Last week I posted a memory from my childhood, one I’d totally forgotten for decades. Old scenes are making their way back into my mind.
This week I remembered another one, also long-forgotten.
The first family vacation I can remember happened around 1959. We drove from our home in New Jersey to Miami Beach, Florida. I’m guessing it was during Easter vacation (what is now Spring Break). I would have been 6 or 7. My dad did all the driving. My mom rode shotgun. The back seat was my realm. I had my blanket and my dolls, and my mother was afraid I might get bored, so she actually bought me a few new things to keep me occupied. The only gift I really remember was a Captain Kangaroo cut-out book which with I constructed a replica Treasure House with artifacts like Grandfather Clock. (Old timers, do you remember Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Green Jeans and Grandfather Clock?) There was also a cardboard box on the floor of the back seat with canned juice, cereal, bread, snacks, and a picnic lunch for the road.
We stopped for gas at a place called the House o’ Nuts. In addition to the gas pump, there was a gift shop that sold nuts. After the attendant filled our gas tank, he explained that they also offered a chance to win some money. My mother’s ears perked up. She wanted to play.
I don’t remember the exact mechanics of this little gambling operation–I can’t recall if there was a wheel, or cards, or mathematics puzzles to solve–but at the end of it, my parents were down $25. Now, this was the late 50s. I don’t think my dad earned $100 a week at his full-time job.
As we drove away, my father bemoaned the loss, feeling cheated. This would prevent us from doing some of the things he’d planned to do on the vacation.
A little while later, he saw a traffic cop and flagged him down. Dad related the story of how he had lost $25 at the House o’ Nuts. Mind you, my dad had a strong German accent, which might have motivated the gas attendant to lure them into gambling in the first place. Not everyone was very nice to Germans, especially this soon after WWII. Gambling was illegal in (Georgia? I can’t remember), as the policeman told my father. But for some reason he decided to help.
He followed us back to the House o’ Nuts, and went inside while we waited outside in the car. A few minutes later, the gas attendant came out with my dad’s $25 and a box of chocolate-covered nuts, and explained he wasn’t trying to cheat him, he’d just given him a chance to win some money. My dad said thank you, waved to the police officer, and skedaddled out of there, greatly relieved.
We stayed at a beachside motel in Miami Beach. I remember walking along palm tree-lined streets with the wind fluttering the palm branches and coconuts clonking to the ground. When I heard the wind in the palm trees in Arizona 30 years later, it launched me back in time to that trip (although I didn’t remember the House o’ Nuts until this week).
We saw the mermaids at Weeki Wachee, visited a shell museum, swam in the ocean and in the motel pool, and I’m sure we did all the typical touristy things that northerners do on vacation in Florida. But when we got home and friends asked how our vacation was, Dad regaled them with the story of the incident at the House o’ Nuts.