All my life, watching America...

posted on: Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Of the most potent memories are those spent on holiday, as a child. Partly owing to the fact that my Dad was an airline pilot, I spent many of my childhood holidays in Florida. Think early 80's and the opportunity to take transatlantic flights when many of my contemporaries were spending summers in Cornwall or if exotic - maybe Spain. We were really lucky and spent whole summers in Florida, sometimes waiting for my Dad to have a stop-over en route to somewhere else. Cue: strong memory image of playing in the sand on Clearwater, Florida and looking up to see my Dad in his airline captain's uniform strolling towards us.

Then later as my parents went through divorce, we would metaphorically flee to Florida (by this time we had a holiday home there) and my Mum would spend her (what I now presume was healing) time, staring out at the Gulf of Mexico and wondering what the future held. Yet despite the inherent sadness that must have weighed on our family at that time, I have some of my fondest memories. My Mum, as a newly single parent would take my brother and I across the Atlantic; now that I am a parent I see the braveness of that decision in the days when travel wasn't quite so embedded in our psychology as it is now.

This childhood exposure to America did shape me. I was the one who longed to go to proms and studied the American high school system through films like 'Pretty in Pink' and 'Can't Buy Me Love'. I was the one who at University and at great expense, had American magazines like 'In Style' and 'Glamour' shipped to me. And this in the days before Internet where that meant corresponding with American Conde Nast begging them to make an allowance for an English girl who needed American input! I was the one who continued to spend summer holidays in Florida with my Mum, well into my teens, meeting up every year with friends from Indiana and being pen-pals in-between. I was the one who looked into studying at the American College in London just for the opportunity of doing a gap year in the States.

...lovely photographs, all by Stephanie Rausser
As an adult, we have been back to America lots of times, to Vegas and Hawaii, San Francisco, New York, Boston and Florida. But it is Florida that holds that special place for me and sometimes the yearning to go back literally makes my heart ache. Certain things about it are just so deeply rooted in my consciousness. The humidity and that tropical smell...I can't describe it but I would know it in a heartbeat! So I miss it, and every time we say 'next year we will go' and each year the reality seems get overridden by other (cheaper) plans. Maybe next year...


  1. I loved reading this Lou, it showed me (yet) another aspect of that gorgeous personality of yours.

    And guess who else used to have InStyle shipped to them?! Yep, that would be me :) That and get anyone visiting the US to bring me home copies. I was SO thrilled when Borders opened up in London and I could buy every single US magazine I had ever wanted!!

    I absolutely agree that it must have been a huge deal for your mother to fly alone with two children back then, people didn't travel in quite the same way as now where we don't even think twice about it. And it says SO much about her, that she just carried on going somewhere that must have been very hard for her emotionally....

    I did the BUNAC summer of spending my summer holiday at a summer camp in the US as did all my friends which was fab. I still think how wonderful it would be to take a year or even a semester and go and study in the US - NYC it would have to be for me. I would love my children to take a year of their studies to do the same thing - just as long as they didn't love it so much that they decided to stay there permanently!! And of course I tell them, I would have to come and live with them for about a month to just explore etc :)

    I have literally only passed through Florida on my way to somewhere else for a few hours so don't know it at all....I love that you have such great memories of it though, makes me want to add it to my list :)

    Love the photos you have used for this post xx

  2. A lovely post Lou. My old boss has just moved to Clearwater from the UK, and it looks amazing. Although, everything always looks nice when just visiting. I've just returned home from England and spent the flight home fantasising about a life out there with the family... My little ones were chomping at the bit to return back to the US... The hubby associates Florida with visiting his elderly grandma and so , when I suggest popping down there, I get wrinkled up noses, followed by silence... it seems we are never happy... I would say that the most beautiful place I have visited in the States thus far, was Cape Cod... now that was a place I felt I belonged... so if you head this way, I highly recommend! Lx

  3. We are hoping to buy a place in Clearwater or St. Pete's this summer to use when we do business in the US and as a rental. I am glad you love it there. It is nice to get good feedback on it.

    I love the image of your dad walking towards you on the beach in his uniform...right out of a movie ...

  4. It is so true how much our childhood vacations influence us. We never traveled out of the country, and in fact I only flew to visit my dad after my parents got divorced and I moved to the south with my mom and sisters. I spent summers with him, at his house and as much as possible on Lake Ontario. And just as Florida became a special place to you as a result of your time there, those cottages on Lake Ontario have a similar spot in my heart. I am thankful that although my dad is no longer here, my family still owns those cottages and I am able to visit. I didn't make it back for years, as life and babies made it difficult, but we went last year. It was wonderful, and we're going back in June. I am determined to make it an annual trip, because I want my kids to feel a connection to that place too. I hope you're able to make it back to Florida soon.

  5. The Gulf Coast has become a favourite place for us these past years, and we are counting the days until we have that gorgeous white soft sand between our toes, until we are eating coconut shrimp and soft blue shell crab, until we are watching those sunsets with a cold beer or margarita in our hands!! Ahh bliss. And we love our fix of all things American every year. Great memories you have written about Lou.

  6. I don't know why but this just makes me wistful and sad for the past. We shared similar experiences because I grew up in Canada on the Prairies. Far removed from proms and sand and American things. I lived for movies, magazines and glimpses of all that the US had to offer. My parents didn't divorce and I didn't visit the US until my 20's, but somehow I always knew I'd end up here.

    I hope you visit FL. I hope soon.


  7. i hope you can make it back. there is something so nostalgic about returning to a place you grew up with and have such a strong attachment to. sharing it with new people, for me, is part of the joy as well. like giving them a bit of yourself.

  8. I second Simone - I love reading your stories and getting to know more about you.
    I share your fascination with all things American - I even developed an 'American accent' for a while in my teens, though that quickly wore off as I moved to London and actually DID attend 'The ACL' - twice (double degrees - one interior design the other business marketing - with honours - whohoo!).

    I love that your dad would walk straight down to the beach to see you guys when he got back. What a powerful memory of him in a uniform!

    Agree on the bravery of your mother. She sounds like an extraordinary person! x

    Hope you're having a lovely Easter over there.

    xx Charlotta

  9. I so understand that sense of wistful longing. In my experience, places from my distant past are never quite the same when I revisit them after a long absence. I have to agree with the reader who suggests Cape Cod. Wellfleet is just wonderful and is my "Florida".


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