This past week I went on an impromptu vacation, back to the area I grew up in. I was raised in a small town named Winter Haven. There wasn’t a whole lot to do there, other than to walk through orange groves. The groves started disappearing around 1984 when we had a bitter freeze followed by citrus canker. Between those two events, most of the groves I grew up in vanished. They destroyed the citrus industry in central Florida, and it’s never come back. That saddens me because the kids who are growing up now will never get to smell the sweet fragrance of orange blossoms. If you’ve ever smelled it, you know what I’m talking about.
I grew up in one of the houses that were built for the people who worked in the citrus industry.
When I lived there, there was no new pickup in the yard. It was an old Cadillac Fleetwood that was on it’s last legs. There were four massive Australian pines in the front yard. I can remember in 1979 being scared to death that those pines were going to fall on the house as Hurricane David played around on the coast.
One of the other things we had when I was a kid was a botanical garden called Cyprus Gardens. If you’ve read anything I have written, you may have noticed I have a habit of naming things, and in the case of Head of Steel, the sisters, after flowers. This comes from my sneaking into the gardens and being fascinated by all the beautiful plants and flowers around the park.
Of course, as I got older there was this too.
These ladies are the Southern Belles of Cyprus Gardens.
As much as I enjoyed the Belles, it was the gardens that held my attention. I would go from flower to flower, breathing in the aroma’s that they gave off. Unfortunately, as the years went on, botanical gardens weren’t what drew people to the Central Florida area and Cyprus Gardens closed. It was bought by the Lego Land people and became a Lego Land. Thankfully the people who bought it decided to honor the old gardens and have left a part of them intact, including the Florida pool.
Something happened in 1977 that rocked my six year old mind. A new rocket was tested by NASA, Orbiter Vehicle Designation OV-101, the Space Shuttle Enterprise. I know that now, this isn’t much of anything but then, it was a whole new world to me.
It was beautiful. I wanted to go watch a launch, but it would be another six years before I was able to.
April 4, 1983. 05:00 The son of a friend of my parents picked me up for the drive to Merritt Island. I don’t think I sat still for the whole ride.
07:00 Waiting in line to get into the field where everyone parked and watched the launches.
09:00 Waiting impatiently. Staring across the water at launch pad 39A.
12:00 Thousands of people surrounding us. Heat exhaustion. A nurse was able to get my body temperature down so that it didn’t progress to a heat stroke.
13:30 NASA we have liftoff of STS-6, the Space Shuttle Challenger.
My heart stopped as I took this picture. It was everything I could have imagined.The first thing that happened was the roar of the engines igniting. Then you saw the vapor bloom. And, finally, you see the shuttle rising. It was an awesome experience.
While I was able to see other launches, this one will always be special to me.
Just short of three year later, the Challenger would explode and leave me devastated but, this, this was one of the most joyous days of my young life.
You can watch this launch here.
That’s a little bit about me. I hope you enjoyed reading it.