The day was glorious, with a vibrant sun hanging out in clear blue skies. Even the cold weather couldn’t dispel my mood; after all, it was winter, Christmas Day 1985 to be exact. I lived in Orlando, working long hours as a recruiter for a large busy hospital so a few extra days off was a great reason to celebrate. After loading up the presents in my old yet still reliable 1977 Toyota Celica, I headed to my mom’s home about 40 miles northwest, in Tavares.
I’m not one to take the most direct route unless running a bit late. Most times I’d start out without a route in mind and find my way to a destination. On this day, my plan was to go straight on to my mom’s and jump into the festivities. Yet, at one of my early turns, I made a left instead of a right. Decided to cruise by a local wild bird sanctuary and see if a bald eagle, owl or turkey buzzard, recovering from injury, was taking a practice flight in the sanctuary’s large caged area.
After making the turn off a major highway, my car rumbled over railroad tracks and I began my usual habit of glancing around for birds resting on the high wires. A glint off something yellow on the side of the road drew my attention and my tires screeched as I turned off the road. I had often passed by this small used car lot yet never had given it any notice, until now.
There she sat; I fell head over heels in love with a little yellow Fiat convertible. Was she perfect? Far from it but gazing at her flawed yet sweet countenance set my soul a’ humming. At least, that’s how I remember it. Of course, the lot wasn’t open yet I got out of the car, checked the Fiat here and there and jotted down the lot’s phone number before heading on to my mom’s.
It was a great Christmas Day, with grandkids running around and our usual feast plus my mom’s delicious, hard-to-make Christmas candy to top off the fare. Not a word did I speak regarding my sweet little find of the day, very unusual for me. In between the bantering and laughter, I was plotting the way for me to buy my little ‘yellow bird.’
A guy who lived in my apartment complex had been pestering me to sell him my Toyo. Coincidentally or not, this seemed to me to be a good sign. After the Christmas break, I left work early and hustled over to the used car lot. As soon as I sat in Yellow Bird’s seat, I knew she was for me. A bit of reason prevailed, however. My request to have my personal mechanic take a look was not met without a bit of back and forth disagreement. The salesman’s hunger to make the sale was, to me, part of the divine plan.
Jeff was a one-of-a-kind mechanic in that he offered valet service, without hiking up the bill. I’d pick him up at his home/shop and drive to the hospital where I worked. Jeff would take my car, do his thing then pick me up after work. So with the salesman’s grumbled blessing, I drove to Jeff’s garage. My ‘bit of reason prevailing’ paid off for Yellow Bird needed a water pump.
The deal was finally made. My Toyo got a new owner, though not without some goodbye-thank you tears from me. The tears were short-lived, however, for Yellow Bird was finally mine. I called my mom then and asked her to visit for the weekend. This was never an arm-twisting kind of request; she loved to run around the outskirts of Orlando with me. Saturday morning finally came. I was glued to the window overlooking the parking area, waiting for my mom to show. I must have traveled back in time about 20 years for, when she showed up, like a little kid, I ran out to my mom, grabbed her in a big hug and shouted, ‘Look at Yellow Bird! She’s mine!’ Okay. Truth is, she was stunned a bit at first but my mom could never ignore a sensation of glee. We jumped up and down together then I invited her to be the first person to take a ride.
A cold front still held Florida in its grasp; no matter though for the air was crisp and the sun smiled down upon us. We bundled up in sweaters topped off with coats and pairs of gloves that a northern friend had lent me. Grabbing two of the caps that I often wore when playing tennis, I put down Yellow Bird’s ragtop and, giggling like we were getting away with something naughty, my mom and I buckled up and, with heater set to blast, set off on an adventure.
First stop was in downtown Winter Park. People bundled in coats were walking in and out of up-scale shops yet stopped and stared; a few waved so my mom waved back. She was gloriously giddy, as was I! The Hagen Daz ice cream shop was usually the first stop when my mom came to visit. She loved her ice cream. This cold, cold day was no exception. We ate our ice cream while sitting in Yellow Bird with the heater on. Throughout subsequent years, when anyone asked if I wanted ice cream, this scene always begged to be re-told.
A very favorite haunt of mine was about an hour’s drive away, towards the eastern coast of Florida. We had stopped for a hot cup of coffee in Titusville and were near our destination. Adjacent to Cape Canaveral is Black Point Wildlife Drive, a beautiful wildlife preserve with a 9-mile drive made of packed, crushed shells. Especially during the winter, flocks of migrating birds make their stops there. For more adventuresome folks like me, there are some off-the-beaten-path bumpy car trails that can also be hiked. Today, though, was for cruising.
As we were leaving the preserve, my mom noticed a road sign with directions to Cape Canaveral Shore and Playalinda Beach. “Let’s go there!” she said enthusiastically. “Another time,” I answered. “I need some hot coffee!” and turned towards Titusville. Although I doubted that there would be any sunbathers out on this cold day, I wasn’t taking any chances. Playalinda is, unofficially, a nude beach.
After that marvelous day with my mom, my zippy little Yellow Bird took me on many adventures. At the time that I bought her, there was no thought in my mind that I was about to do something ‘crazy.’ At least, that’s the word that family and friends later used to describe a decision that I made within the next six months.