[dropcap]W[/dropcap]e coasted our U-Haul into Florida, mid-afternoon on July fourth. The first thing my mother did was eat a grouper sandwich. No beach, no fireworks. Her first move as a new Floridian would be wolfing down a slab of fish on a toasted bun.
And by God, that’s what she did.
My mother grew up seventeen hours from the Gulf of Mexico. Fresh-caught saltwater fish was something she’d only heard about. She’d tried to persuade Daddy to take a Florida vacation, but it never happened. He wasn’t about to drive all that distance just to eat a piece of fish and look at “a bunch of damn water.”
So, for her birthday, Daddy took her to Red Lobster. It was a sorry substitute. They didn’t even serve grouper there. She settled for the meager Gulf-Shrimp Platter.
And it was as close as she ever got to the Emerald Coast.
After Daddy died, Mother’s world went to hell in a bucket. She was a wreck. Sometimes she’d sit in her room for days on end, curled up in that chair of hers, like a ghost. She could go a week without talking if she wanted to. And often did.
But on that Fourth of July, we were new people. Floridians. And Floridians eat grouper sandwiches. I watched Mother eat her first one, it was an enormous hunk of fish. She almost dislocated her jaw getting a bite. Then, she did something I hadn’t seen her do in a long time.
She half smiled.
We’ve eaten grouper every Fourth of July since.