool waters.

The springs are also endangered today because the aquifers are threatened by possible fracking as well as from being sucked dry by the continually growing Florida population.

I’m glad we took the glass-bottomed boat tour. It is not the same as it was so long ago, but then nothing is. The magic is gone, but going to Silver Springs brought back memories, and that counts for a lot.

Until next time,

Your Reluctant RoVer,

Monday, February 19, 2018

Ahoy! The American Victory Ship in Tampa

February 19, 2018—Even today’s school children know (I hope!) that the United States was on the “winning” side of World War II. (Sadly, war actually has no winners, just those who have not lost as much as the other side.) Some of the unsung heroes of that war, as well as all other modern wars, are the Merchant Marines, the civilian corps that carry fuels and cargo to the fighting forces overseas.

Tampa has a permanent floating museum—the American Victory Ship and Museum—located at the piers where boarding of the cruise ships takes place. The Victory Ship was built in 1945 (making it my age); it is one of four fully operational WWII ships in the United States. Surprisingly, it was built in only 55 days; there was a rush to get cargo and transport ships built fast to supply U.S. troops sent to the Pacific front. This particular ship saw service through WWII, the Korean War, and the Viet Nam War.

The ship was brought to Tampa in 1999 and lovingly restored by volunteers, who still keep her maintained as a fully operational vessel.

Jim, an old tar, longs for the sea. To satisfy his sea-dog yearnings, we try to tour ships wherever we find them, so yesterday, after a wonderful brunch at the Salvador Dali Museum with my Peru Group 65 friends, we headed to the ship to take a self-guided tour.

I don’t think you can appreciate how big a 455'x109' cargo vessel until you start tramping all over it. This is not a luxury ship; there are no elevators. (I’m glad it was 80 degrees, but without any humidity.) We saw bunks, bedrooms, johns, and showers. We walked through the small galley that would have fed the entire crew. We climbed up beyond the quarterdeck to the gunnery areas and up to the flying bridge. Virtually all areas of the ship are open to tourists.

I could never have been a sailor, for a lot of reasons. Jim, though, reminisces of his sailoring days, back in the mid-1950s, whenever he gets around a ship.

I’m glad he had the opportunity to tour the boat. I’m just glad it was moored. I suspect I might get seasick if it were out on the ocean.

Until the next ship…I mean, until next time.

Your Reluctant RoVer,


Forever friends and family

February 19, 2018, Tampa—People who take the time and incur the cost to travel long distances are either friends or family. In the case of our Peru Group 1965, we are both—not by blood, of course, but by a bond that we created as we learned, endured, and enjoyed an academic year in a foreign country so long ago.

It was in March 1965 that we first met—17 girls, three boys, a young program director and his wife and their (then) two children, a toddler and a babe in arms. And now, 53 years later, we have met again. We mourned the loss of Jane, our program director George’s wife, who passed away 16 years ago and the one group member who had died in a tragic plane crash many years ago. We reflected on the absence of the five who could not make it to this reunion in Tampa, because of health or other pressing issues, and we wondered (as we always do) on the one member who cannot be found and the one who chooses not to be found.

Interestingly, I believe that we are better friends today than we were in 1965. George and Jane did a remarkable job of creating a family-like atmosphere in which we could feel safe and in which we could relieve some of our homesickness. Classes at the Universidad de San Marcos were erratic; the culture was a shock; the food was different from what our Hoosier palates were accustomed to; and communication to family back home was (at least in my case) relegated to weekly letters. 
(International phone calls were too expensive for my family to afford.)

To compensate for anticipated and unexpected hardships of living and studying abroad, George and Jane opened their home to us and created events, from birthday parties to a Thanksgiving dinner, to keep us busy and to nudge us into making friendships.

Friendships, I believe, were largely developed because of proximity. For example, Nancy, Trina, Mary (Coche) and I lived within blocks of one another, and we became pals. Although we knew each other, back then we did not “know” each other.

Now, it is different. Our reunions “officially” started in 1990, 25 years after our year abroad. At these weekend gatherings, I think each of us has been able to get to know each other in a more profound way.

This weekend’s reunion was, to me, especially gratifying. Because of staggered arrival times, I was able to meet and mingle easily and at length with different people on Friday night. Jim and I brunched with a small group and ate Sunday night dinner with another small group. And because George opened his home as a central meeting place on Saturday and Sunday, we continued our many conversations for hours. It was just like a family reunion, which is appropriate, I think, because over the years, we have become more like family than like friends and classmates.

Our conversations are propelled more by caring than by curiosity: We really care about how the hurricanes impacted Irene and her family, who live in Puerto Rico; our hearts mourn for the loss of Izora’s husband of more than 50 years; and we genuinely care about the health of those present and absent.

I still feel especially close to my small clique that formed 53 years ago, but I also feel that I could become true “let’s go out and do things”  with virtually everyone in the group, if we lived in the same vicinity.

These reunions create an emotional high that leaves me charged for days. Our age is catching up to us, however. We are all in at least our mid-70s. Who knows how many will be here in another two years for our 55th anniversary?

In the meantime, I am going to savor every minute of this past weekend.

Until later,

Your Reluctant RoVer,


Back home again...

Rob and I hit the road about 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 15. The movers were incredible: They had everything loaded into the huge moving tru...