Savoring Sarasota: Nokomis Groves

    First it was Paris, then London, then Bordeaux and the Dordogne. On each of our recent trips to Europe, I’ve blogged daily, zeroing in on specific places and spaces to capture the essence of the cities and towns we’ve seen. But what about when we’re not on a trip, but just living our lives in Florida or Illinois? Today, I’m making a new effort to encapsulate a bit of life at home.



“When you’re dead, you’re dead. And until then, there’s ice cream.” –The Mentalist, spoken by the character Patrick Jane, 2011

”Celebrating Our 69th Year” says the sign drilled into the orange corrugated metal wall. What a coincidence! So am I! Well, I won’t be celebrating until July, but no matter. Nokomis Groves, a side trip off the Venice main drag, need not be for a special occasion.
Back in ’49, only citrus orchards flanked Albee Farm Road – was it even paved then? — and farm vehicles, not SUVs, rumbled along. Today a smattering of condos and ranch-style homes have cropped up. Not far away, cars zip along I-75 and Publix and McDonald’s are a stone’s throw away on Tamiami Trail, the pretty name for U.S. 41. Still, this is definitely the outskirts of town – no stop lights or traffic jams.

The parking lot paved with crunchy shells led us to the cheery orange metal building with the hand-painted mural of an orange-picker on its north wall. I poked my head inside. The citrus packing paraphernalia wasn’t in operation, but the store itself bustled with looky-loos. Center stage, a big Easter bunny was perched on top of a red tractor. Oranges, grapefruits, and tangerines were piled high for the picking, and a hand-lettered sign pointed to fresh pies in the dairy case. Florida tchotchkes of all sorts were on display … the usual seashell plaques, starfish dish towels, and plastic dolphin figurines. Jars of marmalades and jellies in glistening shades of amber, ruby, and garnet lined long shelves. Above them hung a row of framed replicas of vintage orange growers’ advertisements – Juice King, Blue Heron, Golden Sunset. Neon colored tee shirts proclaiming “I survived the ice cream line at Nokomis Groves” dangled behind the register, tempting the tourists.

But, we didn’t come for the honeybells or valencias or a day-glo tee shirt. We came for the ice cream, and we weren’t alone. Out front two long lines of snowbirds trickled back from two windows labeled “Place orders here” and “Pick up.” Ahead of us, a small flock with Cincinnati twangs weighed their options: Orange? Pineapple? Large or small? They eyed the other folks at the pick-up line to see what looked best. Mike and I, aficionados of the stuff, had already made up our minds.

The wait wasn’t so long, and we were in the shade. Our turn at the window: Orange and vanilla swirl for him, a lime and chocolate swirl for me –in a cup, please. Who needs to waste calories on a cone? Moving into the pick-up line, we waited only a minute or so before a teenage boy reached out over the counter and handed us our concoctions.

Under the building’s overhang, Florida-garbed visitors savored their treats while roosting on the two rows of well-worn benches. We scored a spot and joined them, happy to start scooping. How does one describe Nokomis Groves ice cream? The tangy lime, the subtly sweet chocolate harmonize sublimely. If the swirls of goodness were musicians, they might be Simon and Garfunkel, or Sonny and Cher, or Peaches and Herb. Mike’s sunrise orange and snow white vanilla swirls were just as luscious. His plastic spoon scraped the bottom of his cup all too fast. I took my time and concentrated on getting a swath of lime and a swath of chocolate on every spoonful. Oh my!

Indulge yourself! All season, Nokomis Groves churns up a cool blast from Florida’s past. What could be sweeter?


Sue’s Flights of Fancy

“We are Stewardesses for NWA

To some it’s work; to us it’s play

Wings tipped with gold and uniforms blue

To our home in the sky we will always be true.” — Song sung at Northwest Airline stewardess training, 1950

Sue Brosnahan was ready to escape dorm curfews, required chapel attendance, and other in loco parentis rules. But what does a young woman do with an English degree from the College of St. Teresa in Winona, Minnesota? Classmates were taking the traditional route – becoming teachers, getting married—but not our Sue. Instead, she took to the skies as a stewardess.

