DOWN THE HIGHWAY KIDS

I WAS A “DOWN THE HIGHWAY” KID.  GROWING UP IN SANTA ROSA SHORES FIVE MILES DOWN THE HIGHWAY FROM GULF BREEZE SAID SOMETHING ABOUT WHERE I WAS IN THE HIERARCHY OF LIFE.  ONLY I HAD NO IDEA WHERE I WAS IN THIS HIERARCHY UNTIL SOMEONE TOLD ME WHEN I WAS IN THE 8TH GRADE. 

DURING CHRISTMAS BREAK OF 4TH GRADE, MY DADDY TRANSFERRED TO PENSACOLA, FLORIDA FROM MONTGOMERY, ALABAMA WHERE WE HAD LIVED FOR A LITTLE OVER A YEAR.  HE WAS IN BANKING; WE MOVED TO ADVANCE HIS CAREER.  MY SISTER WAS BORN IN 1970.  AT THREE MONTHS OLD SHE HAD HER FIRST BOUT WITH ASTHMA AND PNEUMONIA.  THIS WAS THE BEGINNING OF HER STAYS IN THE HOSPITAL WHICH MEANT MY MOTHER WAS GONE, AND I WAS AT HOME WITH DADDY.  I MISSED MOTHER, BUT DADDY TOOK GREAT CARE OF ME.  MOTHER STILL MANAGED OUR HOUSEHOLD FROM THE HOSPITAL AS BEST SHE COULD. 

WHEN WE MOVED TO PENSACOLA, MOTHER SCRAMBLED AND FOUND US A HOUSE TO RENT EVEN THOUGH MY SISTER, AND MY MOTHER WENT TO THE HOSPITAL.  AFTER CHRISTMAS BREAK, I STARTED A NEW SCHOOL.  MY SECOND SCHOOL IN 4TH GRADE.  AT THE BEGINNING YEAR, I ATTENDED SCHOOL IN MONTGOMERY.  THIS NEW SCHOOL IN PENSACOLA WAS MY ONLY MEMORY OF BEING MISERABLE IN MY CHILDHOOD.  THE CHILDREN WERE MEAN; THE TEACHER WAS MEANER.  I HAD A STOMACH ACHE EVERY MORNING AND BEGGED DADDY TO LET ME STAY HOME.  DADDY KNEW I WASN’T SICK.  SO, OFF TO SCHOOL, I WENT.  I DIDN’T WANT TO WORRY MOTHER AND DADDY, BUT I FINALLY CONFESSED MY MISERY.  I THINK WE ALL FELT OUT OF PLACE AT THAT LITTLE HOUSE.  MOTHER PROMPTLY FOUND US A NEW LITTLE HOUSE IN SANTA ROSA SHORES.  I STILL REMEMBER THE NIGHT WE MET MR. LD DRANE AND HIS WIFE TO PAY OUR DEPOSIT AND 1ST MONTH’S RENT ON OUR NEW HOME ON MAPLEWOOD DRIVE.  THIS HOME WAS MY REFUGE, A NEW PARADISE FOR ME.

I TRANSFERRED TO GULF BREEZE ELEMENTARY, MY THIRD AND LAST MOVE IN MY 4TH GRADE YEAR.  I CAN STILL REMEMBER THE COOL POD ARCHITECTURE AND THE NEW PEOPLE I MET.  I WOULDN’T SAY  WAS INCLUDED IN THE COOL GROUP, BUT I CERTAINLY WASN’T SHUNNED.  WHAT I DID HAVE WAS THE KIDS FROM MY NEIGHBORHOOD, SANTA ROSA SHORES.  MY FIRST FRIENDS WERE LAURA JOHNSTON AND THERESA MARKHAM.  LAURA AND THERESA WERE NEXT-DOOR NEIGHBORS; THEY BOTH LIVED ONE STREET BEHIND ME.  I COULD SEE LAURA’S HOUSE FROM MY BACKYARD.  WE PLAYED OUTSIDE.  WE JOINED GIRL SCOUTS.  LAURA’S MOTHER WAS OUR GIRL SCOUT LEADER.  WE WENT ON AN OVERNIGHT CAMPOUT ONE TIME, MY LAST.  I REMEMBER EARNING BADGES.  WHAT I REMEMBER MOST IS  THE FRIENDSHIP AND PLAYING AT HER HOUSE AND HER PLAYING AT MINE. THIS FRIENDSHIP WAS THE FOUNDATION FOR MY HAPPY MEMORIES IN SANTA ROSA SHORES. 

