We're back on the old honey elderberry elixirs on account of several members of the troupe falling prey to seasonal bugs. I put it down to mourning the loss of the Floridian sunbeams, which, in truth, were unsesaonably milder then usual last week. Stop us it did not. We took on Orlando with gusto flanked by Sam's godparents who travelled across the seas to see us and make like family for a week or so. In our time together we squeezed in a little bit of everything, even whizzed them up a dinner or two with the Bimbo just to unabashedly show off my camping prowess. Godmama celebrated her birthday propping up the bar with Head of Props who force fed several (generous) shots of tequila which to her delight affected her not in the slightest other than broadening her already broad grin. Underestimate not the joy of watching your son beg you to wake up parents number two of a morning, and watching them, all bed-head smiles delighting in their son-for-the-week. If they had been worried he might have forsaken them for his new family on the road the first fifty higs and kisses soon allayed any doubts.
On our first day out on the prowl we hit Gatorland stopping to buy our tickets from the kindly Anne, who after a few interchanges with Mr. Sam gave us a 20% discount and a wrist band wotsit to let us ride the train around the park as much as we wanted. Chuckling infectiously at her own jokes she points to her name badge and proudly announces that the country named below it, is not, as in neighbouring Disney, the place where she comes from, but indeed the place she would like to go (England). Now the discount makes sense, Sam has wooed her with his British twang (which to my ears is still horrifically mid-atlantic) and promised her a space in his suitcase no less.
Any trace smile left on our faces dissipated upon setting our eyes upon the Gators. Mentally they might haunt me for some time, jaw dropping was the sight of them lounging, in vast numbers, motionless prehistoric predators basking in the Floridian heat. We walked above and beside them on raised wooden walkways, gaps between the boards just big enough to catch the odd scale through or a blink of those all consuming eyes. On more than one occasion we all found ourselves protectively inching within arms reach of the boy as the gator gliding through the murky waters eyed him carefully as mid afternoon snack though it had just gobbled half a chicken moments earlier and was behind glass. On most of the journey through the park, the parameters between human and reptile was a matter of feet separated by short wooden railings and woven netting. These are some of the sensory memories of Gatorland, just a few miles down from Holy Land on route 4. Turns out $25 can buy you a quick jaunt to Jerusalem and get you back for lunch. A trip had been tentatively planned but for now we enjoyed zooming by just slow enough to catch the scaffolding holding up the “ancient” sets, and the bell tower, whose bells were painted murals atop it’s wooden tip.
The following day we took it easy. That is to say, godmama and I took a whistlestop of local spas and hairdressers, where my white wire hairs were painted radioactive chestnut by a Puerto Rican gentlemen who managed to talk more than me. Also without punctuation. Plenty of slinky hip action, in between him flirting with gentlemen customers passing through the salon. I now know the name and reputation of every club in downtown Orlando, none of which I will be gracing for the mere reason of not being nearly half fashionable enough. Even with the luminous locks. As I made to leave he hands me a card with my "formula" scribbled on. To my mind it appears to be a jumbled list of nonsensical algebra, but apparently in the hair world it's like smuggling emeralds form a Brazilian drug baron, which, he has also done, oh wait, was that Columbia? He blurred me with all his tales already, or maybe that was the peroxide.
With floucy poofy hair we flounced and pouffed our way to join the boys and headed to the almost local gym where Sam was put through his paces under the guidance of their pre-school governess. The gym, whose name on advertisements is often abbreviated to O.M.G, as in Orlando Metro Gymnastic, or Oh My God look at the size of this place. Her long blonde tresses high in a ponytail cascading passed her bottom in 1970s curls. From the back she looked every inch the teenage Olympian, if it were not for her booming voice that blasted her pre school class into bemused attention. And several of the parents, us included, into mild uneasiness. When the class was seperated in two and Boy was taken by another teacher the far end with several others we sighed with relief, only to have governess' ducklings booooomed at right in front of us near the end where we were sat, several parents striking into applause every time junior did a trick. I suddenly feel guilty of British reserve un reluctant am I to clap at Sam's every move. My joy is watching him enjoy doing it for the simple joy of doing it. His haminess is perfectly ingrained. I don't feel compelled to train him for the big finish or bow. I am more English than I suspected after all. I look over at Sam's two dad's (godpa and Pa) and their brows are furrowed deep with irritation at Ms Longlock. I wonder what Mr. Puerto Rico would have made of her platinum dye. In the distance Monkey monkeys about with his new friends, around him three or four different classes taking place in the hangar, including one lone 13 year old practicing her five hundred summersault tricks. Again and again and again. My eyes darted from lithe athlete to the next aghast at their focus and stick-to-it-ness as they pumped out gruelling excercise one after the other. My transverse ached just loking at them. And yes I do know where they are. Roughly.