Sue sent letters of inquiry, filled out applications, and attended open interviews. Not every smart young woman who applied fit the bill. Only unmarried women between the ages of twenty-one and twenty-eight could apply. Sue squeaked into the appropriate height range of five feet two inches to five feet seven inches, and her weight didn’t come close to one hundred and thirty pounds, so she met two other basic requirements. Ditto her lack of eyeglasses or removable dentures, complexion issues, or crooked teeth – all disqualifiers for stewardesses.

Before she met an interviewer at Northwest Airlines, she submitted the requested two photos of herself – one a full-length view and one close-up– so they could make sure she was attractive enough to don flight wings and a perky cap. When interviewed, Sue apparently displayed the “poise, tact, friendliness, charm, and dependability” they sought, and soon after graduation, she was on her way to stewardess class, a four-week “free” training where she earned no salary. Training taught her and the other newbies about weather maps, trip planning, good posture, and serving drinks, along with some team-building fun. Together they sang parodied songs, including one to the tune of “Bell Bottom Trousers” which begins:

“Now that I’m with Northwest and flying on the line

I have to keep on dieting to keep my figure in line.

       My hair’s been cut; my brows are plucked

        My lips are fashioned too –

If you can recognize me, that’s more than others do.”

At the end of training, a senior interviewer’s letter informed her that “girls are assigned to work as rapidly as the needs of the service require.” (Yes, the letter says “girls”.) By September, Sue was officially a Northwest stewardess, earning one hundred eighty dollars a month. Her contract stipulated that if she married, she was to give two weeks’ notice and that her employment would be immediately terminated. She was on her way!

When commercial aviation began in the 30’s, airlines employed nurses dressed in whites to assure passenger safety. By the late 60’s, stewardesses were wearing wildly colored mini-skirts and go-go boots. In the postwar era, airlines adopted a military style. Sue proudly wore a navy blue suit cinched at the waist with a wide belt, a crisp white blouse, a navy cap, and high heels. As per the rules, her slender body was encased in a girdle. Passengers, mostly businessmen in suits and ties, stretched out in wide upholstered seats, propping their wing-tip clad feet on foot rests. Sue and her fellow stews didn’t dole out skimpy bags of peanuts or beverages in plastic cups. Instead, they served hot meals on white china. Men puffed on their cigarettes or cigars while guzzling free cocktails delivered by the oh-so-solicitous hostesses of the skies who learned to bat away unwanted attention long before #MeToo.


Sue kept meticulous flight logs to chronicle her travels, from MSP (Minneapolis) to CHI (Chicago), a three hour trip, and DCA (Washington), a six hour flight, with a few jaunts to not-so-luxurious ports of call like Billings, Winnipeg, Duluth, Fargo, and Milwaukee. She managed to pass her six month check rides with only a few glitches. On one, her supervisor advised her that in the future, her navy blue uniform must be spotless (a smudge on her skirt?), and that points of interest, weather, altitude and speed must be announced periodically over the PA system during a flight. If a PA system was unavailable on a smaller aircraft, the stewardesses should each take a section of the cabin and “verbally” brief the passengers. And, don’t forget to offer a second cup of coffee.


Being a stewardess came with a bit of prestige. Her parents must have been tickled to show off newspaper clippings that featured their Sue. Once, she was required to “tickle a beard” of a man rescued from the Saskatchewan wilderness after 28 days. In another photo, she welcomed a newspaper editor aboard as he began a 25,000 mile trip.

Accolades landed in her file as well. Spotlessly cleaning the kitchen got her a “Good girl, Sue!” from the supervisor. She “behaved beautifully” when dealing with an irate passenger. Providing little extras like pillows and seat adjustments and greeting passengers by name earned her some praise as well. Once she gave some extra TLC to a jittery first time flyer named Mrs. Shields, and Mr. Shields wrote a letter to the company president and one to Sue, addressed to “Dear Young Lady”, to sing her praises.

In Minneapolis, Sue shared an apartment with two other stews, each chipping in to pay the rent of one hundred twenty-five dollars a month. What fun! While most other women her age were living at home with parents or with a new spouse, Sue and her pals were free to live on their own. Finding dates was easy; there were planeloads of eligible men. It was tricky balancing her travel schedule with her dating calendar.

