A leaky window in the midst of a terrifying thunderstorm dampened our second night in Port Orange, Florida. Jim quickly repaired it while our dog Charlie was being comforted on my lap. Our cat Buddy stayed calm throughout the ordeal, happily settled in after two long weeks on the road. The rest of the week was went well as we explored our new neighborhood. With temperatures in the upper eighties, the campground pool was an oasis from the sweltering October heat, although big, scary insects often bobbed around on the buoy divider. Everyone in the campground was super friendly - we were going to fit in very well here.
Marye, our new friend as well as the campground office manager, graciously let us tag along whenever she ran errands. We avoided driving the motor home with its 9.8 miles per gallon of gas, as well as the issue of unhooking everything. We soon learned that interesting and unique people ride public busses, but I felt confident having pepper spray tucked discreetly away in my purse. Jim took the scooter out occasionally for short distance trips. Tired of feeling confined, I bought a bicycle after a few weeks, and had a blast zipping around town with it. Jim followed suit soon after. We outfitted our wheels with handlebar baskets and carried backpacks for additional storage space. We still used the bus for longer trips. The only downside to our modes of transportation was not being able to travel after dusk.
Our daughter Emmie had her college freshman meltdown shortly after we arrived. She was working at her first paying job in a campus café when a co-worker fell, gashed his hand, and was rushed to the hospital. Her stress level was already high due to her roommate’s personality and behavior - they were completely opposite to Emmie's quiet, studious ways. I found out later that the roommate had no inhibitions whatsoever, and my daughter had been avoiding the little vixen's frequent overnight male visitors, by sleeping on the floor of a friend’s room. I was livid about the "education" my girl was getting, and the fact that we were spending $7000 a year for a room that Emmie was afraid to sleep in. I seriously considered booking a flight and bringing her down to Florida, but she wanted to stay in New York near her friends. Against my better judgment, I agreed to let her handle the situation on her own, as an adult.
We never left our 14 year old boys alone in the camper for too long, and we always made sure the air conditioner was on in our absence. Buddy and Charlie enjoyed being outside on their harnesses, but Buddy got scared if we walked too far away from the camper. I don't think he understood why the scenery kept changing as trailers pulled in or out. Charlie was a campground favorite, especially with the children. They loved his quirky walk. Buddy suffered from a long-term inflammatory bowel condition that flared up occasionally, so I was always worried about his health. Thankfully, the Biketoberfest motorcycles didn't traumatize him, although the notoriously rowdy Bike Week was scheduled in February.
Apparently, Floridian employers don’t like hiring "snowbirds." I was confident about finding a job with my impressive resume, and I had done my research on the job market prior to the trip. After applying for over 50 jobs, I was finally hired for a seasonal retail position. This was not exactly my intention, but I couldn't find a per diem counseling job without a Florida drivers license. On my third day of merchandise handling, I got sick from riding my bike to work in the cool, humid mornings. I couldn’t speak or swallow by the sixth day, so I took a taxi up to the primary care clinic. Thanks to the medicine, I survived the hot, physical labor while working the following 10 days in a row.
We had reservations for a dinner and cruise down in the New Smyrna Beach inter-coastal waterway the day after Hurricane Sandy arrived. Even though the rain had stopped, the ocean surf was extremely rough, but Marye convinced us that river would be calm. It was dusk by the time dinner ended, then we boarded the boat. We were having such a fun time when the captain made us sit down and hold on tight. He took us out near the ocean jetty at full speed to see (and feel) the huge crashing waves – never in my life have I been so terrified, yet so thrilled at the same time!
The holidays were strange with temperatures in the seventies, and we felt the absence of our extended family. Thanksgiving dinner was spent in the rec-hall among people we hardly knew. Marye put lots of effort into Christmas planning, and we helped "adopt a family" of seven who were currently living in a hotel room. The father was a maintenance employee at the campground. JC Penney was having a promotion where you could collect cute little decorated buttons from the cashiers for a chance to win prizes or cash discounts. We went every day for our buttons, which were later strung as a decoration for our table top tree. On Christmas morning, we awoke early and followed a marshmallow trail to the rec hall. What a delightful time we had watching the kids open their presents of toys and clothes - all purchased at a discount thanks to those buttons! Later on, we enjoyed a lovely brunch at the Golden Corral followed by a charming movie at the local cinema.
On December 27th, we picked Emmie up at the airport for her semester break. She loved the campground. After relaxing by the pool for a few days, we took her to Daytona Beach Shores, the flea market, and the International Speedway area. Marye arranged a tour bus trip to Port Canaveral for a casino cruise ship adventure. It was a wonderful experience, and Emmie won $75! Our "adopted" daughter, Jaynie arrived from Pennsylvania the following week. We rented a car and took the girls to Orlando, where we spent two days hanging out at Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. The 19 year old girls enjoyed the roller coasters, purchased a ton of souvenirs, and delightfully drank their butter-beer at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
We settled into our routine once again after Emmie and Jaynie flew back home. I decided to try my hand at freelance writing to supplement Jim's retirement income. Surprisingly, I sold articles for cash with minimal effort. Jim and I also did "odd jobs" for various people in the campground whenever an opportunity arose (shopping for an elderly woman, selling coffee and bagels, etc.). Our estimated living expenses were significantly less than we had expected - thank the Lord! As an added bonus, my unemployment qualified our daughter for financial aid the next year. We finally stopped worrying about our finances.
Then the unexpected happened. On Valentine's Day morning, Jim awoke to find Buddy was sleeping on Charlie's back. Even more peculiar; Charlie didn't mind. Buddy seemed somewhat "sluggish," but Jim had a dental surgery appointment, so we decided to call a vet afterwards. The surgery took nearly two hours. Upon our return, as I frantically tried to contact a vet, Buddy took his final breaths. He was cremated the next morning. My world turned very dark for the next two weeks as I grieved the loss of my dear, sweet, old friend.
See Part I of The Journey:
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