Perry, Florida, seems an innocuous enough town. The campground was clean, friendly, and new-looking. Nothing was at all sinister until well after dark, when I noticed an odd scent from outdoors—like something burning. Upon further investigation, it was evident that the town was being held captive by a horrible, horrible cloud of scent, much like being trapped into conversation by a large portly man wearing too much obnoxious cologne. Only in this case he would have been wearing the alluring scent of burning boiled eggs.
I mention this not to blacken the name of Perry (goodness knows they have trouble enough, poor lambs), but to explain why rising early and packing in a vortex of speed was no problem this morning. We decided that we would eat breakfast in the car before our sinuses finally gave up the struggle and quit altogether. Having text-messaged my friend Ruth to ascertain whether the entirety of Florida suffers this malady (she blames Georgia), the decision was made to press on.
Accordingly, Chris aimed the car toward Homosassa Springs and the Wildlife Park. We arrived just after nine and slathered the kids and myself with sunscreen and bug spray (Chris prefers to face nature on his own terms). We were just in time to step onto the boat that would carry us from the parking lot to the actual park.
Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park showcases only native Florida animals (with the notable exception of Lu the Hippopotamus, who has lived there for over 45 years and has been named an honorary Florida citizen). We wandered through exhibits containing flamingoes and ibises and ducks, eagles and three kinds of owls. We watched the turkeys display their tail feathers and wondered whether they were showing off or trying to scare us off.
We learned that alligators have mouths ideally suited for holding and eating turtles (who knew?), and I had one of my useless bits of memorized trivia affirmed: “Red and black, venom lack; red and yellow kill a fellow.” This refers, of course, to coral and scarlet king snakes, the former of which is extremely venomous and the latter harmless to humans.
All the boys especially enjoyed the manatees. They were huge, gentle, lovely creatures, for all that they look like large baked potatoes. With flippers.
As we finished our tour, certain members of our party voiced their imminent starvation unless they ate now. Chris bought us lunch at the snack bar, which was fine except for the fact that they charged fifty cents for a refill of coffee, which is complete nonsense. On the other hand, I really needed the coffee, because I had a huge sinus headache (naming no names, but I find it dubious indeed to blame Georgia).
From Homosassa Springs, we drove down to Largo, Florida, and Heritage Village, a living history park. Sort of calculated to be far too educational to be really fun for the boys, who were showing the effects of too much sugar, caffeine, and heat. Symptoms: sniveling, face-making, and general grouchiness. This was solved by my making them hold hands with me while I talked to them in reasonable tones about how they wanted to make this a fun trip, didn’t they, all the while keeping that little edge in my voice that suggested I could make the afternoon terribly not fun. They got the message.
We toured only a few buildings, as we were there only an hour before closing time. We saw the Star house from just after the turn of the century (let me tell you, wads of cash may not buy happiness but heart-of-pine paneling comes close). From there, we meandered to the fire engine and the mercantile, just making it to the caboose and train station before closing time.
We checked into the Comfort Suites hotel in Clearwater, Florida, just before five. We chose Cody’s Original Roadhouse for dinner, and it was delicious. I ate enough for three days. They had the paper-covered tables where you can write on the paper with crayons, which is always fun. On this occasion, I showed off my upside-down writing (Chris said it was more legible than my usual writing), and then we all tried to write with both hands at once (because Chris’s grandfather claimed that his grandfather could write Latin and Greek at the same time, one with each hand).
We waddled back to the hotel and changed into swimming togs, but then we had to wait out a brief storm. The water was lovely and warm, and we had an hour and a half of good goofing off before toweling off and coming back in to discover the ultimate disappointment: “wireless internet” does not guarantee that it will actually stay connected in one’s room for more than, oh, ten seconds at a time. Thus, this entry will be a joint effort between Katherine, typing it up, and Chris, dressing and going down to the lobby to hopefully post.