By 1952, Sue had eyes for only one guy – Ray Martin. Since he was an intelligence officer in the Air Force, she and Ray must have met on one of her trips to Washington, D.C. Sue chose a wedding ring over her flight wings, and when she and Ray married in August, she was grounded.

Death Cleaning

“If your family doesn’t want your stuff when you’re alive, they sure won’t want it when you’re dead.” — Jura Koncius, “Americans are pack rats. Swedes have he solution: Death cleaning”, Washington Post, October 12, 2017.

If only my husband’s Aunt Sue had known about the Swedish custom called dostadning, the purging of personal property so one’s children will not be burdened with the task after one’s death. A current best-seller called The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, by Margareta Magnusson, describes the process and urges those over fifty to begin decluttering.
Alas, Sue was not into the art of purging. When she died, an avalanche of her mementos landed in our basement. We twisted the arms of Sue’s great-nieces to take her silver and crystal. I kept the two sets of china and drag them out on Christmas. We divvied up jewelry that no one really wanted. We reupholstered an old rocking chair that now sits in our den.
That left the stuff that wasn’t valuable, at least dollar-valuable.
By the early 1950’s, the Brosnahans of Minot, North Dakota, were scattered hither and yon. The International Harvester Company sent the patriarch Henry, a big shot with IH, and his wife Catherine to Spokane, Washington, away from their four adult children. Telephone calls were for dire emergencies. How to keep in touch? Letters. Henry routinely handwrote several pages on company paper to each of his offspring on Sunday evenings, just before The Jack Benny Show came on the radio. Catherine, a less devoted writer, often tagged on to the end of Henry’s with a page or two.
Sue kept a batch that chronicles the year she and her husband Ray arranged their wedding in Spokane. Her parents’ letters brim with affection and offer glimpses of Henry and Catherine’s social mores, devotion to the Church, humor, work ethic, and even the kind of socks Henry liked to wear. Henry’s health declined as the August wedding drew nearer, and his last letter, dated July 16, was sent to the prospective groom, Ray, whom he’d yet to meet. Henry died on July 17, never to walk his darling Sue down the aisle on August 25. What must have followed? I can imagine the heartbreaking jumble of frantic phone calls, arrangements, travel schedules, notifications. Then, how did the family pull itself together from their grief and orchestrate a wedding?

Another stack, still tucked into their envelopes, belongs to Mary Ann. From 1950 to 1952, Henry and Catherine offered advice regarding her break-up with a beau, descriptions of Henry’s work schedule, Catherine’s requests that Mary shop and mail items she couldn’t buy in Spokane, and motherly chit-chat about new clothes and bridge games. I want to ask, “Mary Ann, were you sad about your break-up? Were you lonely on your own in Milwaukee? Or did you relish your independence?” The poignancy of each letter tugs at my heart.
How can I toss these in the trash? But who besides me will want to read them?
Sue hung on to her stewardess mementos, too, a time capsule of her career before anyone ever used the term “flight attendant.” Sue kept her contracts with Northwest Airlines, with job requirements for weight, personal appearance and marital status, her flight log book filled in in her perfect penmanship, her employee reviews, the lease she and three other stews signed for a Minneapolis apartment, and two or three newspaper clippings of her with notable passengers. As I leaf through these artifacts, I conjure up stories that Sue could tell about her flying days.

How can I toss these in the trash? But who besides me will want to read them?

After Sue was married, she was barred from being a stewardess, and her Air Force husband was sent to Greenland. So she moved back to Minot with her newly-widowed mother. There, Sue wrote a weekly newspaper column called “The Window Shopper”, advising North Dakota ladies on womanly matters like spring millinery or the perfect Mother’s Day gift. Brittle, yellowed newspaper clippings bearing Sue’s byline take us down Minot’s main street and into the dress shops and department stores. She scolds Dior for his new skirt lengths, suggests ideas for canasta party favors, and helps brides plan their trousseaus.

