A Holiday to Remember
My favourite vacations growing up were visiting my grandparents in Clearwater, Florida.
My grandparents were wonderful people. Harry and Billie (Wilhelmina) Frey. They were married for 59 years and they were both dedicated educators. For several years in the mid-late 1950s, my grandfather was the Superintendent of American Schools in the Far East, based in Japan. These were schools for the sons and daughters of American servicemen who were stationed overseas. When my grandparents retired to Clearwater it became the place where some of my fondest memories reside.
My parents, brother and I would visit my grandparents every other year for a week and it was so much fun! Clearwater Beach had the finest white sand beaches and we would spend an entire afternoon making sand castles, chasing seagulls, and playing in the surf. I must have been about six when we went to Disney World and the two things that stood out for me were the Disney parade and the Haunted Mansion. I loved the haunted mansion! I remember getting swept away in the magic of it, even if it was a little scary. Another year we went to Busch Gardens where the animal shows were my favourite part of the day. They were interesting and interactive, and somewhere I have a picture of a parrot on my shoulder.
Most of the time we just enjoyed being with Grandma and Grandpa. They had a bungalow with an attached garage with an automatic door opener which, at that time, was fancy! My brother and I would play rock, paper, scissors to see who would get to press the opener every time we pulled in the driveway. I loved the layout of the house, it was L-shaped and all the bedrooms had pocket doors which I thought was the coolest thing ever. And they had so many wonderful decor pieces from Japan, each one with a story behind it. That was one of the great things about my G & G. They were always happy to tell us a story and we were always happy to listen. It was different being with them—a different energy. It was less restrictive, more relaxed, and they were always genuinely interested in us.
This is why my absolute favourite childhood vacation is the year my brother and I went Clearwater for an entire month in the summer. It was our first trip without my parents and I think I was about twelve. Every morning I would go into the backyard where they had a large grapefruit tree and pick the perfect one for our breakfast. I remember standing in the grass in my bare feet and pyjamas, gently squeezing the fruit to find one that felt heavy with a thin skin, those were the juiciest! Back at the table, Grandpa showed me how to cut and segment the sweet-tart fruit and I’d share the other half with my brother. I swear you could taste the sunshine in that grapefruit! There was always a choice of cereal and I would soak up the last of the milk in the bowl with a slice of Grandma’s famous coffee crumb cake.
Days were spent in a variety of ways. We’d visit G & G’s friends, go mini-putting, 5-pin bowling, and we even went to church with them on Sundays which was a new experience for me. While my parents didn’t attend church and I didn’t have a religious background, I enjoyed sitting in that bright space with the beautiful stained glass windows and listening to the sermon. It gave me food for thought and created interesting conversations for the ride to lunch. I liked the feeling of community and camaraderie afterwards when everyone would get a chance to speak to the minister and each other. We would go to lunch with a group of my grandparent’s friends. You might think as a twelve-year-old, I would find lunch with folks in their seventies boring. Quite the contrary. These men and women were quick-witted, feisty and fun! They always made my brother and I feel like we belonged, and included us in the conversation, asking us questions and really listening to the answers. I felt the love and pride my grandparents had in having us with them.
I even enjoyed the mundane days. Days where we helped with lawn work and cleaning the pool (followed by hours spent swimming and playing in said pool). My grandfather’s office had a bookshelf that spanned the entire wall. The shelves were filled with books including A Night to Remember by Walter Lord. This was a fascinating true account of the fateful maiden voyage of the Titanic. There was also a thirty-volume set of Encyclopedia Americana and I would spend hours lying on the floor, reading them, which would drive my brother bananas!
I remember that month being one of increased independence and connection. My grandparents engaged me in the kind of conversations that I didn’t have often with my parents. They challenged me and encouraged me. They shared parts of their lives so I felt I got to know them as people and not just as my grandparents. Our day would have some structure, but I was given plenty of time to daydream, read, and play with my brother. I felt valued and loved and it’s that feeling that I remember now as I write this. And its why that month, all those years ago, remains my favourite childhood memory