Friday, March 12, 2010

"Lovely to Look At" (continued)

Yesterday I wrote about McKee Jungle Garden and all of its quirky-ness.  You might wonder why and how I knew so much about one of Florida's old-time attractions.  We lived in Vero Beach, the home of the Garden and for a few years (I'm not sure how long anymore), my grandparents lived there too and worked for McKee's. 

Gram worked with Dr. David Fairburn (the man in charge at the time).  She worked in the Orchid House.  She helped with all aspects of the orchids....planting and transplanting, pruning, making cuttings, and making orchid corsages that were sold in the Gift Shop and other places. 

Gramps was sort of a general-all-around-something.  I'm not sure I ever knew what his title really was.  He made rounds through the Garden at closing time and then again during the night.  He was a greeter, and ticket seller sometimes, he took care of the parrots, and he occasionally gave tours.  He was a little bit of everything.

There was a small house on the grounds, in the non-public areas, that went with the job and that's where they lived.  It was the perfect arrangement for an older couple.  I remember spending many Saturdays and Sunday visiting Gram and Gramps, often overnights. 

The Gardens closed at 5:00 p.m.  It wasn't set up for nighttime activity.  But at 5:00 p.m. there is still lots of light left in the summer....and that is when I took over!!

The Gardens became my own "estate".  I pretty much had free rein, the only places I could not go were the  alligators' enclosure and the undeveloped areas of the property.  I could be Guinivere and the Gardens were Camelot!  I could be Juliet and know that Romeo was fighting through the jungle to get to me....nevermind that I was pretty sketchy on the rest of the story, I made up my own.  Tarzan and Jane....Admiral Byrd discovering whichever pole he imagination was up to the challenge.  I went all over the world in my Garden!!

I was never bored!  I could pound away on the huge drums Sexton brought back from Africa.  I could pretend to cook in the outdoor Spanish Kitchen.  I must have gotten "married" in the Royal Palm Grove a gazillion times.  I explored the Gardens from up and down and backward and forward and I ended up knowing it like the back of my hand.

During the hours that the park was open, I still spent a lot of time playing there, but I was a whole lot less visible!  Looking back on those days, I'm pretty sure that Dr. Fairburn and the rest of the staff knew I had made myself at home.  Evidently, however, I was so well behaved that they just accepted that I was there a lot!

I would walk with Gramps on his walkthrough at closing time.  We had some great conversations.  Other times I would sit with Gram in the Orchid House while she worked with the plants.  I'm sure I pretty much talked her ear off, but when I was getting too restless she would send me out to play in this wonderful fantasy land! 

I suppose I didn't really go out to the Gardens as often and I think I did, but it doesn't matter.  My memories of that time and place  live in a special place in my heart and always will.  

After we had all moved away, and I was grown up, and married, we took Ratchlet on vacation with us when she was about 4 (that was in 1970, before the Gardens were sold and nearly abandoned.)  We of course, visited McKee's.  Ratchlet and the Big Guy both enjoyed it, but I was  back in my own private daydream, which can never be taken away. 

I haven't been back to the Garden since it re-opened in its 2nd life.  But I will one day!

It was truly a wonderful, magical place and to a small 9-10 year old girl, it was a whole lot more than just "Lovely to Look At!" 


1 comment:

  1. Oh this does sound like such a wonderful place for a child to dream. I'm sure this must be part of the reason you are such a "thinker" and writer. Anyone who is able to let their imagination run free is also being encouraged to think and dream. What magical dreams you must have had. laurie


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