During the summer of 1978, a full 12 months before Libby and I were to be married, I started planning for our honeymoon. Libby and her family had spent a lot of time to make our wedding extraordinary and I wanted make our honeymoon a unique experience, something neither of us would ever forget, so as a part of that preparation I convinced Libby to take a scuba diving certification class with me at the local YMCA. It was during that same time that I began researching the best scuba diving sites and eventually settled on John Pennenkamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo, Florida. Writing to the Key Largo Chamber of Commerce, I received dozens of brochures about lodging in the area and I finally settled on a quaint little Mom and Pop motel advertised as being within walking distance of the docks (of course I found out later that the island was so small everything was within walking distance).
After consulting my trusty Rand McNally Road Map I realized that 12 hours of driving was not the best way to start a leisurely honeymoon, so I needed to break up the drive and find a place to stay. I called the Burns family (close family friends in central Florida) and asked about renting their cabin in New Smyrna Beach for a couple of nights, Dot Burns told me that she had been meaning to call when she heard about our engagement and she offered to let us stay in their cabin for a week as her wedding gift to us and, if we had the time, we could rent the cabin for a $100 and stay an additional week when we finished diving in the Keys. I quickly accepted her generous offer and I changed our reservations in Key Largo to accommodate our new schedule.
Because it was summer, the one commodity that we had in abundance was time. Libby’s classes and my job were both on summer break, so we had plenty of time, money however, was a another matter. In the fall Libby would be starting her junior year at The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in pursuit of her teaching degree, leaving Mercer University and it’s generous academic scholarship behind, so besides car loans, a mortgage, utilities, taxes and insurance we added tuition to the debit side of my modest $11,000 salary at Olan Mills. Looking back now, I should have been nervous about our finances but I was in love with this little girl:
Our friend’s New Smyrna Beach cabin came compete with beach chairs, skim boards, floats and surfboards, in addition they had generously stocked the refrigerator with food and homemade deserts, so we spent a lot of time on the beach lying in the sun, surfing, walking, floating, eating and just relaxing. It was a great time for us both to slow down after the stress of the wedding and with no schedule agenda, the timing could not have been better.
I had prepaid the motel and cabin bill several months before we left and we had budgeted $500 for the rest of our honeymoon expenses such as gas, food, diving, sightseeing and any other expenses. Libby was always the more detail oriented person in our relationship, so it just made sense that she would be in charge of the budget and she enjoyed carefully recording every expense in a daily planner. The first chink in the armor of our budget happened in the Everglades when our car battery went dead and we had to buy a set of jumper cables for $24 at a convenience store, putting a strain on our already tight budget. Determined not to have credit card debt, we decided to eat out less and buy some bread and cold cuts instead. As I type these words, I realize how ridiculous a $24 overrun sounds now, but at the time it was a strain on our budget and in turn on our young relationship because it meant that we may have to go home early.
At the end of our first week in New Smyrna Beach we drove south to Key Largo and began our week of scuba diving. Libby and I made two to four dives a day and depending on the amount of energy exerted and depth of each dive, our compressed air tanks would last just under one hour (longer if you held your breath, which Libby did often when she got nervous or excited) We experienced coral reefs, amazing fish species and so many shipwrecks that a monument called Christ of the Abyss was erected in memory of the sailors who lost their lives.
Being in the open ocean 50 feet below the surface, Libby was uncomfortable during the first few dives, but she soon became more accustomed to her surroundings and eventually even wrote a note to me on her slate writing tablet telling me to take a picture of her and she would point to the scenery. She may look calm in the picture below but as soon as I snapped the image with my underwater camera she immediately began turning her head back and forth holding her breath and looking for Jaws.
It didn’t help to ease Libby’s fears when, on our very next dive, Libby saw a school of barracuda, some of them 6 feet long. Remembering the warnings that our dive master had given during our training classes, she knew that barracuda were attracted to shiny objects and have been known to mistakenly bite off the fingers of divers in an attempt to get their bright shiny rings, Libby tried warning me about the intruders by pointing toward them with her head using an awkward jerking motion pushing her head in the direction of the barracuda. She was afraid to point with her finger, in fact she tried covering her rings with her other hand, afraid that the barracuda would take her engagement ring, wedding band and the finger within. Eventually the barracuda lost interest in us and went on their way, but now Libby had several more reasons to keep her head on a swivel while in the open ocean.
Following our week of diving in the Florida Keys we returned for another week to New Smyrna Beach to begin our final week in the cabin. Libby found out during our first week on the beach that she absolutely loved playing skee ball in the arcade across from our cabin and on the way back to the beach Libby confessed, “I think I’m addicted to skee ball, I spent way too much money the last time we were here”. I laughed and said, “That’s silly, how could anybody be addicted to skee ball, besides, at 10 cents per game, how much money could you possibly have spent?” Libby dropped her head sheepishly looking out of the corner of eyes she quietly said. “Over thirty dollars the first time we were here”.
Some intense discussion followed (OK, it was a fight) in which we discussed our budget, jumper cables, mortgage and tuition. Again, the amount of money was petty by today’s standards but at the time we were, once again, back to bologna sandwiches. As we crossed over the inter coastal waterway on our way back to New Smyrna Beach we had less than $150 to spend, so we mutually decided that one dollar per day should be enough to satisfy Libby’s skee ball compulsions and still leave enough gas money for us to get home even if we could sell the giant panda that she “won” with her skee ball tickets.
Libby and I enjoyed the third week of our honeymoon back on the beach and during that time we were invited to spend another week back at the our friends home in central part of Florida, we told them our money predicament and they said it wouldn’t cost us anything since they had a spare bedroom and we could eat with them.
Our fourth week in Florida was spent relaxing with great friends who took us around to local sites, fed us, put us up in their home and let us use their three wheelers to explore the local fields and swamps.
Soon after celebrating July 4th with our friends in Florida we decided to take I-75 North back to our little house in Flintstone, GA. After more than a month in Florida and only minor disagreements about money and skee ball, we were about to learn what people meant by the term, “The honeymoon is over”.