The Grossies Take S. Augustine
by Stacey Lutz

We called them the Grossie trips. They were usually spur of the moment decisions to take a fun-filled family vacation, but invariably, they ended with my sister, Rosie, and me crying and begging to go home, Clyde, Jr. and Daddy demanding no more crying and more fun-having and Momma and Cindy mediating between the two super-powers: the dictators of enjoyment and the unamused children.

This particular vacation was the Friday night, Busch Beer induced, econo-St. Augustine beach trip. Clyde and Cindy, our parents' best friends (who were childless and thought it was great fun to come over and experience the never-ending challenge of two elementary-aged girls) had come over for the Canasta Championships. That meant that Daddy and Clyde would be doing their best under-the-table card passing and diversionary tactics of the summer. About a case into the festivities, the masters of the card-sharking universe decided that it was vacation time. No money? That was no problem; we had a miniature Hibatchi grill, frozen hamburger meat and always plenty of beer money. So, we were off.

When the loaded down land yacht, otherwise known as our seven-year old Buick landed in St. Augustine at 11:48 that Friday night, the search was on to find the cheapest hotel room on the Florida coast. Rosie and I, having been promised hamburgers and potato chips on arrival, were demanding our payment while we drove up and down the strip looking for the cheapest room, then any room, and finally, the only room left in the St. Augustine Ho-Jo.

When we finally reached our seaside paradise, we broke out the Hibatchi for the long awaited burgers. After a friendly discussion between the two sides of adults, the ones who were and the ones who were not drunk, Daddy and Clyde decided that yes, the best location for grilling was not between the two double beds but out on the balcony and headed out to prepare our meal. Once there, two immediate problems arose: 1) the Hibatchi, the crux of the econo-trip, would not hold its flame in the sea breeze and 2) the hamburgers were still frozen bricks of ground beef. That's when the crying started.

"We're starving," Rosie and I wailed.

"The grill will be ready in two minutes. Rena, do something with those girls," Daddy said.

Daddy and Clyde emerged from the balcony thirty minutes later with their creations - still frozen solid in the middle but charcoal black on the edges. "Let's eat before they get cold." Cold, hah, that was a joke; they were still frozen. But, even at seven, I had learned that late and that many beers into the night was not the time to question the masters of Hibatchi grilling. "Where's the bread?" (No buns were allowed for in the econo-budget.)

"The children can't eat those," Cindy said while Momma gave her a grateful look that she didn't have to be the one to say it. "They're raw."

"What do you mean? They're just rare," Clyde said. He and Daddy exchanged knowing glances; they would have to go first. Sputtering and cursing, they fixed their own bread and downed the half-raw meat. "They're perfect."

"I don't like hamburgers anymore," Rosie pleaded.

"Can't we go get McDonald's for the girls?" Momma asked.

"Hell no, there's nothing wrong with these. We ate them. We're not wasting money on something we already have," Daddy said.

Thirty minutes and a K.F.C. later, Rosie and I had chicken, not hamburgers, and we were headed back to resume our vacation fun. Momma and Cindy ate nothing. They, of course, were forbidden to partake of the enemy food from K.F.C. If they couldn't eat the food their providers had grilled, they wouldn't eat at all.

* * * * * * * * *

The next morning, Rosie and I were up with the sun. It was Saturday, and our cartoon alarm clocks were alive and well, even at the beach. St. Augustine had promised a world-class Grossie sight-seeing tour, and we were ready. Obviously, the econo-budget did not allow for a guided version of the tour, but Momma and Cindy had big plans for the day's festivities. They had mapped out the day using the complimentary brochures left in the hotel room, and they had planned for all of the must-sees the night before after we had gone to bed and the boys had passed out.

Unfortunately, with the morning light came also another set of waking beasts: the former grill masters turned headachy hangover lumps. The combination of their culinary arts project and the large quantity of beer from the previous night were churning in their guts, but they would never admit feeling anything but ready to tackle the second leg of our "vacation". So, we were off.

