Posts Tagged 'Florida'

Thank You, Mrs. Konigsburg (and Ross)

E.L. Konigsburg with son Ross and me, 1967

E.L. Konigsburg with son Ross and me, Oct. 1967

I never thought of it before today but, as a child, my two favorite authors both published under their initials: E.B. White (whose spider’s woven vocabulary lesson inspired this blog’s name) and E.L. Konigsburg, who died on Friday at age 83. I never met the creator of Charlotte, Wilbur, and Stuart, but I did have good fortune to meet Elaine Lobl Konigsburg, in 1967, because her son, Ross, was one of my grade school classmates. Her first two books were published the same year, and she came to our school library for a special reading and book-signing event.

I remember vividly the confusing mix of embarrassment and pride I felt when I was pulled off the afternoon school bus to pose for a photo with Ross and his mother. The bus driver had to wait for a good ten minutes while the photographer fiddled with his flash and repositioned us around a table stacked with books to get the shot just right. I knew, and the other kids waiting on the bus to go home surely suspected, that we had all been delayed because Ross had a crush on me. My embarrassment and confusion were compounded the next day when the photo appeared in the local newspaper, and my mother wondered aloud why the photographer hadn’t directed me to tuck the stray lock of hair behind my ear. There I was, hair astray, pictured with shy, nerdy Ross, when, like every girl in our class, I had fallen hard for Dick Still, whose All-American good looks and athleticism crowned him our golden prince right through our 6th grade graduation. (Forgive me, Ross, if you ever stumble across this post. I’m sure we’ve both come a long way since 3rd grade!) Continue reading ‘Thank You, Mrs. Konigsburg (and Ross)’

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Toothing with Mimi

As what would have been my mother’s 94th birthday (January 18) nears, and housebound by the Blizzard of 2011, I am thinking of her, and of my snowless childhood in the Sunshine State. I wrote this in 2009.

In my early childhood, many days included a trip to the beach with my mother. Some days I came to swim or build sand castles, but often the churning sea was a decorative scrim, remarked only for the state of its tide — low tide being ideal for “toothing.”

By accident of prehistoric geography, the Florida beach town where I grew up is rich in fossilized sharks’ teeth. Vacationers line their suitcases with a bright array of scallops, clams and oysters, bivalves that the Atlantic disgorges split in half. Staunch shellers, pilgrims to the beach-combing meccas on the Gulf coast, would spurn the relics of a Ponte Vedra vacation.

Mom and I left mere shelling to the sunburned tourists whose blissful ignorance of sharks’ teeth worked to our advantage. Let them clamber over conchs with the ocean’s roar whistling inside: we kept our eyes peeled for more valuable unburied treasure. Make no mistake: our sharks’-toothing was a competitive sport, one where an 8-year-old and a 50-year old were evenly matched.

Beach Picnic, 1963

Heads down, we would pace the sand, eyes laser-focused to zero in on sharks’ teeth, black specks on the orange carpet of coquina. Trained by hours of toothing, Mom and I could readily distinguish all sizes and shapes of the tide-polished teeth from other black shells, imposters that conspired to fool our practiced eyes. To keep from poaching each other’s territory, we would hunt at a respectful distance, calling out triumphantly each time we scored a tooth. Occasionally I would feel a twinge of guilt when my younger, keener eyes gave me an edge over my acutely near-sighted mother, whose relative height put her farther away from the bounty at her feet. I eventually learned that it was unseemly to over-enthuse upon finding a small tooth, even though logic might argue that it was the proverbial needle in a haystack. In toothing, size definitely mattered, and the possibility of finding “the big one” was what kept us in the hunt day after day, year after year. Arriving home with stiff necks and sand between our toes, we would tally our respective takes before pooling our loot in a communal jar, claiming a proprietary interest only in exceptional specimens.

On my 18th birthday Mom surprised me with a gold necklace fashioned from one particularly fine tooth in our collection. I have worn it almost continuously since I left Florida for college and never looked back, and in the big cities where I’ve lived strangers regularly remark on my necklace. I enjoy their surprise when I tell them the tooth belonged to a shark millions of years ago and that I found it on a beach. Continue reading ‘Toothing with Mimi’

Ringing in ’09

New Year’s Day seems a fitting moment to revisit E. B. White’s meditative essay “The Ring of Time.”

The time is March 1956, and the ring is in Sarasota, at the headquarters of the Ringling Brothers circus. Like a baseball fan at spring training, EBW is watching behind the scenes as a teenage girl practices her riding stunts, bareback and barefoot. The thrill of watching this casual, uncostumed rehearsal far exceeds that of watching a final performance. As girl and horse circle the riding ring, he falls into a trance:

The enchantment grew not out of anything that happened or was performed but out of something that seemed to go round and around and around with the girl, attending her, a steady gleam in the shape of a circle — a ring of ambition, of happiness, of youth.

Lulled, momentarily, into believing the illusion that time itself runs in circles, he grows “acutely unhappy” when he realizes that, Continue reading ‘Ringing in ’09′

Christmas in Florida

In the essay What Do Our Hearts Treasure (January 1966), E. B. White captures the sense of “unreality” that a New Englander feels spending Christmas in Florida. He and his wife, Katharine, have motored south from Maine to Sarasota, where they will spend the holiday alone together. His description of their rented house perfectly fits so many Florida houses built in the era of my own Florida childhood:

Our pleasure palace was built of cinder blocks and was painted shocking pink. The principal tree on the place was a tall power pole sprouting transformers; it stood a few feet from the canal and threw a pleasant shade across the drive.

EBW describes his wife’s growing depression with the holiday approaching:

I would find her weeping quietly in what seemed like elegant, if uncomfortable, surroundings. ‘It’s Vietnam that’s making me feel this way,’ she said. But I did not believe it was Vietnam. I knew her well enough, in her December phase, to know that it was something far deeper than Southeast Asia at work.

Continue reading ‘Christmas in Florida’


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