How can I toss these in the trash? But who besides me will want to read them?
So, Aunt Sue, I’m hanging on to all of it, including every telegram you failed to discard, because most people nowadays have never seen a telegram. Maybe there is a story there that I can write. I just wish I knew where to start.
The guilt of pitching it all weighs heavily, but there is an added layer of my own avoidance of dostadning. Someday my own children will be gnashing their teeth over my life’s accumulation. My 45 rpm records (Who could trash ”Dead Man’s Curve” by Jan and Dean or “Having a Party” by Sam Cooke?), high school and college yearbooks, teacher files I’m still clinging to (who knows when I’ll need a handout on “Show, Not Tell”?), a collection of Lladro figurines, my eighth grade autograph book, travel journals, my First Communion veil, a Mickey Mouse bank from Mike’s grandma, that sweatshirt from Mike’s college dorm.
Dostadning is on my agenda. Soon, soon. Right after I decide what to do with Sue’s stuff.

By the Sea

” Travel and a change of place impart new vigor in the mind.” — Seneca 


Who doesn’t love a beach town? Arcachon, on the Bay of Biscay southwest of Bordeaux, is a welcome change of pace from the woodsy hills of the Dordogne.  With no castles in sight, Arcachon is younger than most towns in France, and its Spanish tile roofs remind me of Florida. When a train line was established here in the 1840’s, developers, assisted by a young Gustav Eiffel, built a Moorish Casino, a luxury hotel, and several mansions.

We arrived at the beach just in time for lunch. Restaurants line the beach promenade, and we chose one that featured mussels. Mike happily slurped his way through a heaping pot of moules  swimming in a white wine garlic sauce.

The sun was shining today, but few people lolled around on the sand. Summer season is over, and most people out for a stroll kept their jackets on until late afternoon. White boats moored offshore bobbed around in the water, and a 1900 carousel twirled around at the end of the beach.

After a walk along the shore, we headed up to the Ville L’Hiver, the Winter Village. In the 1860’s, this became a resort that attracted tuberculosis patients because the balsam pines that grow there were thought to be beneficial for those with the disease. After Napoleon III visited in 1863, Arcachon’s Ville L’Hiver became the place to be for the celebrities including Toulouse Latrec and Alexander Dumas. The architecture in the ville is a blend of Swiss chalet and English cottage styles, with whimsical painted trims and decorative brickwork. The  centerpiece of the neighborhood is the Parc Marquesque, where  local retirees passed this pretty afternoon played boule.

Our French vacation ends tomorrow, and we head for Bordeaux airport bright and early. Tonight at dinner we had  our traditional last night conversation, listing our favorite sights, activities,  meals. How to choose the creme de la creme from the buffet of delights we’ve experienced? J’aime bien France!

A Day in Rocamadour

“If it scares you, it might be a good thing to try.” — Seth Godin

Back when I was a kid at St. Bede’s School, we learned a lot about the lives of the saints, but until this trip, I’d never heard of St. Amadour, the namesake of Rocamadour. A local abbot with an entrepreneurial mindset built a church in 1166 in a cave where a well-preserved body of the hermit Amadour was found. Over one hundred miracles were recorded, and the site became a destination for pilgrims, the tourists of the Middle Ages.

We didn’t come here to kneel on every fifth step in prayer as the penitents did, but to take in this stunning village that looks like it’s been carved out of a rock wall. We began our visit with a walk down the single street that makes up the main part of town, lined with shops and restaurants. Then it was time to get serious, and we ascended 223 steps to the Cite’ Religieuse, home of the Basilique St. Sauveur, the Chappelle Notre Dame, and five other small places of worship. This was a good spot to take a breather before we headed to the tippy-top.

Upwards we went, this time on a winding path with small grottos dedicated to the fourteen Stations of the Cross. The morning sunshine had faded by now, and the trees cast a contemplative, serene air over the walkway.

By the time we hit the ramparts, it was raining, but we were undeterred. We entered the ramparts and from there we gaped at the sheer drop below us. In a moment of temporary insanity, we kept going, up a narrow, open staircase with flimsy, wet handrails,  just to claim that we didn’t wimp out before we reached the apex. Photo op, photo op, and then we had to get down. I didn’t dare look at anything but the next step below my feet as I minced my way downward. ( Look at the first picture really closely. See that angled little line under the clock tower? That’s where we were. What the hell were we thinking?)

