In December of 2001, my husband surprised me with two tickets to Hawaii! He had frequent flyer miles he needed to use or lose, so he decided to surprise me with the tickets at Christmas, the trip we would take would be in April, 2002. He had arranged for his parents to come to our home in Florissant to care for our 6 children, who at that time were ages 9, 7, 5, 3, and 1 year old twins. I was so excited with this present because I had always wanted to see Hawaii. I think my longing to see Hawaii was due to repeated viewings of The Brady Bunch and that 2-part episode when they got to go to Hawaii! While on our vacation there, we went on a tour boat/snorkeling outing and while boating out to the snorkeling spot, two of the tourists on board were regaling us about their trip to a pineapple plantation. “That was an F and L!”, one of them declared. Puzzled, another tourist asked what was meant by an F and L ? The answer quickly came. “An F and L means a First and Last, as in that was the first pineapple plantation tour we’ve been on and it will be the last!” That term quickly stuck with my husband and I and since that vacation, we have had several F and L’s in our family’s life.
When our oldest daughter was 6, she and I had spent time reading the B is for Betsey series of books by Caroline Haywood. My daughter really enjoyed reading about Betsey, her friends, and all of their adventures. In one of the books was a chapter devoted to Betsey’s Watermelon Party. “Mom, can I have a Watermelon Party with my friends this summer?”, our daughter asked. I thought it sounded like a fun idea and told her that the Watermelon Party would be a go. She was smiling, it made her so happy to plan and host this party. The summery day came, and at 6:00 p.m. the invited 6 year olds came. We let them run around our backyard for a bit, run down our slight hill to the playground at neighboring St. Thomas the Apostle’s Catholic School, and while the kids were burning off some of their energy, my husband and I set up the watermelons for the party. The object of the party, according to Betsey’s book, was for each child to be given a slice of watermelon, eat that slice, and save the seeds. They could eat as much watermelon as they could in a 10-15 minute time span, collecting their seeds all the while, and then there would be
crowned two winners: the boy and the girl who had the most watermelon seeds. As my husband started to cut the watermelon slices, I brought out the Dixie cups for the kids to spit their seeds into. As the watermelon eating commenced, my husband quickly realized that it was going to be a messy business counting those watermelon seeds. Betsey’s book had not mentioned how gross or how messy this part of the party would be. We quickly found some newspapers, spread them out on a card table that we had on the back porch for the party, and had each kid dump their precious seeds on a specific section of the newspaper. My husband, who had thought about the logistics of this party more than I had, got a marker and drew a circle around each child’s pile of seeds and wrote their names next to their piles. The disgusting task of counting those seeds covered in 6 year olds’ spit fell to my husband, and we were able to determine who the King and Queen of watermelon seeds were. Unfortunately, our daughter was the girl who had the most seeds and after explaining to her that she couldn’t be the Queen of seeds at her party because she was the hostess, the King and Queen were awarded their fabulous prizes. After our daughter had dried her tears, it was time for the kids to run around the backyard some more and play at the playground. Later that August we did find 3 baby watermelons growing in a flowerbed in the backyard! Looking back, I think the invited 6 year olds did have fun at the party, but after dealing with our sad daughter who couldn’t be the Queen, and counting the saliva-coated seeds, my husband and I decided that a Watermelon Party would be an F and L!
Moving forward 5 years, I had a brilliant plan. Each month, we would go on a family outing, in the greater St. Louis area, that would be free to the public. January arrived and I told the husband and the kids that we would bundle up on Saturday and go to see the eagles at Fort Bellefontaine Park, that a birding club was going to host a group of wildlife folks bringing eagles to the fort and we could learn about these birds, plus there would be free cocoa for all, and no entry fees were being charged to see the eagles. We bundled ourselves all up, drove to the old Fort Bellefontaine grounds, and got there as the cocoa was being put away, the wildlife folks and the eagles had left! I had gotten the times for the event wrong and we had missed it all! After enduring the whining and grumblings from the kids, we decided to read the plaques on various buildings around the fort since Lewis and Clark had actually spent some time at old Fort Bellefontaine. We were also able to look out from a stone staircase, built by the WPA during the Great Depression, at the Mississippi River, amble down the hill to the river’s edge, and take our kids’ pictures sitting on some old cannons near that staircase. This outing was definitely an F and L to our kids, but a memory I can smile about now. I learned several lessons from that F and L: to know my times for an event, to take the comments from the kids in stride, and to have a camera ready to take photos because even an F and L can lead to precious memories.