For Valentine’s Day this year, my husband got me two doughnuts from a gas station, took me on a road trip to Saint Augustine for a memorial service for someone I’d never met, and bought me dinner at a fast food restaurant next to the interstate.
It was possibly one of the best Valentine’s we have had.
Traditionally, my husband and I celebrate anti-Valentine’s Day on February 15th. Even before we were dating, Valentine’s Day was a blister on our social calendar, not because we didn’t want to celebrate love, but because we knew we wouldn’t be able to get a table at our favorite restaurant that day due to the atrocious crowds. As time passed, and we learned to cook, the 15th became less about going out to eat and more about a personal holiday we had created for ourselves. When I saw the flower delivery man walking into my office on February 15th, I knew I should grab him, because flowers being delivered the day after Valentine’s were more than likely going to be mine.
So when my husband asked me to attend his friend’s memorial service in Saint Augustine on February 14th, I didn’t bat an eye. The only real downer (other than the whole death part, obviously) was that we wouldn’t be able to get a room at a decent bed and breakfast in Saint Augustine on Valentine’s weekend. So rather than spend the night in a sub-par room, we decided to do the entire trip, there and back, in one day.
We were up at 6 am and on the road by 7 am, both of us skipping breakfast (but my husband taking on some coffee). I have a real aversion towards the interstates in Florida, particularly I-4 during snowbird season, so I planned our route to Saint Augustine up through the back roads of the sunshine state.
We got off I-75 at Highway 326 in Ocala, and my husband made a crack about stopping at the McDonald’s there and having some delicious, perfectly-shaped hash browns for breakfast. I made a face and said I was pretty sure there were more options up on Highway 301.
Technically, there are more options along 301 as you head into Gainesville, but my directions had us turning east on County Road 318 long before then. And on this road, and the subsequent turn-offs, there was nothing but horse farms, tree farms, and farms that had longhorn cattle and what appeared to be antelope.
About the time we realized we were officially in the boonies, I had to pee. And I mean, really had to go, to the point where I was on the verge of tears. But there was nothing, nowhere to stop. I was sitting in the passenger seat calculating how far back into the woods I would have to go to ensure I wouldn’t be seen by any unlikely traffic that might pass by. My darling husband was chuckling at my uncomfortableness and occasionally bringing up that McDonald’s and their oh-so-delicious hash browns.
Somewhere between Citra and Palatka, on County Road 315, we ran across a little gas station and convenience store. My husband pulled over and, with a wicked smile, said, “Here you go!” I glared back, knowing we were both remembering all manner of childhood pee-stop horrors, his in South Africa and mine in Kentucky. You know what we were thinking…dreading having to ask the convenience store clerk for the key, walking out behind the building, unlocking the filthy bathroom with leaky, rusty faucets, the musty toilet paper, the flickering fluorescent lights, and then rushing back out into the light of day to escape the memory of being in that dank room.
As we walked up to the store, an ATV pulled up, a large black pick-up was at the pump, and a few people milled about outside. But this was not the rest stop of our childhoods. This place was wonderful. The bathroom was freshly tiled, spotless, inviting. The store had more goodies than a candy shop. After I did what I needed to do, I found my husband lingering indecisively in front of the coffee station, a row of coffee canteens displayed gloriously on the counter before him.
“Want anything?” he asked, with a hint of a smile, still finding the need for a pee-stop funnier than he should. At first I declined, but feeling my stomach rumble, I stopped in front of the baked goods and said, “No, I’ll take two doughnuts.” My husband looked over, grinned a little larger, and said, “Get me two.”
So we piled back into the car, back on our way to Saint Augustine, and started eating the doughnuts. And they were freaking delicious. Not a Krispy Kreme or a Dunkin’ Donut, but something else entirely, thick and cakey and coated in glaze. We giggled wildly at the sugar rush of the doughnuts and cursed our pre-conceived notions about backwoods gas stations.
Before long, we were in Saint Augustine. The memorial service was at Memorial Presbyterian Church, a historic church of Saint Augustine built in 1889 by Florida railroad tycoon Henry Flagler. The church is a stop on the Old Town Trolley Tour, and it seemed monstrously inappropriate when the trolley stopped outside the church, every seat filled with grey hairs and cameras, as the mourners gathered on the stoop. I wanted to take a picture of the juxtaposition, but that, I thought, would only add to the malapropos situation.
You may think that attending a memorial service for someone you don’t know would be an incredibly depressing way to spend Valentine’s Day. Emotional, yes. Depressing, no. There was something very spiritual about attending a memorial where two daughters spoke about their love for their mother, in a church that was built by a father in loving memory of his daughter who died in childbirth. The entire experience was beautiful and touching and made me want to squeeze all of my loved ones a little tighter.
After the service, and an awkward luncheon for the mourners, we were back in the car for the drive home.
And so I ask, who wants to spend seven to eight hours traveling in the car on Valentine’s Day? Me. If I’m stuck in the car with my husband. We had a grand time on the way back, dissecting the people we had met at the memorial service: the woman we abhorred because all she did was disagree with everyone and talk about her fabulous life, the Rhodesian who made us smile with his wisecrack remarks about Mugabe and South African males love of Speedos, the daughters, their beautiful tributes, missed connections, their father.
Once we were back in Ocala, we stopped at Zaxby’s and had a romantic dinner of fried chicken tossed in original sauce. It’s my favorite fast food joint, and there are none in St. Pete, so I was pretty pleased.
Back home at 8 pm, we cracked open a bottle of wine and settled into our respective spots on the couch. I looked over at my husband and thought of something he said in Ocala as we passed a string of bad chain restaurants filled to the brim for dinner.
“You know, Valentine’s should really be the low point of the year, because we should be saying how much we love each other every day, not because it’s February 14th.”
So here’s to the low-point of the year and making every day even more love-filled.