Next day we attacked Disney. Armed with cynic-free shields and loaded with sugar ready bellies we stepped through to the other side. Well, drove, then hopped on a golf buggy, then hopped on a mono rail to be exact. Then got smuggled in for free by a kindly man who pretends to be Tigger and several animals in the Lion King down the way, a friend of one of the troupe. Once in, ready to pay for the boy, a perfect stranger gives us her spare coupon for a free ticket, originally given only to folk who had agreed to participate in the filming of Main street later that day. Once through to Magic land, our friends clued us in the secret ways of the Disney. Fast tracks, top rides, tips on where to go and not. How we would have navigated it without them still baffles me.
Mickey reminding us to “believe in our dreams” during his afternoon show as we left to catch the monorail then triple length golf cart ride back to our rental car, parked in Pluto’s section of the mammoth car park large enough to accommodate the entire nation’s automobiles should they decide to flock in on the same day. Luckily for us rare in early December. Back of the mickey-mobile, me wiping off my moustache plastered on for a speedy clip of my Mariela character getting down and groovy to the swelling Disney string anthems blaring out of speakers hidden in the character topiary and the stage atop the steps of Magic Kingdom’s castle. One eye carefully on the Disney “police”, men and women lining the pavement, dressed in uncharacteristically sombre uniforms, legs wide, feet planted firmly on the immaculate tarmac keeping visitors from crossing main street on account of a film crew’s work at the other end.
Between four self confessed ride-o-phobes, (Sam’s godfolk, husband and I) we barely mustered enough courage to accompany Boy on Aladdin’s genteel magic carpet ride, which, under his piloting, elicited the kind of screams usually heard from 300 m.p.h roller-coasters. Think of our terror then, when my best friend and I boarded what we though was Sea World’s log flume ride later in the week, only to discover, post 60 ft drop, that it was in fact a roller coaster. In pitch black. Exiting, drenched from five bucket loads of water lobbed at us for no good reason as far as I could tell, quivering from adrenalin and cackling at our obvious gullibility. Nothing sticks of chocolate dipped strawberries from the Christmas market, dotted along the palm tree lined lake, couldn’t remedy. Or gawping at the vaudeville prowess of their sea lions. Dolphins and killer whales lacked not in star quality either. Top prize however goes to Donald Duck’s turn in his 4-D movie. Magic glasses let me touch his feathers, smell of cherry pie pumped into the theatre, water splashed our face all to match the action.
No sooner had we done all this, as well as braved the outlet malls strewn with disbelieving British tourists laden with christmas shopping taking advantage of the prices it was almost time to bid them farewell. Not before a quick ride in a cab with the words Disney written on it's roof in multicoloured drawing pins, or being conned into paying $10 for a $3 journey by a cabby who did not switch on his meter. That'll learn us for being lured toward TJ Maxx. I also had the delight of watching my mate run the aisles of the Dollar store, where yes, everything is a dollar. Mops to chocolate to plastic popcorn holders to wooden bird boxes. Ode to la Chine! Both she and I also thought the lady's suitcase ahead of us in the line was included in the price, and, at seperate times asked her which aisle for the Samsonite luggage? Give an inch. Needless to say the lady laughed us off as if we were making jokes, but on seeing our perfectly serious expressions explained she had bought it across the road, for significantly more than, ahem, one dollar. Dollar stores maketh monsters, even if they are a secret obsession of mine.
Scrunching our belongings into our cases, including a space hopper or two for the boys for christmas from the godfolk, we bid teary farewells and headed into the skies for North Carolina. "First in Flight" written across most of the number plates here. Southern drawl to match. I never tire of being propelled into ever changing landscapes. From those swishing palms to the majestic fir and pine tree lined country roads of Durham. I handed in my mother’s license back in the fall at Costa Mesa, CA, when I massacred my son’s bangs. On our first day here, I turned in my wife’s license for poisoning my husband. Whilst gazing at said trees outside our Durham hotel home, husband holds up a small water bottle on the other side of the room and asks whether it’s free to drink. Absent mindedly I nod a yes only to feel the dreadful realisation hitting me in the chest, as he gags his way to the bathroom sink, that it is in fact dishwashing soap I had siphoned earlier. Frantically Googling advice I contact poison control who reassure us it is not life threatening. The throat burning sickly sensation is clearly painful. Ear Nose and Throat appointment to check the chords booked. Literally just scurried back to the computer from a crazed dash to newly acquired hotpot which I left heating up some milk for the patient only to subsequently burn the bottom. One of those days, on his first night no less.
