Friday, July 17, 2009

funny, the things that you remember when you want to.

when you're a kid you assume that things will always be there, that people will stick around, that homes and neighborhoods will remain the same, and that's comforting.

i remember each and every time i would visit my American grandmother, who lived in the same house since the end of WWII in the last town on the US mainland before you hit the Florida Keys. my grandfather was a fruit packing manager. he would uproot the family every few months and they'd go live in New Jersey, or Mississippi, or Alabama, following whatever produce was in season; and he finally settled the family in Florida City, mere blocks from a tomato packing plant. My grandfather ran the plant and my Grandma worked part time as the secretary (a job she held until the early 1980s when she finally retired). My dad owned the coca cola machine at the plant, and put himself through college with the money he got by recycling the glass bottles (back in the day when you could do that sort of thing).

The tomato packing plant is still there, although it's now called something different and owned by someone else. My grandfather died in the 1950s from an aneurysm in his sleep, and a month later one of my dad's younger brothers was killed when he got hit by a train a couple of blocks from home while on a motorcycle with a buddy, out collecting money for their paper route. My Grandma stayed and raised her four other kids in that house up until her death, slept in the same room in the same bed that her husband died in, that she eventually died in. the house is still there - untouched by Hurricane Andrew, which reeked havoc through the neighborhood and tore down all the adjoining houses, the two enormous mango trees in the back yard, and the Key lime tree that my grandfather had planted when they first moved into the house which stood next to the old barn right out the back door.

when i think of that house, the one thing i remember with the most fondness is sitting on the swinging bench on the back porch drinking a limeaid. if i wanted a limeaid, Grandma would send me out back to pick a couple of Key limes off the tree, then i'd squeeze the juice into a plastic Solo cup, add some simple syrup that she had in a squeeze bottle which she kept on the kitchen table, some water, and some ice. it's nothing fancy, but it quenched the thirst properly. no matter what time of year it was when i went to visit, it was always hot in South Florida; the temperature never seemed to change there, and that drink helped me keep cool. nowadays when i make a fancier version of my Grandma's limeaid, adding a shot of white port and swapping the plain tap water with tonic, the flavor is reminiscent of those long ago limeaids.

as a kid, i assumed that the Key lime tree would always be there, ready to give me a lime whenever i needed one. it would never have occurred to me to go to a store and pay an astronomical fee for one.

i haven't been to Florida City in 20 years. it's a mere cesspool now; an extension of Miami urban stripmall sprawl, not the safest neighborhood, nothing like it used to be in the days when my grandfather moved his family there, a town with a promising future. i don't think my travels will ever take me back there again, even though i have extended family in the area. i think i'd rather remember it the way it was when i was a kid. but i'll always wonder if that Key lime tree ever grew back again.

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