Punta Gorda is not a metropolis. I hope that I have not surprised many of you with this statement but it is true. After having spent 12 years living in Washington, D.C. and Kansas City, I can safely say that Punta Gorda is not a big city. I can also safely say that Punta Gorda was a GREAT place to grow up and hope that it is the same for one of the city’s newest residents, Mia Andreae. Unfortunately, there is no way that it could be the same as it was for her father.
In the summer of 1981, my parents made the move to Punta Gorda from Port Huron, Michigan. I was young but remember the directions to our new neighborhood very, very well. Take U.S. 41 South (there was no I-75 near here then) over the Port Charlotte-Punta Gorda bridge, pass some small old buildings, and then make your first right after Jim’s Fruit Market. I may have been young but those directions did not bode well for city life. Needless to say, we missed Jim’s Fruit Market on the first pass.
The first right after Jim’s Fruit Market turned out to be Monaco Drive in Burnt Store Isles (BSI). Our house, 342 Monaco, was the fifth house constructed in that subdivision and my grandparents lived in the third. At one point, 40% of the households in BSI were related to me. Burnt Store Isles is not a gigantic subdivision based upon area but when there were only five homes, it looked and felt like the plains of the Midwest. As a child, I looked out on the fields of brush and half-dredged canals as unchartered territory. I still know all of the streets by heart. From the alligators in the streets to the constant construction of new homes to the perfect stickball diamond, my brother, sister and friends made BSI a memorable place to grow up.
Many of you readers (especially those of you who currently live in BSI) probably have focused in on 4 little words – “alligators in the streets”. Not only were alligators in the streets but they were on the docks, in the drainage pipes, and loved to sun themselves on the vast array of empty lots. Back then, they had not fully finished dredging the canals. The canals were deep in the middle but there were banks of dirt that went from the top of the seawall down into the water. It was quite easy to walk from an empty lot right down into the canal...and vice versa. Alligators could beach on those small spits of dirt that lined the seawall. Also, if the alligators wanted to encounter even more land, all they had to do was walk up that gentle embankment. As children, it was quite amusing to sit by our pool and watch the stumped construction truck stop and contemplate how to get around the gator that had decided to use Tripoli Blvd. as its personal sunning bed.
As exciting and amusing as it was to see an alligator in the street, that paled in comparison as to when we would see a truck coming in from U.S. 41 down Monaco with a porta-potty strapped to the back. Now I know that many people do not get REALLY excited about porta-potties, but we sure did. We would all hop on our bikes and follow the truck. A porta-potty meant a new house which meant a new playground for us. Rafter tag, capture the flag, and bottle cap collecting all lay on the horizon when a porta-potty truck plodded into the neighborhood. Since there were only four main models of home back then, we learned to identify the models very quickly and could plan our game strategies around them. If you live in BSI and your home was built between 1981 and 1985, I have been in your house...and in your attic.
One of the best things about growing up in a developing area like Punta Gorda’s BSI was the fact that the majority of the streets had no homes at all. It was a sports mecca for us. We had a soccer field on every street, stick ball diamonds at almost every cul-de-sac, and with very little (or no) traffic, we had our own Tour-de-France course. We did have our problems however (besides those pesky alligators), there were no streetlights. The city would only put in streetlights on a street that had two homes on it. Very few did, so BSI was quite dark at night. That meant that whatever team in stickball batted last always won because the fielding team could never find the ball.
Since I plan to build on Candia Drive in Burnt Store Isles in the near future, I hope that my daughter will have as many pleasant memories as I do. Growing up in Punta Gorda was great for me but will be different for her. Although I know that the city has changed and that the alligators are pretty much absent from BSI, Mia can still get lost in the mangroves without her parents permission, work every Saturday night bussing tables at Twin Isles like her father and, most importantly, create adventures that I never dreamed of back then. Hopefully, Mia will not look forward to the arrival of new porta-potties.