C.W. Gusewell

THE KANSAS CITY STAR

A family mosaic in the sand of Florida

The sharp smell of salt air, the shrill conversation of gulls, the rhythmic whisper of waves on a storm night … these are the constants that bring us back, year after year, to this island shore.

Some vacationers, I know, seek novelty. We prefer the familiar.

It was almost by accident that we discovered this lodging – then hardly more than a little cluster of aging cottages – on a trip to the gulf when our daughters were 7 and 8.

They’re women now, both accomplished professionals. And the resort has changed as well – the accommodations much upgraded, amenities added.

But for the girls, as for us, the attraction is no less than it was that night in the late 1970s when, exhausted by a long day of driving, we came upon the place without reservations and were lucky to find one cabin unoccupied.

A tempest blew in. Awake in the dark, we could hear wind-driven surf beating on the sand not 30 steps from our porch.

And we were forever hooked.

So almost as soon as the holidays are behind – many weeks before February edges on toward March – we begin imagining ahead to being here again.

And having found one cottage that especially suits us, we occupy it now for the third or fourth successive year. So it feels almost like coming home.

One of those early times, arriving near midnight because of a delayed flight, we were given the key to the wrong cabin, unlocked the door and caused a terrified sleeper to bound up, shouting, from his bed.

Another time, when the only lodging available had no kitchen, we managed to feed ourselves quite acceptably with nothing but an electric skillet and a plug-in coffee pot.

The fishing from the beach for sheepshead and sea trout was excellent, and both were fine eating. Blue crabs we caught off the dock of the marina and boiled them to perfection in the coffee pot.

There’s a central dining facility at the place, with tables indoors and an outer deck for breakfast. The great glass-walled restaurant is like something out of a Somerset Maugham tropical fiction, flooded with sunlight and a murmur of animated conversation.

One March, on our last morning, we asked the dining manager if he would have a cake prepared to celebrate our younger daughter’s birthday.

We meant it only as a treat for the family.

But that evening, when the great confection was presented, it was a lemon sheet cake only slightly smaller than the top of a desk.

With no possibility of transporting it home, we shared it with the 50 or more other diners in the room.

It’s such capricious events – along with crimson sunsets, squadrons of sandpipers scurrying and fabulous shells found cast up by the tide – that are bookmarks in the ongoing story of our years together.