The days that have followed have essentially been a time of hibernation with mini jaunts here and there to get a dose of that Carolinian twang pierced to memory. Especially from the meticulous postal worker who, very, very, very slowly, explained why my christmas card must be accompanied by a customs form on account of it's thickness and potential to be an object rather than mere correspondence. Did I mention slowly? Or that I had allowed only a quarter of an hour for my postal trip which might have expanded to half my day had I not, with as much politeness as I could muster begged his pardon and excused myself with a promise to return at a later date. With a customs form. For my hand made card.
We had a gym to get to you see. For our flipper. Who, by all accounts, made his dad's heart flip when he bounced his way down the inflatable tumble track only to leap about four feet in the air and flip himself round almost back to his feet. I know this is accurate because, unlike his wife, Cory is not pre disposed to exaggeration. Wife was, at this point, shopping the local mega mall for presents for her secret santa gift-ee. This year at the theatre names have been drawn, and unlike back home where one joke gift is exchanged on christmas eve during panto season before a sherry or two, here, many mini gifts are trickled through to the recipient, with the final present due to be exchanged next week in Arkansas before the week off for christmas. So far I am the proud owner of a rudolph Pez candy wotsit, a diary and a slinky. The latter nearly took Dad's eye out this morning and then mine when said Dad lobbed it out of his face from under the covers where Sam had dangled it to wake him up. Cory has been given a ginger bread house to be assembled and gorged with sugar and m&ms, a whoopee cushion and bean-o. For those Brits who may be trawling through these ramblings the latter is a food enzyme tablet which one takes should one be consuming gas causing fruits and veg. Personally I like to keep track of where my food is at all times and have a quiet appreciation for said gasses. Obviously, working alone a lot this disturbs no one but myself. In Cory's case his gastro activity is very much shared, on and off stage at every opportunity. It even warranted a mention in Whoopi Goldberg's biography in the chapter about her time on broadway with whom he performed in the early nineties.
Our hamper has been almost completely packed up, only two more sleeps till the wagon train moves on again. Not before squeezing in a whistle stop jog of the local civil war trails museum whence we got to witness real dressed up re-enacters re-enacting. Civil war style-y. Lady in big 1860s dress was twirling about her huge hearth, bacon bubbling in one corner atop a small pile of coals, pumpkin pie filling reducing in the over hanging kettle, onion soup filling the tiny, cold, wooden cottage with luscious smells, ham simmering in the far corner to boot. She, all farmer's wife vim and vigour took a moment to step out and talk with the men, who sat, sipping a dark whiskey looking something or other, talking with ancient drawls and taking turns to turn the Hog's head burnishing on the fire, sardonic grimace across it's face. We took a moment to spy their tents, play with old fashioned toys and run back to the hotel just in time to leave for the matinee. There, in the back waters of the theatre boy made one with Dad's whoopee cushion, farting his way through both acts. Pizzas have been inhaled at Mellow Mushroom, next the tobacco factory both of which this area is well known. After a slice and a bit via pesto covered lips, boy was dreaming in my arms. He lies in my view now, just over the top of the computer, tucked up in the middle of our bed, cradled in sheets.
I am about to light a candle in memory of my aunt Patricia, who three years ago today left us. It still feels so utterly recent and confusing. Someone, who, in all intents and purposes, appeared to be the kind of woman who sprints well into their nineties with unswerving vim. My second mum. I miss you as I always will. I feel you as close as I always did. Your Sam is growing into quite the little boy. He is going through a growth spurt and eating me out of house and home. He is at the age when you might have enjoyed hearing him truly appreciate your cooking. I practice as best I can, cooking I mean, your cooking bit I relay in detailed stories to him, though I fear some thirty years may have to pass before I can earn your cooking stripes.
And so it is. Another year whizzed by. This time last year Mum, Sam and I were huddled in a downtown Chicago church with lilting hispanic hymnals being sung heartfelt to the heavens. Now, on a cold, wet and windy night in Durham North Carolina I send you a little prayer of thanks from a quietened hotel room.
Wheresoever you may or may not be.