Since we’d managed to avoid plummeting to our deaths, we’d earned a ride on the funicular and took the easy way down. After lunch, we stopped in a pretty little art gallery and purchased three prints from a local artist, ethereal watercolors of the Dordogne and Rocamadour.

On our last day in the region, our heads are filled with images of castles and magical vistas. Au revoir!




Chateau des Milandes

“Nobody is too old for fairy tales.”


It’s strange to be writing about our castle visit today while we are preoccupied with our own little castle in Sarasota and the plight of all Floridians. A jaunt in the French countryside was a nice diversion from spending a day glued to the Weather Channel.

The Chateau des Milandes has quite a different vibe from the Chateau Beynac, just across the Dordogne River, and its neighbor just down the road, the Castelnaud. Milandes is newer and more ladylike, set off by itself. This is a getaway from the hustle-bustle of medieval commerce and battling. It was built in 1489 by the Lord of Castelnaud for his wife who was tired of living in Castelnaud. I don’t blame her. The place was war-weary,  a fortress built for defense, not for beauty, and it was loaded with weaponry. Spacious, yes; charming, no.

Milandes sits prettily upon a hillside, like all castles do, and it features a more delicate architecture than her bellicose neighbors. Over the centuries it’s had its ups and downs, but in the 1930’s,  it was purchased by Josephine Baker. Ms. Baker was an African-American singer who came to France as a young woman and became a renowned star of the Folies-Bergere. She lovingly restored the castle and added modern features, like Art Deco bathrooms, one in the colors of a Lanvin perfume bottle. The castle tour featured much about the life of Josephine Baker, a risqué performer, a beautiful singer, an important player in the French resistance, and a humanitarian.

The Chateau tour included  a falconry demonstration, some well-manicured gardens, and spectacular views of its neighboring castles and towns. It was a good place to see but a bit touristy, we thought,  and not as memorable as our other visits in the Dordogne, to Beynac, Pech-Merle, and Lascaux. Still, we packed our camera with pretty pictures and had a nice lunch on the terrace, taking in another day in France. Nothing to complain about at all!








The Cave of Lascaux

“Cave men didn’t live in caves.” — Julien, tour guide at Lascaux IV


On a vacation dedicated to wine and castles, prehistoric sights weren’t at the top of my “can’t wait to see” list. So, it was especially fun to find them so fascinating. We were impressed by the cave paintings we saw yesterday at Pech-Merle, but today’s visit to Lascaux IV left us gob-smacked.

In 1940,  teenage boys discovered the Lascaux cave when they pulled their dog out of a hole he’d fallen into. Poking their flashlights further into the chasm, they spied the drawings on the cave wall. Sacre bleu!

The caves were open to the public in ’48, but by ’63, the breathing of so many tourists caused some deterioration to the paintings, and the caves were closed to the public. A replica called Lascaux II was built for tourists, but that has now been surpassed by the brand new Lascaux IV, which just opened in December ’16.

No, we can no longer traipse through the original, but today we toured a perfect replica. The Lascaux artists painted their pictures about 19,000 years ago, so the images are 10,000 years younger than those we saw at Pech-Merle. Quell difference ! The fine points and sophistication  of the Lascaux drawings are heads and shoulders above the others, with intricate details of the horses, bison, and deer. Imagine these painters working painstakingly in near darkness, lighting small bowls of animal fat for their only illumination.

The multi-media displays in the museum were Disney-esque without the cheesiness. With headphones and a mini tablet tailored to our individual profile, we walked from exhibit to exhibit absorbing information about the paintings and the work of archeologists. If we saw something we liked, we snapped a photo right on our devices, and these will be emailed to is. A 3-D movie topped off the experience.

All afternoon, I’ve been thinking about these ancient people whose minds and imaginations were so highly developed. There is no “right” answer for so many questions. Who were the artists? How did they choose their subjects? Were some things symbols for specific ideas, concepts, or beliefs? Why did the paintings focus on animals, and not on human beings or plant life?

And who would have suspected that my imagination and sense of wonderment would have been so captured by the cave artists of France?