Can you believe we have already been home from our months long adventure for five weeks? And wouldn’t you know it, I no sooner get the camper readied “for it’s long winter’s nap” than we are hitching up again for a two week camping trip. It’s not like I didn’t know we were going camping for Thanksgiving. We do it every year. It’s a family thing. But who knew it was Thanksgiving already. It snuck up on me.
I made the reservations eleven months ago. That’s what you have to do if you want to get into the much sought after campground of Anastasia State Park, especially over a holiday weekend. Reservations for Florida State Parks can be made eleven months to the day in advance. I remember sitting with my laptop waiting for midnight so I could jump online and secure a campsite. Anastasia State Park is popular because of its beautiful beach on the Atlantic Ocean and its proximity to the historic old city of St. Augustine. We camped there once before, but gosh, it’s got to be twenty or more years ago. We’ve always wanted to go back.
This year’s Thanksgiving is going to be different though. Work schedules, prior commitments, and the dreaded corona virus has made it impossible for all of us to be together. Our oldest daughter Jessica and her husband will be with us for four days over the Thanksgiving weekend. Shanna will come the day after. The other two daughters are having dinner with their in-laws. Our son is a “maybe” if he can get away from work. We’ll just have to make the best of the situation.
On the way to the campground we stopped at our daughter Amber’s house to pick up the grandchildren. Yep, you heard right. Ivy (6yo) and Eliza (2½yo) are going camping with us for a couple of days. This is Eliza’s first trip away from her mother and frankly we were surprised mom agreed to let her come with us, but mom’s sometimes need a break and we were happy to oblige.
Our time with the grandchildren was exhausting. We’re not as young as we used to be. But we had fun making memories at the beach collecting seashells and digging in the sand. The kids ran around dodging the oncoming water and chasing seagulls. We sat around a campfire and roasted marshmallows for s’mores. We even went back to the beach after dark to watch the Space-X launch. The fiery glow streaking through the night sky was spectacular.
After a couple of days, we took the girls back to their mother safe and sound minus a pair of water shoes that we franticly searched for without success. We spent the next couple of days recuperating from all the fun. I can honestly say it was the first time I witnessed Grammi sleeping for a solid thirteen hours. Soon we were recharged and ready to get out and explore our surroundings. We got up before daylight the next morning to watch the sunrise as we walked along the beach. That is the best time to be on the beach.
One day we drove south for a couple of hours on A1A to see all the big beautiful mansions along the coast. The next day we did the same thing, but this time we drove north. We found a few miles of natural coastline with sand dunes covered by sea oats. We stopped at one of the access points where a boardwalk led across the dunes to the beach. It was a windy day. It was very neat to see the big waves crashing onshore. Looking both north and south, there were no houses, no buildings, just the natural Atlantic coast that I imagined was what the first European explorers saw. We removed our shoes and walked in the water for probably more than a mile or so. Grammi loves to walk the beach.
On Saturday we found the St. Augustine Amphitheater Farmers Market. Grammi likes farmers market’s just about as much as walking on the beach. We donned our masks and explored the many booths of organic produce, local artists and craftsmen. Grammi bought a jar of honey and I got a mixed pint of gourmet olives.
One day during the week we walked through the Old City Gate and explored the historic St. George Street. This pedestrian only street is lined with shops, restaurants, and historic sites. This is where you can find the oldest wooden schoolhouse in the country. The street is certainly geared toward attracting tourist.
On another day during the week we went to the St. Augustine Lighthouse. Admission is $12.95 for adults and $10.95 for seniors and children. We climbed to the top of the lighthouse for some pretty spectacular views of the area. Also on the property are four historic buildings housing some artifacts, a wooden boat building demonstration, a shipwreck artifact conservation lab, and a nature trail. We enjoyed our time here and recommend it as a must see when in the area.
The areas most popular attraction is, of course, Castillo de San Marcos National Monument. Built by the Spanish starting in 1672, it’s the oldest masonry fort in the United States. Though attacked several times and besieged twice, the fort was never taken by force. I have visited it before. The first time was in 1963 as a young boy with my parents. Years later I returned with my own children. I would have liked to see it again this time, but due to COVID-19 only 100 people were permitted inside at a time. I was not about to stand in a not-so socially distanced long line waiting for my turn to go inside to be socially distanced while touring the fort. It seemed a little ridiculous to me. We did, however, walk along the outer walls.
On Thanksgiving Day I did what I’ve done for the past twenty years and deep fried a turkey. The aroma filtered throughout the campground to the envy of all. The process started the day before with an apple juice brine. Our kids love Thanksgiving just for Grampa’s fried turkey. This years version turned out perfect and with all the traditional side dishes like dressing, corn casserole, green beans, mashed potatoes, gravy, and cranberries, Grammi and I were happy to enjoy a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner with our daughter Jessica and her husband Bryan.
All of our children grew up going camping every Thanksgiving at Kissimmee State Park. This is where the fried turkey tradition started. If you have ever tried to put a turkey in a campers oven or turn a turkey on a spit over a campfire, then you know that deep frying is the best option. Prior to learning how fast you can cook a turkey in peanut oil, we would spend hours watching over a smoker to get the bird done. Not anymore.
Another family tradition that evolved from camping at Kissimmee State Park on Lake Kissimmee was the Friday fish fry. Most everyone at the campground during Thanksgiving week were our friends. We would go fishing everyday leading up to Thanksgiving. So the day after fried turkey was fried fish. Throw in some hush puppies, grits and red beans and we would easily feed 80 to 100 people. It was good times.
This years fish fry was on Saturday instead of Friday. The fish was provided by our oldest granddaughter’s husband and he couldn’t come until then. Our daughter Shanna also made the three hour drive to join us. Timmy brought grouper, triple-tail and snapper that he caught in the gulf. No grits or beans this time. French fries were the choice for this day. Our little fish fry for the six of us was delicious.
One last family tradition that we continued this year was to make a big pot of turkey soup from all the leftovers. Most everything goes into the pot including any leftover turkey, dressing, green beans, corn casserole, and cranberries. Each year the soup is a little different depending on what is leftover, but it is always good.
On our last night, we all jumped in the truck for a drive through town to see the famous Nights of Lights displayed in downtown St. Augustine. Hundreds of thousands of lights illuminate the old city with a festive atmosphere. Horse drawn carriages rolling along the street, hundreds of pedestrians crowding the sidewalks, lines of people waiting to get inside a popular restaurant, holiday music playing from unidentified sources, there was no evidence of a pandemic here.
We weren’t going into the crowds, rather we just wanted to see the lights from the comfort and safety of our truck. The streets were nearly gridlocked with traffic. It was slow going but we made it. We saw what we came to see and went back to camp. It put us in a holiday mood and we are now eager to get home to decorate our own house.
Thanksgiving is a time to give thanks for all we have in life. For Grammi and I, it’s our family. They are what we are most thankful for. But it’s also having the opportunity to travel and see a beautiful world and to meet new people. That was made more difficult this year but not impossible. We are thankful for new friends and old friends. We know we are blessed. We pray that you and yours had a blessed Thanksgiving too.
Until next time…happy days and safe travels.