by Andy Mitchell
Summer was my father’s favorite season. He hated winter and loved summer. There was rarely any middle ground with Dad. He either liked something or he didn’t. He was many things, but a mystery was not one of them. You always knew where you stood with Dad.
I suppose there were a number of reasons he felt so warmly towards summer. It’s the season of his two favorite sports, baseball and golf. It’s also hot. Dad liked it hot. “When it’s so hot no one else can stand it, that’s just how I like it.” That was one of his oft spoken variants of, “When it’s so tough…” He liked that adage as well. He was a Marine after all. Not a career military man mind you, he was also fond of saying, “Once a Marine always a Marine.” So it was a mistake to refer to him as a former “jarhead,” a term of endearment for him. His feelings for his chosen branch of service remained so strong that when his sons told him they were playing Army out in the yard, they were instructed to play Marines instead. We saluted The Great Santini, marched back out into the yard, and followed his orders.
As much as Dad enjoyed soaking up the sun, playing sports in the good old summertime, he also yearned for travel. There is gypsy blood in me, he would say. He liked day trips, weekend getaways, and the longer vacations summer afforded. Every year our family would take two trips – invariably to Florida in June, and to Colorado in August. These were magical trips for me, escapes to the sea and to the mountains, reinforcing my own love of travel which undoubtedly came from that gypsy blood coursing through my veins.
Soon after school let out we would head south. But Dad was in no hurry to get to our destination. The postcard shores of Florida were fine and all, but I realized as I grew older, that the stops along the way were the places Dad really wanted to see, the places from his past. These seemingly standard family vacations to the beach were mere excuses for him to veer off on his own little pilgrimages to old haunts. I remember visiting an antebellum mansion in Ozark, Alabama where he had rented a room while playing minor league ball one summer. The quintessentially genteel Southern lady he had rented the room from all those years ago still owned and lived in the house. The smell of mothballs hung in the humid air like the Spanish moss from a live oak out front. Just around the corner a red clay diamond where he’d torn a hamstring trying to beat out a bunt was derelict but still redolent of his glory days. Weeds grew up from the second baseman’s position, a shabby monument to his youth.
This was just one of many memorable stops on our yearly zig-zags to The Sunshine State. Dad prefered two lanes to four. “There’s so much more to see.” I agree, Dad. Funny, I become more and more like you every year.