Do You Winter in Florida?

Do You Winter in Florida?

Dr Koch’s house in Delray Beach FL

In the late 1940s, when our family was still pretty young, my parents rented a house in
Delray Beach, Florida. Every winter for three years, we would go down there for six weeks
and stay in a magical house owned by the “mysterious” Dr. Koch (more about him later).
The house was directly on the water, a few miles from town. There were no neighbors on
either side.
The house was built in the style of the famous Addison Mizner, who designed houses in the
Spanish Colonial style. It
sported a crenelated tower, huge heavy double entry doors, and a fountain in a walled
courtyard. Balconies and second-floor terraces were extra touches that intrigued me.
There was stained glass in the windows leading up the stairs from the great room and a
separate set of stairs in another part of the house. One of the bathrooms was painted
silver, and the stucco walls reflected the color slathered unevenly on the walls. Another
bathroom was painted gold and seemed like something from a fantasy movie. The house
was unique. The master bedroom had two double beds. I had never seen two double beds
in one room. At home, my parents slept in twin beds pushed together. My friends’ parents
mostly slept in twin beds, too. However, one of my friends had parents who slept in a
double bed. I thought that looked cozy and determined I would never sleep in separate
beds when married.

Getting to the house in Florida was an adventure in itself. We sometimes went on the train;
in other years, my father drove a car with my mother and me. A second car had our nurse Renie with my sister, Dede, brother Wiley, and lots of luggage. It was a great privilege for me to
ride with my parents. We stopped along the way to spend the night in a hotel or motel. Motels
were generally separate cabins in a line near the highway, just a two-lane road. The neon
signs would state happily, Vacancy or sadly, NO Vacancy, and we would drive on. The
search for a place to stay was random and not planned ahead of time. My father was never
sure when he would feel like stopping. Driving could be tedious on roads too full of curves
to pass easily or safely. We did not have any freeways or superhighways then.

my brother with courtyard behind him, fountain partially visible

Some years, we rode to Florida by train. My parents and me, my sister, Dede, and our brother, Bucky, with our nurse, Renie. Railroad cars were comfortable for those who had private staterooms, called Pullmans. Full bedrooms with a private bath made it fun, like playing house while going to someplace new. I loved riding in trains. My mother was afraid of flying, and so we never flew. Air travel was simply not that old, and one of Mother’s favorite relatives, her uncle, Willard Dow, and his wife died in the crash of a private plane while we were in Florida. She never liked flying, but after their deaths, she used this as the reason she refused to fly.

Once we had all arrived, we gathered at the house, along with our extensive baggage, and
perhaps a dog or two. We traveled with trunks loaded with clothes and shoes, perhaps
sheets and blankets, swimwear, and beach things. It was a production to move house that
way each year. Once we were settled, the fun began. Bucky celebrated his first birthday at the house in Florida on March 9, 1947. Lots of house-guests joined us, too.
There was so much exploring to do. The house seemed like a castle to me. And I LOVED
castles. The heavy Spanish furniture, the stained-glass windows, the gold and silver
bathrooms, the heavy refectory table in the great room, and the rows of books on shelves
all lent an air of fantasy. The romantic courtyard fascinated me, with its fountain spilling
water into a basin with goldfish swimming round and round. It was the living dream of a
little girl of 5 or 6 or 7. That is how old I was during the three years we spent going to Delray
Beach. After a while, it became evident that staying in Florida during the winter was
messing up our learning. I loved the pastel colored desks the school provided, but the education in the tiny temporary school needed to be improved. Unlike our fancy private schools at home, it had neither consistency nor good teachers. So, after the third year with the whole family going to spend so much time in Florida, we children began staying home all winter. Our parents went to Florida without us
but did not stay for such a long time.

My little brother, Wiley III, with my fathers
parents Wiley Sr. and Lilla Buchanan

During those magical years, my imagination grew faster than my youthful body. We were so free. The beach was ours. There were no other people anywhere near our house. There were no neighbors, and only empty land bordered our little estate. The water was probably no more than 100 yards from the house. The yard was expansive, but so was the beach, and we played over all of it.

In the morning, I sometimes went outside before anyone else was up and just gazed at the vast ocean and the empty beach. The clouds were a significant part of my daydreaming. I learned that one can see all sorts of flora and fauna and even human faces if you look at the clouds just right. I spent hours gazing. Our father dug a massive pit in the sand, which we used as a playhouse. I furnished it with a cinderblock, which served as a “stove.” We made cakes out of wet sand to pretend to be “cooking.” I brought extra clothes to store there, and we used towels for a rug and to cover seats carved out of the sand walls of the pit. I could stand in it without being seen, which pleased me.

My mother with the three of us in Delray Beach FL

There was a giant rubber life raft, which we dragged onto the beach and used as a second “playhouse.” I always loved nesting. Making a place to stay that was all my own pleased
me. I am still a “nester.” I loved the ocean then and was not afraid until, one day, I overheard my father telling some house guest about me. He said, “Bonnie is amazing! She swims
in the ocean, diving and dodging the waves. She has absolutely no fear!” Those words played over and over again in my head. No Fear. What did that mean? Was there
something to fear about the ocean? I began thinking about how we caught crabs in a net
right close to the edge of the waves; they could pinch my foot. And I knew there were stinging
jellyfish because I had seen them with their translucent blues and pinks lying shrunken on
the sand. And there were barracuda, too, because I heard my father talking about how he
had been swimming in water where boaters had seen schools of barracuda knifing through
the water. And sharks? I had heard of them. Suddenly, I became very wary of the dark,
mysterious sea. I have never really liked it much ever since.

My memories of that house are happy ones. The “mysterious” Dr Koch visited when my
grandfather was staying with us. They were old friends and colleagues. I found an old letter

about the man, telling how the Establishment had shut him out. His ideas were too radical.
The establishment shunned him. It reminds me of what happened to the brave doctors
who questioned the covid propaganda.

Dr Koch’s house in Delray Beach FL

The more things change, the more they stay the same!

Delray Beach is no longer the sleepy place it was in the late 1940s. It has grown
exponentially, and I doubt I would like it. As long as I live, I will cherish the memory of our
freedom and privacy on that beautiful, expansive beach. Those cumulus clouds, the
waving palm trees, the feeling of sand in my sandals, and the sunburn on my shoulders are
clear in my mind. We ate well: new fallen coconuts, fresh oranges, and grapefruit, fresh
crabs, and other seafood, though our favorite food was always spaghetti. Food was a great
deal fresher, and healthier in those days. Ice cream was a treat, but it was not at our fingertips. We had a refrigerator, but the tiny freezer on top was for ice. It simply did not stay cold enough to
store ice cream for more than a few hours. People don’t realize how many things we take for granted today that were once rare and special foods only available at restaurants or soda fountains.

Those childhood memories are sweet. Today, we get a glimpse of the world 75 years ago.

Copyright©. 2024 Bonnie B. Matheson

3 thoughts on “Do You Winter in Florida?

  1. What memories……treasures for you, Bonnie?! And… parents slept in a double bed!!

  2. I like the idea of life 75 years ago! We now have so many advancements but how are we now using them? Good and evil, what path do we choose? I know where I want to go!! Love your blogs!! Thank you Bonnie…

  3. Have very similar memories of going to Florida during the Winter. My father, also, would not fly. So, we either drove or took the train. We were in Palm Beach, which was not nearly as populous as it is now. The beaches were great! And we had great fun in the houses that we rented.

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