The Secret Life of an Old Magazine: History Brought to Life in Central Florida - My Family Travels
micanopy tree

Our destination still a good three hours away, but our stomachs growling in protest of continuing on our already five-hour odyssey, my mom and I agreed that we needed to stop for food.  Mom deftly maneuvered through the I-75 traffic onto the exit ramp emblazoned with a tattered brown sign that promised to bring us to “Historic Micanopy.”  What exactly Historic Micanopy might be, neither of us knew; I just hoped they’d have something to eat.

Micanopy was small.  The entire town was draped in a canopy of Spanish moss, the stuff hanging soft and lazy from tree branches, lounging on roofs, twisting about mailboxes, occasionally flicking a quick “hello” as a breeze passed swiftly through.  A single, semi-paved road led us from the interstate through a brief stretch of rustic residences with colorful wooden facades adorned with jingling glass wind chimes and terracotta pots dressed in swirls of bright acrylic, until we reached what appeared to be the downtown area.  Downtown consisted of two restaurants right next to each other, and about a million antique shops.  Displays of old porcelain dolls and faded postcards and records that had long ago played their last songs stared at us from behind a legion of dusty windows lining the square.

â–º  honorable mention 2011 Teen Travel Writing Scholarship

We parked in front of the Old Florida Café and climbed out of the minivan, legs shaky and sore from hours of sitting.  I led the way up the porch steps into the friendly building, painted blue-gray and surrounded by plastic flamingos and dizzying pinwheels amid the never-ending blanket of moss.  Inside, the café was transformed into a museum — walls cluttered with ancient license plates and pennants and movie posters.  Maybe four or five tables surrounded by mismatched chairs were crowded near the counter, with glass display cases interspersed throughout the little remaining space.  Mom and I sat beside an enthusiastic display of decades-old Gators paraphernalia— Gainesville sits just twenty-five minutes away—and ordered vegetable sandwiches on sourdough, potato chips, and two Diet Cokes.

Now satiated — and a little reluctant to resume the arduous drive up to Tallahassee, where I’d be auditioning the next day for admission into the Florida State University School of Music—we decided to do some exploring.  We sauntered in and out of antique shops too numerous to name.  Some were unnamed, their archaic inventories inhabiting old brick or stucco buildings that had once been, perhaps, an auto shop or a post office.

In one store, I unearthed from a stack of plastic-wrapped cookbooks a copy of Etude magazine dated May 1941.  For twenty-five cents, an American music enthusiast picked up the publication just seven months before Pearl Harbor at their neighborhood newsstand and pored over an article on a long-forgotten Civil War-era composer, an interview with the principal French horn of the New York Philharmonic, and even twenty pages of piano sheet music.  Perhaps the reader was a high-school musician like me, and upon reaching the directory of conservatory advertisements towards the end of the magazine, dreamed of attending Oberlin, Northwestern, Eastman — all places where I would be auditioning in the coming weeks, and where perhaps an anonymous reader of Etude tread some seventy years ago.

That is the magic of Micanopy — a town whose history is built upon the histories of others, antique shops filled to bursting with old, forgotten things that are inextricably attached to stories and people and places that no one may ever know but that exude an energy palpable with possibility.  Micanopy was not our destination in our travels, but sometimes the best places are the ones you never expect to find.

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