Friday, February 24, 2023
The Diving Girl
I left Jacksonville early yesterday morning for the long drive south to rejoin Dave and his parents in Bradenton. It's about a five-hour trip by the most direct route, and I wanted to have a little adventure. I decided to go via Avon Park, a small town in the center of the state where my great-grandparents lived and where my maternal grandmother was born.
I was last there about 20 years ago, I think. I considered a couple of different routes, and I desperately wanted to avoid Interstate 4 if possible. (If there's a more miserable road in Florida than I-4, I don't know what it is.) Google maps gave me an option that started at I-95 in Cocoa Beach and routed me along tiny backroads through Osceola County, but that seemed a little too adventurous. One of those roads wasn't even paved!
So in the end, I stuck with I-95 to I-4, and then I-4 to U.S. 27 South. As expected, I-4 was dreary, but I survived.
When I pulled in to Avon Park -- which, by the way, was named after Stratford-Upon-Avon in England -- the first thing I did was stop at Bougainvillea Cemetery and visit my great-grandparents' graves. My great-grandfather, who was the station master for the railroad, died long before I was born. But I remember my great-grandmother, who died in 1974.
They lived in this house, which isn't in great shape these days, but it must be more than 100 years old. My great-grandmother used to have lots of flowers -- in fact, she won ribbons in flower competitions, which we still have. It was always a highlight of my visits with her to be able to pick some of the exotic flowers in her side yard, like hibiscus and shrimp plant. (Avon Park is farther south than where we lived in Pasco County, so her tropical flowers flourished.)
I walked down the Mall, a wide strip of park between the east- and west-bound lanes of Main Street, past the historic Jacaranda Hotel.
A red kapok tree in front of the hotel had dropped some of its weird, Jurassic-looking flowers.
I stopped for lunch at the nearby Diving Girl Diner.
Here's the story behind the name: For years, one of the most famous landmarks in Avon Park was the sign for Reed's Motel on U.S. 27. (It's purely a coincidence that it was named Reed's -- my family members in Avon Park were Conoleys, not Reeds, and as far as I know I'm not related to the motel owners at all.) I was disappointed to see recently on Google Street View that the sign had been taken down.
When I mentioned it in the diner, my waitress said, "Oh, she's on display right down the street. She weighs 600 pounds!" Turns out someone bought the diving girl and put her in the window of a shop called Pure Grit, where she makes a fancy shelf for cowboy hats.
So I'm glad to see the girl has survived. I think one of these days she probably ought to go into the local museum. If it can accommodate a 600-pound sign, that is. (Maybe that was the whole sign. Could the girl alone really weigh that much?)
Anyway, my lunch at the diner was great -- I had a cup of black bean soup and a half cuban sandwich (my receipt called it the "Miami Beach"). The waitress saved my dying phone by allowing me to plug it in for a charge, for which I am eternally grateful.
And then I set off for the drive west to Bradenton, where I arrived in time to appreciate the sunset over Sarasota Bay and go out for a fish dinner -- complete with martini!
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Outstanding There Mr Reed - And That Old House, What A Trip Of Memories - Are Your Dreams Crazy Or What While You Are Sleeping - Massive Headstone There - Good On You For Adventuring On
Keep On Keeping On,
Avon Park is a pretty little place. Of course I haven't been there in eons. You did indeed take the back roads!
I am completely intrigued and in love with diving girl.
And here's something odd- I never in my life was close up to a kapok blossom! How can that even be?
Anyway, thanks for taking us along on your journey!
I'm very glad you chatted with the waitress and found diving girl. Yes, she should be preserved. But anyway she's indoors now, not being in the weather.
I like your making a side trip, getting the most out of your time.
I am glad that the owners of the True Grit Boot Company had the vision and the wherewithal to save the iconic sign of the diving girl for posterity. It's a bit surprising that you didn't pop in there to buy yourself a nice stetson to make you look more cool when walking the mean streets of West Hampstead.
I am glad you got a chance to visit the town where your great-grandparents lived. You are collecting lots of old family memories on this trip. Would you and Dave ever move back to the US?
Love those trips on the back roads and old signage! Sounds like you need one of those plugs for the lighter socket for your phone which are readily available in the US. I had to get one for the 4 hour drive I take these days over the backroads of the CA Central Valley to visit my daughter and grand boy. xx0 N2
what a fun little side trip. we prefer to travel on the back roads but maybe not so much on unpaved roads though we have gone down a few of those too.I don't think I've ever heard of or seen a kapok tree or flower. the flowers are big! and the diving girl could weigh that much if she's made out of steel. I had a piece of ¼" steel about 8" x 10" and it was heavy!
What a small world. My great grandparents spent their retirement in Ft. Myers but my grandparents spent 25 years of their retirement in Sebring, just a stones throw south of Avon Park. So I passed by that town many a time but never stopped since I was just ready to get out of the car after I-4.
What a wonderful journey you had there. I love that you get to walk around places that your great-grandparents may have walked. Such a rich history. Makes me think about how far I'd have to go to walk where my great-grandparents walked. Yikes... I'd have to fly to Galicia, Poland or Kyiv.
What a nice little solo adventure for you! You seem to be making the most of your Florida trip. A big change from London, I'll bet.
I've never heard of a red kapok tree. The bloom is beautiful and looks very large! Is that a native tree or an Asian import?
Sounds like a great day! I'm exactly the same. I go out of my way to avoid boring roads if at all possible. I love the sign. It reminds me of one at a motel in Mesa. I need to drive out there and see if still exists.
600 pound sign--wow!! It sounds like you're having good eats and adventures.
I love old neon. Tucson has a diving girl, but I don't think she illuminates anymore.
Re: the china. You'd have to have it professionally packed, and include the cost in the price. Or specify local pickup only.
You are certainly ticking the memory boxes. I hope they are all happy memories.
My wife's sister (and last sibling) died a few months ago after living in Venice (near Bradenton) for many years. Their parents lived in Nokomis until they, too, passed. All of them, of course, from Indiana.
I'm glad the diving girl was saved!
I like the look of the Jacaranda Hotel. Now I have to google cuban sandwich.
Another great tour. Thanks. I hope the drive brought back sweet memories. Imagine the diving girl as wall art in your home. (I'd have it professionally mounted.) Is conch pronounced conk all over Florida or is that just a Key West thing?
That sounds like a wonderful walk back in time. I love visiting places like that and also the cemeteries of my people. All that, and a terrific lunch too!
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