IN 6TH GRADE, MY PARENTS BOUGHT A HOUSE ON REDWOOD LANE DOWN THE STREET FROM OUR MAPLEWOOD RENTAL.  I HAD FRIENDS ALL AROUND ME.  WE RODE OUR BIKES. WE SWAM IN THE CANALS.  WE WENT TO OVER TO THE BEACHSIDE. WE PLAYED SOFTBALL IN MY BACKYARD AND OUR ADJOINING NEIGHBORS, THE DUGAN’S BACKYARD.  AMANDA CARRIGAN WAS OUR BEST HITTER.  SHE HAD ONE ARM- THE RESULT OF A CHILDHOOD ACCIDENT. 

GROWING UP I DIDN’T  HAVE MANY CLOSE FRIENDS WHO LIVED IN GULF BREEZE PROPER.  DADDY TOOK ME TO SCHOOL IN THE MORNING.  IN THE AFTERNOON, I RODE THE BUS HOME.  THE BUS STOPPED AT VILLA VENICE, WHISPER BAY, ORIOLE BEACH, SANTA ROSA SHORES, HOLLY BY THE SEA, LAGNIAPPE BEACH, AND LASTLY THE KIDS IN MIDWAY GOT OFF.  MIDWAY IS WAS HOME TO THE LANDFILL. THEY DIDN’T EVEN HAVE A POETIC SOUNDING NAME FOR WHERE THEY LIVED.  THEY JUST LIVED IN MIDWAY.  IT WAS MORE OF USEFUL NAME DENOTING MIDWAY TO SOMEWHERE DOWN HIGHWAY 98. NO ONE EVER SAID ANYTHING NEGATIVE ABOUT THE MIDWAY KIDS, BUT I DO REMEMBER WONDERING WHAT IT MUST FEEL LIKE LIVING NEAR A PILE OF TRASH.  I DIDN’T REALIZE IT AT THE TIME, BUT WE ALL DID HAVE OUR CLIQUES. 

EACH NEIGHBORHOOD THOUGHT THEIRS WAS THE BEST.

WHEN I WAS IN 7TH GRADE, I BECAME BEST FRIENDS WITH A GIRL WHO LIVED IN THE CITY LIMITS OF GULF BREEZE.  SHE WAS PART OF A COOL GROUP; HER OLDER BROTHER PLAYED FOOTBALL AND HAD MANY POPULAR FRIENDS.  I WAS 12, AND SOON I STARTED SPENDING QUITE A BIT OF TIME IN GULF BREEZE.  I NEVER FELT LIKE I DIDN’T BELONG, NOR DID I FEEL DIFFERENT. UNTIL ONE DAY WHEN I WAS IN THE 8TH GRADE SOMEONE SAID TO ME, “OH, YOU ARE A ‘DOWN THE HIGHWAY’ KID.” 

AT THAT POINT, I FELT SEPARATE.  I WAS AN OUTSIDER IN THIS GROUP OF KIDS.  I WAS A DOWN THE HIGHWAY KID.  A SAFE SPACE FILLED WITH A MULTITUDE OF KIDS WHO RODE THEIR BIKES TOGETHER, WHO PLAYED OUTSIDE TOGETHER DAILY, WHO SWAM TOGETHER WITHOUT ADULT SUPERVISION.  WE ALL HELD EACH OTHER ACCOUNTABLE. WE WERE GOOD KIDS.  WE WERE FAMILY.  I DON’T HAVE ONE NEGATIVE MEMORY LIVING IN SANTA ROSA SHORES.  I LIVED THERE FROM 4TH GRADE UNTIL WE MOVED IN MY 9TH GRADE YEAR.  IT WAS THE PROVERBIAL IDYLLIC CHILDHOOD SPENT AMONG CHILDREN FROM A VARIETY OF FAMILIES. DIVORCED PARENTS, A MOTHER WHO WAS A COCKTAIL WAITRESS, A FATHER WHO SUFFERED FROM DEPRESSION RESULTING IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD CHILDREN NOT BEING ALLOWED IN THEIR HOUSE, HIPPIES, CHURCH GOING FAMILIES, FAMILIES WHO DID NOT GO TO CHURCH.  WE WERE ALL PART OF SOMETHING SPECIAL IN THAT PLACE DOWN THE HIGHWAY. 

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