Now, Momma and Cindy were a little less than forgiving. After not eating the night before, they had a score to settle, and the boys had to go along because if they didn't, it would mean admitting that the night before had been more than they could handle. The guys were pretty good sports through the Alligator Farm, the St. Augustine Fort and Ripley's Believe it or Not, but at the beginning of the walking tour of Old St. Augustine, they erupted.

"Where the hell are we going now?"

"The girls want to visit the oldest school and go watch the candy making," Momma said.

"They can watch you make candy at home. I'm sick of this shit," Daddy said. "We've been everywhere else you wanted to go; it's time to go back to the room. Let's go." Now, by this time, the sun had baked all of us, but Daddy and Clyde were really in pretty bad shape. They reeked of the sickening-sweet smell of alcohol sweat, and their temples were pounding. "We'll go back and take a nap while you and Cindy take the girls to the beach."

This sounded like a great idea to Rosie and me, and Momma knew better than to try this argument down on the street, so it was back to the Ho-Jo. When we arrived, though, the fun started again. "The best cure for a hangover is just one beer," Daddy told Clyde. Clyde didn't have any medical information to dispute this claim, and I figured he thought it couldn't hurt, so he and Daddy had their medicine in a can while we headed off for some girl time. Now, I thought this actually would be great because Momma and Cindy were a lot more fun without Daddy and Clyde, but my idea soon changed.

"Yeah, that'd be great if they would only have one," Momma said as soon as we were out of earshot.

"At least we'll get a good supper," Cindy said.

I didn't understand what they meant at all, but I understood perfectly why we couldn't leave the boys alone very long in the mountains of Busch. By the time we did get back, they were pretty well back on their way to cheerful and wanted to know where we were going to have dinner. This meal had been well planned into the econo-budget. By this time, they had figured that the beer would be running low and supplies would be necessary. This posed a greater problem, though. After drinking only beer for Friday night and all of Saturday afternoon, their delicate palettes needed some variety, so there were two requirements for our evening dining pleasure: a bar and seafood.

Cindy remembered that in her Pre-Grossie life she had been to St. Augustine and had eaten at the Santa Maria. There, she said that the guys could drink from the bar, the food was good, and, best of all, we could sit beside the water where Rosie and I could feed the fish. This sounded like a carnival to me - attractions for all. All that was missing was the bearded lady, and Clyde could maybe do that after a few more drinks.

The Santa Maria was all that Cindy had promised. As we walked down the pier toward the restaurant, Rosie broke into a frenzied sprint yelling, "Look at the kittens." Momma then did some running of her own. Rosie's kittens turned out to be foot-long wharf rats, but that was fine with us. After a brief run down of the rules, (no running, no catching the "kittens", no balancing on the pier pilings, and no toes in the water) we found an empty bench on which to wait for our names to be called.

I don't remember much about the food, but the atmosphere was wonderful. Daddy and Clyde were so happy with the bar that they let Rosie and me order a drink ourselves.

"I'd like a Shirley Temple, please," I said in my most polite southern drawl, and Rosie followed suit.

Between pinching bread ends and throwing them to the ravenous fish frenzy below our window and the giddy, floating feeling from our placebo drinks, Rosie and I were thrilled. Momma and Cindy said the food was delicious, and we believed them. Daddy and Clyde matched us drink for drink, and by the end of our magical evening, the econo-budget was a thing of the past.

We soared back to the Ho-Jo with the fiasco of our first night in St. Augustine a distant memory and settled into our sleeping bags on the floor. I think the adults actually managed to get in a match of canasta that night.

The next morning we had plenty of time to get ready for our return home. There was nothing to pack up because we hadn't brought anything with us but the food and a change of clothes, and all of the consumables (except for the leftover "rare hamburgers") were long gone. So, we said good-bye to St. Augustine and finished another of the exciting Grossie vacations.