Car packed with just enough room for me to squeeze my 5-year-old body into the back seat, I was excited.

We were going to the Gulf of Mexico. I’d never seen a gulf or an ocean or anything bigger than Lake Verret.

My Uncle Bert had gone to Florida once and had told me all about wading in the waves and catching fish. Wading in the waves sounded fun, and I knew I liked to catch fish.

He told me about the sandy, white beaches. I knew I loved to play in the sand at my grandpa’s house.

I was ready to go at daylight. I was ready to stop the first time we saw water.

Our 1953 Chevy had no air conditioning. In fact, the cabin where we would stay at Pensacola Beach is my first memory of that invention.

With all four car windows open, wind blew in my face.

It didn’t blow that hard. My father never drove more than 50.

To get to Florida, we had to first drive to New Orleans.

Seeing Lake Pontchartrain, I couldn’t understand why we weren’t stopping. Water stretched as far as I could see, and there was a beach. Surely this was the ocean. Surely we had arrived.

My dad just laughed.

Back then, the trip to Florida took the coastal road through Mississippi and Alabama. That meant there was a lot of water and beach at which I couldn’t get my father to stop.

My refrain wasn’t “Are we there yet?” but “Can we stop now?”

We did stop at a diner and had a hamburger on a real bun, not between two pieces of toast like my mom fixed it. That tugged my mind from sand, water and fishing for a little while.

The trip to Pensacola took all day, but as soon as we unloaded, we put on our bathing suits. Waves with white caps crashed onto the beach. I played in them as my father held my hand.

We walked in the sand. I looked at the horizon and asked what was on the other side of the ocean.

An eel in the shallows frightened my mother.

We slept under blankets in the air conditioning with the sound of the surf in our ears.

In the morning we went to a restaurant and had breakfast, which was something I had never done.

That day I caught a croaker in the calm water of the sound. I still have a snapshot. My father told me to hold it closer to the camera to make it look bigger.

During the afternoons we watched the Blue Angels soar in formation. The sonic booms startled me at first.

I wanted to be a Blue Angel. My parents bought me a Navy cap, and I believed when I wore it out in public that people thought I was a pilot.

The week went too fast.

On a foggy morning we packed up and drove off the island.

All the way home I kept asking my dad to stop when I saw a beach.