September 23, 2019
Essay

50th birthday Florida trip life-affirming Sense of distraction gives way to wonderment

I flew out of Bangor International Airport before the sun came up on a cold winter morning. If my mother’s memory is to be trusted – and who else would know better – the 5:30 a.m. departure marked the exact time I was born 50 years ago.

On a milestone birthday, I had deliberately planned a trip to Florida. Eliza, my 11-year-old daughter, was by my side, more than ready to take on the much-hyped kingdoms of Walt Disney World. For me, the 1,200-mile journey, followed by seven days away from our Bangor home, was not as much a present to myself as a distraction. For my wide-eyed daughter, it was something else.

I felt no mystical connection between being lifted into the air at the moment of my birth a half- century ago. I did feel cold sweat on my neck and face, a peri-menopausal state somewhat enhanced that morning by a flurry of preflight activity.

Somewhere between Bangor and Ohio, the first leg of our trip, a sense of wonderment took over. The flight was smooth, the often unpredictable winter air offering a seamless ride across the country’s heartland. Eliza asked the tired-looking stewardess about the major cities we would fly over.

I drank a diet Pepsi and eased back into my narrow seat, watching the pink sunrise. Maybe the next decade would be more about fulfilling dreams than finding ease for hot flashes and arthritis.

Another smooth flight from Cincinnati to Orlando and we were in the Sunshine State by 11:30 a.m. Mission accomplished, so far, if only I could define what the mission was. My kid blessedly exhibited no fear of flying, a condition quite prevalent in my family. I was definitely not feeling sorry for myself as we threw our lined jackets over our arms and, eyeing exotic flowers along the roadside, headed by bus for the car rental agency.

Taking a trip by airplane had been on my mind for a year before it happened. Time was winding down on Eliza’s young childhood, and if she was going to be spellbound by Disney World, it had to be soon, or so I thought. Maybe more than wanting my daughter to gain a greater view of the world was a mounting desire to do something big, something noticeable, with part of my life.

Not that I want to appear ungrateful. My first 50 years have been good ones, certainly filled with more than a few life-changing events. A writing career, a home, a healthy, loving daughter – many parts of the American Dream had come true for me.

But Bangor isn’t Hollywood. Neither was the central Maine mill town where I grew up. Life as an actress, singer, dancer, you name it as long as it spelled “STAR,” had evaded me, even as my fertile childhood and adolescent ambitions had reached out for it.

Gone are the days of belting out rock tunes in front of an old stand-up radio that took up important space in my room, in my life. I no longer dream of fame a la rockers

Janis Joplin or Stevie Nicks.

Those dreams are passed on to my daughter who, in her high, perfectly pitched voice is smoothing out her performing “take” on some new crooner named Nellie Furtado.

OK, I can’t have Hollywood but I can love the lights anyway. Maybe I’ll find time and energy to write a book. Self-acceptance ran rampant as I negotiated a car rental and headed for a hotel in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., about a mile outside Disney World.

On our first night in Florida, a full moon shined down on me and my daughter as we swam in a heated outdoor pool at the hotel. Steam rose from our bodies but we weren’t cold. It was mid-January and there wasn’t a snowbank in sight.

“I can’t wait to get some tanning in,” said Eliza.

The next day, she received what she considers her first “kiss,” a peck from the Walt Disney character Goofy. The “goofster” noticed her while posing for pictures at Epcot Center and seemed to appreciate Eliza’s new $22 hat, complete with floppy black ears, depicting him on a good day.

Showing few signs of travel lag, my daughter later waved energetically at wondrous, 20-foot-tall marionettes that swayed majestically in the breeze during the dreamlike “Tapestry of Dreams” parade at Epcot. She got noticed again, slapping high-fives with the larger-than-life figures. With some urging, I found myself attempting a modest version of a knee-slapping routine with a 15-foot-tall puppet that resembled the tin man in “The Wizard of Oz” movie.

The next day, we heard that Maine was getting a foot of heavy snow. Electric outages were rampant. At Sea World, Eliza and I danced down a boulevard near Shamu Stadium as singer James Brown belted out “Living in America,” following an exciting water show. Everyone around us was moving to the music, so it seemed fitting to shake it up a bit.

“Life can be fun even if you’re 50,” Eliza offers. She’s right. Bring it on.

Nancy Garland covers U.S. District Court and writes a biweekly column on adoption at the Bangor Daily News.


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