It’s interesting how a sense of “place” gets embedded in one’s soul. I’ve discovered that kitschy, fairly run-down Daytona Beach is such a place for me. I never actually lived in this little east coast town myself. My parents and I vacationed here from the 1950s when we still lived in Greenville, SC.
When we made the big move to Florida in 1955 we settled in Orlando because of my dad’s work, but kept a series of boats in the Municipal Yacht Basin on the Inland Waterway in Daytona. Then, when I left for college at the University of Florida, my folks moved to Daytona full time, living in a series of small houses and condominiums both on the beach side and the mainland.
Whenever we visited them during college, seminary, or during my tenures as a parish priest in Melbourne, Lakeland, Jacksonville, and Cocoa, Daytona Beach was where we came. My formative years were spent swimming in the surf or in boats up and down the Halifax River. Even though this town has never really been my home, it has always been “home!”
Part of the reason I like Daytona is that it is not just a rich person’s resort town. Certainly there are many wealthy people here who live in the same kind of high-rise condos and lavish river and beach front homes as you find up and down both coasts of the Sunshine State. But Daytona has always also been the vacation-destination of choice for all sorts and conditions of white and blue collar workers and persons of all ethnicities and economic levels.
Some of the still-family-owned motels along A1A may look tacky (and they are) but are affordable “resorts” for lots of people who would otherwise never walk up and down a Florida beach for more than a few days in their entire lives. And there are “old salts” and Florida crackers who have lived here for generations as well as an African American community centered around the famous Bethune-Cookman University with its primarily Black student body and faculty. St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church is located virtually on the campus of this small college and has become my favorite church in town.
So, it’s good to be back for a few weeks this time of year. Not only to visit my dad who remains in assisted living just north of Daytona. But to spend some time in that “home” which has never been my “home.”
Maybe it will be one day.