Julie O’Donnell was three years old, and my daughter, Clea, was one when they started playing together. In 1966, we, the Macurdy family, were new in our neighborhood on Siesta Key in Sarasota, FL. My husband, Col. Harold H. Macurdy (Mac), had just retired from twenty-five years in the USAF, and we were living in a sprawling old fixer-upper on Bayou Louise at the north end of the island. Among our neighbors were Julie’s parents, Jim and Anna O’Donnell, whose divorce was in progress. We continued to socialize with both parents, so we saw Julie a lot.
Our house was like a construction site with Mac’s endless do-it-yourself remodeling, plus there were Clea’s older brothers, Eric and Casey, who generated a lot of work for me. I was a stay-at-home Mom busy with lots of laundry, cooking, cleaning, yard work, roach control, chauffeuring, and entertaining at cocktail hour most evenings. There were frequent houseguest as many friends wanted to visit us in our new home in Florida. I was busy at a job with no pay.
Julie was soon old enough to walk to our house to play with Clea. The girls spent hours together peacefully, so I was always glad to see Julie arrive at the door. The girls entertained themselves. All they required was a peanut butter sandwich and a glass of milk now and then.
To this day, Julie recalls my monthly shopping trips to MacDill AFB in Tampa. She remembers that I spent one day taking inventory and creating a detailed shopping list of groceries that were needed. The next day, Mac and I drove to Tampa in our station wagon and loaded it with many bags of food from the Commissary and other supplies from the Base Exchange.
On arrival home, it was necessary to freeze several half-gallon cartons of milk, several loaves of bread, hamburger and other meat after it had been divided into serving size packages for efficient thawing. The big brown box of a freezer, with lid that lifted upward, had a prominent place in my large kitchen. Nothing could be placed on top the freezer as the lid needed to be lifted several times a day. Julie was fascinated by the whole busy process.
Julie recalls that she was intrigued by the Lazy Susan which was part of my cherry dining table set. She also admired our push button telephone while her parents still had a rotary phone on a party line, and our house had air-conditioning and cable TV which theirs didn’t.
Julie tells me now that my house felt like an oasis to her as her mother was less of a homebody. Julie says she saw me as blue-eyed and willowy, and I guess that was true fifty years ago when Julie was five and I was thirty-eight.
When Clea progressed from Phillipi Shores Elementary to attend Brookside Junior High, she was tipped off by her older, more socially advanced friend, Julie, to “lose the lunch box”. That was very helpful advice, as I had no way of knowing the coolest way of eating lunch at that grade level. Apparently, the “in” thing to do was to bring lunch money and buy in the cafeteria.
As they grew older, the girls were eventually trusted to row our canoe from our boat dock on Bayou Louise out to the sandbar in Sarasota Bay where the bay turns into Big Pass. The sandbar was exposed at low tide so they could beach the canoe and walk around on the sandbar until the tide came back in. Now they tell me they made canoe trips to Shell Beach by going south on Bayou Louise and then portaging to Shell Road. Also I have just learned they canoed to Lido Beach in search of the nude beach, which means they were canoeing across Big Sarasota Pass in large choppy waves, and I didn’t know it!
Julie and Clea would make plans by phone, then meet at the Higel Avenue corner between our homes. On foot, they would explore the entire neighborhood ignoring neighbors’ yard boundaries, which were mostly marked by hedges. Julie remembers hundreds of card games and hard salami sandwiches on soft bread. Some of this occurred at the Jim O’Donnell house.
Julie was somewhat fearful of Clea’s older brothers, Casey in particular, since she viewed him as a real bad ass. He could walk barefoot on our oyster shell driveway while the girls had to wear protective shoes. Also, he worried the little girls by telling them an octopus escaped from his salt water fish tank and was loose somewhere in the house.
When I became active in photography and had my own darkroom, I took advantage of Julie and Clea by using them as models. We would drive to special gardens with gazebos, banyan trees, and other glamourous backdrops. They would pose and I would photograph. Then I would mix chemicals, process the film, and print 8 x 10’s in black and white. It kept us all happy.
A previous owner had planted our property with wonderful fruit trees: figs, avocados, grapefruit, and mangoes which were now mature and producing. As teenagers, Julie and Clea ran a fairly successful roadside mango stand, on the Higel Avenue sharp curve between their homes. They sold mangos from our tree at 30 cents per ripe mango, 25 cents each for greener ones.
Julie’s older brother, Michael, hung out some with my son, Casey, when they were high school age. Both were interested in making music and used our high rise garage apartment as a practice room for their electric guitars, amplifiers, woofers, and tweeters.
Mac and I continued to socialize with Julie’s mother, Anna, and her new husband, Dr. Bracken. We had dinner frequently in each other’s homes, mixing with their set of Siesta Key friends. Julie’s father, Attorney Jim O’Donnell, stopped in at our house quite often on his way home from work by bicycle. He would sit on a kitchen bar stool and watch me cook. We would drink martinis and talk, and he would be invited to stay for dinner. There was always enough, and we enjoyed his company. Years later, in January 2004, Clea and I attended Jim’s funeral in Sarasota.
Once when Julie and Clea were mature women and visiting me at the same time, they did a beautiful job of rearranging my furniture and finding the perfect place for a new TV. I enjoyed watching them work together so well, making wise decisions.
Julie accompanied me when I flew north in May 2007 to attend the interment ceremony of Mac’s ashes at Arlington National Cemetery five months after his death. She and I shared a room in a nearby hotel. Out of respect to Mac, it was Julie’s job to chaperone me and my gentleman friend, another USAF Colonel, who was in a connecting room. She did a good job, but “Jim” and I already had reservations for a cruise to Alaska three weeks later. My marriage had been off the rails for several years and everybody knew that.
Julie has abandoned two troubled marriages and seems happier now, though she feels the responsibility of her aging mother, Anna, still living on Siesta Key. Julie has had a successful twenty-three year teaching career working with second and third graders in Ocala Public Schools.
After Mac died, Julie helped me edit the book, First Light, which is about his eight months MIA (Missing in Action) behind German lines during WWII, after being shot down in his P-47 in January 1944. Also, after Mac died, Julie went to his hangar near Live Oak with me to help clean and prepare it for sale.
For several years, I hosted Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner at my house with food provided by guests. Julie was included at my table while her daughters spent some time with their father. She always arrived with delicious ham and other goodies.
On one occasion, Julie’s daughter, Carly, babysat Clea’s daughter, Anna Rose, and they spent most of the day on Carly’s trampoline in Ocala. Carly was exhausted by the end of the day, but Anna Rose had a wonderful time. Both of Julie’s beautiful daughters, Caitlin and Carly, have visited me in The Villages of West End where they used my air pistol to shoot at squirrels from the rocking chair at my kitchen window. It is a favorite sport for younger folks at my house.
Julie’s youngest daughter, Carly, will be married in Colorado in August. Julie recently sent me a photo of herself trying on her mother-of-the-bride dress. Woweeee! She is 55 and has that siren look that every woman craves.
Julie gives me credit for being her sounding board. She says I don’t just HEAR, I LISTEN. Well, of course, I will always listen to anything Julie wants to talk about. She is not a big talker.
Julie is considered part of my family, and I love her like a daughter. She will no doubt be an excellent grandmother, and I hope that wonderful experience will be coming up soon for her. Julie has a lot of living ahead.