On my drive over here to Palatka, the names of the towns and counties flying by kickstarted my mind on a walk down memory lane.From 1985 – 1987 I lived in Jacksonville FL. I was a newlywed and married to a sports columnist for the now defunct afternoon newspaper in Jacksonville. Lake City was a stop on the way home from Baton Rouge. Duval County… Flagler Beach … Fernandino Beach … Orange Park …. signs for all of these places on the interstate jogged my memory on these places I’d long forgotten. Like a long lost acquaintance whom I can’t place how I know them, the names sparked vague memories of my life there on the banks of the St. John River.
The Columbia Restaurant
When I was in Jacksonville, I hung out with a group of almost retired folks who worked with the railroad on the weekends. They were from up north but had to take jobs down here when a restructuring occurred just a few years before they retired. They didn’t want to sell their homes and shut down their lives up north, so they rented apartments in the complex where we lived. I’ve found myself wondering if they are even still alive now. It’s been 30 years since I left, and they would have been my age when I met them. My guess is most – if not all – are gone.
Shopping in St. Augustine at the Red Pineapple
I met my friend Meagan who was also just starting her career after graduating from college. We were both disillusioned as we were sold a bill of goods about getting a college degree. Before we went to college, you had it made if you got a degree. But we were the generation that swelled college rosters, and, by the time we graduated, college degrees were almost as common as a high school diploma. We started working temporary secretarial jobs, laid out on the beach on the weekends and partied like banshees. My husband traveled and worked nights, so I was caught in somewhat of a cross between a single gal and a married woman and satisfied with neither.
One night I cut my finger deeply when I was trying to free some frozen fish from it’s icy prison. I couldn’t drive because I was bleeding badly, and my husband was either out of town or working. I wrapped my hand in a towel and walked outside on the steps. I really knew no one that could help me in a pinch. One of the railroad couples walked by and saw the worried look on my face. They ended up taking me to the emergency room where I got seven stitches in my hand. It was one of the first times that I had to depend on the kindness of near strangers in an emergency.
Today MaryBeth and I drove to St. Augustine, the oldest city in the United States. I went there once as a child and several times when I lived in Jacksonville. It’s been 30 years since I’ve laid eyes on its cobblestone streets and Spanish architecture, but my favorite restaurant was still open. We lunched at the Columbia Restaurant – a Spanish restaurant with beautiful courtyards and fabulous fountains throughout. We both opted for a beef dish that was served with plantains and white rice. The 1905 Salad is their signature salad and is made table-side. It was just as delicious as I remembered.
We walked around the lovely city a bit and shopped at art shops and clothing boutiques. My favorite was a shop called Philanthropy which is a Christian clothing store where they donate 10% of each sale and 100% of all t-shirt sales to charities. They had a lovely Prayer Wall where you could write your prayer requests and hang them in an interesting display. I ended up buying a funky shirt that I couldn’t pass up for the reasonable price of $39. I wish I’d had lots more to spend, but I had to settle for that until I get my job situation sorted out.
Afterwards, we went to Vilano Beach and hung our feet off the deck in the sunshine while the waves crashed and pelicans played overhead. It was a beautiful day and not too hot. Neither one of us wanted to get in the water, so we just watched and listened until we had our fill. It was a peaceful and beautiful ending to a nice day.
St. Augustine was much bigger and much busier than it was 30 years ago, but it was every bit as lovely as I remember it. The 25-year-old me spent more time shopping and drinking than I did today, but we both enjoyed the great food and the history that the city offers up. And as always I enjoyed the company of a good friends with like interests. At the beach, I searched for Airbnb options, and there were many that I could afford. I would love to come back when I can spend four or five days in town. I just need to get back before another 30 years or so has passed.