Edna: As a little girl growing up in land-locked Kansas, it might seem unlikely I would have dreamt of becoming a mermaid. Margie and I knew how to swim; we'd sneak off to the swimming hole on hot summer afternoons when all our chores were done. Mama thought we were napping, and she would have been scandalized at the thought of us stripping down to our skivvies and swimming in public. But there, under the murky water, I'd pretend I was a beautiful mermaid with long flowing hair and a powerful tail that could propel me all the way across the ocean if I so chose. I never told anyone about my dream; Mama and Daddy would have thought it too fanciful, and Margie would have teased me mercilessly. So I kept my thoughts a secret, and would hide myself among the library shelves, quietly marveling over the mermaids in the picture books.
By the 1950s, I was a married woman. My husband Joe was a traveling salesman, and his work took him far and wide while I was often left home alone to twiddle my thumbs. Joe wasn't always a trusting man, and I do believe he worried, because I was still a pretty young thing then. I can remember the day he returned from one of his jobs, saying that he was taking me along on his next sales trip. We were going on a week-long car trip, he said, and I didn't even care where we were going. I was simply delighted to be going somewhere outside of Jericho, KS.
By the time we finally got to our destination, two days after we'd set out from Kansas, I was dusty and tired. Joe had driven as if on a mission to get to Florida, and I was wondering why I'd agreed to come. Our trip so far had been nothing but greasy diners and low-rent roadside motels. Joe didn't seem to mind, and why would he? He was used to this kind of life. All I wanted was to arrive wherever it was he was so all-fired up to get to. I'm afraid that I wasn't the best traveling companion, and I frequently let him know just how uncomfortable I was during the trip.
We didn't even stop at a hotel to freshen up before he drove me straight to what turned out to be the most magical place I'd ever seen: Weeki Wachee Springs. It didn't look like much when we first got there, but I had no idea what was in store for me. Joe led me to a pavilion and sat me down in a small theater that overlooked what seemed to be a large glass-fronted aquarium. I turned to give him a piece of my mind: we'd driven all this way just to see a fish show? My lands, we'd been driving along the Gulf of Mexico for almost the whole day, we could have seen all the fish we'd wanted without coming this far! But just as I started to speak, the music started, and he gestured that I should watch the tank.
It was as if I'd been sent staight back to my childish dreams in that Kansas swimming hole. The tank was filled with glorious mermaids! It was a mermaid show, something I hadn't even known existed. There were the most beautiful women dressed as mermaids, doing all kinds of acrobatics and amazing feats underwater. One of them even ate and drank and combed her hair, all without coming up for air.
I sat there, stunned but delighted, and wondering how on Earth had Joe known that this was what I'd needed, this brief and fanciful return to childhood? When the show was over, I turned to Joe, but I couldn't say a word. Joe simply looked back and said, "Happy Anniversary, honey."