I lost a friend yesterday. Not in “we had a fight I’m taking my boiled peanuts and going home” way, my friend passed away unexpectedly. I received a text Sunday as I stood in the campground where so many memories were made, Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park, making more memories with more friends. After the news, I proceeded to go off on my Linda Myrick Memorial golf cart ride, through off limits areas and to the bra tree.
I met Linda through my membership in the Ocala Jeep Club. It’s hard to remember the year but the best photographic evidence has it in the summer of 2006. What I do recall is it was so hot that Tom had to break out the blue blower to move the stagnant, moist air around to just have some relief. Ray had invited Tom and Linda to the campout at Doe Lake in the summer and they easily fell in with the snarky, smart ass people who populated the group. Tom had enough mechanical knowledge to pass his entry exam with the men and Linda brought boiled peanuts and a margarita recipe-the women accepted with open arms.
Within months of the Doe Lake Campout we were again camping at the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak, only this time Tom and Linda brought more people with them, Tom’s sister and her husband, Gina and Harris Mulkey. The only prerequisite of being a member of the Jeep club was you had to own a Jeep. Harris had a Jeep so they were welcomed as well. But Suwannee would be where everyone’s friendship was forged. As the story goes, we were ill advised by the campground folks that our Jeeps would be fine on their trails. Well when the Jeep Club rolled in with 36” boggers, cut up bodies and winches the campground management quickly recanted and pointed fingers at invisible people and we were suddenly grounded to the campsite. But as luck would have it, Tom and Harris pointed some in the right direction and we replaced our Jeeps with rental golf carts. Banned Jeepers with golf carts and a place to use them usually ends badly……for the golf cart.
Linda’s immersion into the Jeep club became more significant when she was “volunteered” to be the club secretary, with the promise of glory and riches beyond her dreams. Not really, but she was promised a cool jacket with her name on it and that seemed to calm the ruffled feathers. She performed admirably and was justly rewarded with her jacket at the end of her term. Over the course of her secretarial reign, we were introduced to another member of her clan that became a club member, her sister Susan.
Susan liked to cut up and laugh the same as the rest of us. During one of our many campouts to Suwannee, Susan was left as a single paddler on our annual canoe trip and I was asked to join her with specific instructions from Linda, “Jenn, Susan likes to be in charge so just agree with everything she says, do what she tells you to do and this will all work out great.” With my directions I proceeded to make quick friends with Susan.
It should be noted here that the canoe trip itself was a rather mundane ordeal, we just paddled our way down the Suwannee, dodging monster sturgeons and enjoying the scenery-oh look, more trees. The real excitement, and what us off road junkies really paid for, was the shuttle ride to the put in. Our first year the moms were none too happy to find the vans had their rear seats removed (along with the seat belts) to be replaced by plywood benches along each side. Space was at a premium so I handed my son off to Jesse Thompson and asked him to hold on to him that I was going to the front seat. I proceeded to close the rear doors and secure them with the bailing wire so graciously provided by the outpost people. The front seat did have a seat belt but I was feeling guilty about living while so many others would perish therefore I chose not to wear it. As we moved along to the put in, we queried our driver as to why the front of the van had a smashed windshield and a buckled fender. “Oh I side swiped a tractor trailer on the way to the put in while I was texting. He just came out of nowhere.” I said a quiet prayer that we could get there in one piece and sucked that seat up with my butt, for there was no turning back now. We arrived somewhat unscathed to our put in, only after our driver clipped a four inch sapling on the passenger side. The following year would also have its excitement as two of the vans side swiped each other on a dirt road near the put in. I simply couldn’t understand why Ginger Gibson was so indignant, I mean you had seat belts this time at least. But as I said earlier, as hearty, rock tested members of the Ocala Jeep Club, we were unphased, just more memories to cherish.
In my attempt to memorialize Linda, I asked the club members to share with me their memories of Linda. Because we are sarcastic, off-the-cuff types, it couldn’t be the usual gushing of “oh Linda was so sweet, I’ll always remember her witty banter.” She wouldn’t have wanted it that way. I imagine Linda would have wanted her great misdeeds immortalized in story for all to share and laugh about. Millie and I tortured our brains to come up with something but were drawing complete blanks. But thanks to Sandi Ronca, I now give you The Great Moose Hunt.
While most of our Jeep club memories center around our Jeeps of course, the more humorous stories come when we were not in our Jeeps, more than likely camping. OJC is really a Jeep club with a camping problem. And for the record, we are not a hiking club either. From tents and houses of cards to fifth wheels and glorious Class A motor homes, we try to travel in style as much as possible. Some of our more memorable camping trips throughout central Florida include the naked runners at the Florida Jeepers campout to the puking Gator 4×4 guys who picked up a road kill deer on the way to Oklawaha. Linda herself was nearly pitched off the dock at Parramore’s. But Linda will be forever remembered as the lead investigator in the recovery of her cherished, tagged moose.
The moose in question, a carved, wooden piece, was purchased and was to serve as a door stop for Tom and Linda’s new motor home. For a reason, known only to Linda, the tag remained on the moose. During one of our campouts at Doe Lake, Sandi’s daughter Talia attempted to remove the tag and was promptly chastised by Linda and her mother for messing with other people’s things. Bear in mind, Talia is a grown woman with two children of her own. Fast forward to the end of the year campout and Talia would exact her revenge. She deftly slipped up to the camper and swiped Linda’s prized moose and hid it in her Jeep. When Linda realized her moose was gone she immediately recruited a posse consisting of Sandi and….well, Sandi and they began searching Silver River State Park for the moose. Who says you can’t hunt moose in Florida? In her investigation and water boarding interrogation of possible accomplices, she was able to recover the moose as someone had removed it from Talia’s Jeep and placed it in the middle of camp. With her moose recovered, Linda’s treasured door stop would be seated in a place of honor-on the lap of Sandi in the golf cart as they resumed their trail riding antics. But Sandi would soon prove to be as deft as any CIA operative as she passed off the moose while Linda wasn’t looking to her young, teenage apprentice, Ashley Hartigan, as she slipped through the woods. Once Linda realized her moose was gone again and it was her friend that allowed it, the quest was on again. Ashley outsmarted her though and put the moose right back in its rightful place-against the door of Linda’s RV. And so ends the great moose hunt.
We’ve been out of the club now for three years or so but the friendships forged will last a lifetime. The common denominator amongst the OJC faithful was if you weren’t laughing at your own misfortune or someone else’s, you weren’t doing it right and no one was immune. If I witnessed it and thought I could make a funny story of it, forget it, you were toast. Spontaneity ruled the day.
My heart has been aching all week, not just for the loss of my friend, but for the friend my daughter also lost. Delaney would not share any of her stories about her experiences with Linda which leads me to believe that there were nefarious activities involving red and blue Solo cups. But as long as Delaney was safe and had an adult confidant to guide her through her teenage years I guess I could learn to live with it. Once OJC kids reached a certain age, their only requirement was they had to check in periodically and be in bed by midnight during our camp outs. Otherwise they were on their own, learning how to make friends with adults and taking in whatever wisdom was afforded them. Like a big dysfunctional Indian tribe. We cared for them as our own, probably better than our own, and each one learned to get beyond their comfort zone and try new things which make them well rounded in the end.
In closing, today is Linda’s memorial service in the thriving metropolis of Hawthorne. I shall point my Jeep south down U.S. 301 and join with my club friends as we celebrate the life of someone who lived it. It is my earnest prayer that I spend more time laughing than I do crying, because that is the way Linda would have wanted it. I can hear Linda now in my head, “what are you crying for, put on your big girl panties and deal with it.” Challenge accepted.