The beach road was lined with palm trees. In fact, according to the brochure that I picked up at the visitor’s center when we entered the state, Florida is the land of palm trees.
The state tree is the Sabal Palm, also known as the “cabbage palm,” for its cabbage-like crown that bushes out at the top. People have been eating the cabbage palm for centuries—not the bushy fronds at the top, but the soft pulp inside of the trunk. The native people who lived in Florida before the Spanish arrived cut the pulp out of the palm and boiled it to make “cabbage soup.”
The Royal Palm is the other palm native to Florida. But what a different looking tree from the cabbage palm. The Royal Palm looks like it was fabricated for a movie set. Straight as an arrow, with a trunk that looks like it was made from poured concrete. At the top there’s a bright green collar where perfectly formed palm fronds fan out in all directions.
Royal Palms line many of Florida’s streets, especially the streets of the super wealthy. The brochure didn’t say this. I figured it out as we drove through West Palm Beach, a resort town for rich people from the North.
“How much longer do we have to go?” Sue asked, tired of listening to me babble on about palm trees.
“About half an hour,” Mom replied.
“How will we get in?” Diane asked.
“The next-door neighbor has a key.”
“What will we do first?” I asked.
“Is her house on the beach?” Sue asked.
“No, but it’s close,” Mom replied, shifting uneasily in her seat, “about a block away.”
Mom was right. About a half hour later we pulled off the road in front of a small beach house tucked beneath a couple of palm trees.
“Well, this is it,” Mom said, sighing with relief.
“I get to pick my bedroom first!” Diane exclaimed.
“Why do you get to pick first?” Sue asked.
“’Cause I’m the oldest.”
“It’s not fair,” Sue replied.
“Now girls,” Mom interrupted, “settle down, besides Bill needs a room by himself. He gets first pick.”
“Ah-h-h,” Sue and Diane sighed in unison.
I might be the youngest, but being the only boy has its advantages.
While Mom and Diane went to get the key from the next-door neighbor, Sue and I scouted out the yard. It was mostly covered with grass, with a few scraggly cabbage palms here and there. Two large Royal Palms grew at either end of the front porch. Other than that a row of bushes sprouting large red flowers dotted the property line at the back of the house.
“Where’s the beach?” I asked, looking around to see if I could catch a glimpse of it.
“That way,” Sue replied, pointing toward the beach road. “I think I can hear the waves breaking.”
We stood still, craning our heads in the direction of the beach road, but all we heard was the occasional whirr of cars driving by. When Mom and Diane returned, we scrambled up the front steps of the house and waited for Mom to unlock the door.
The front room was dark, lit only by sunlight streaming in through the front door. Once we raised the window blinds, we could see the furniture, which was a whole lot different than the furniture in Texas. In Texas everything was dark and heavy. Here, it was light and airy.
My grandmother liked furniture. But more than furniture, she liked real estate. She must have because she owned a lot of it: a townhouse in Manhattan, a bungalow on Staten Island, a small hotel on the Jersey shore, and this, her little “get-away” in South Florida.
If you met my grandmother on the street you’d never know this. You’d swear she was homeless. She hated to dress up, spurned make-up, never wore jewelry, and walked everywhere. At the same time, she was worth a gazillion dollars.
At least that’s what Diane said.