Joyce, Larry, and Cheryl grew up playing together. There were five years between Larry, the oldest, and Cheryl, the youngest. Joyce was right in the middle. Nora and Nita joked that Joyce and Larry would get married when they grew up. As kids, Larry really didn’t have much interest in the two girls. He had boy things to do. He watched over them when they were outside, but he had zero interest in playing dolls or house or girl pretend. He’d build them playhouses out of blankets and laundry baskets, but if they roped him into playing house with them, he ‘went to work’ as soon as the house was built and never returned. Joyce and Cheryl weren’t very best friends, but they were happy to play together when their parents visited each other.
The two families didn’t live in the same neighborhood and as the kids got older there was less time to just go over and visit for the day. They spent a lot of weekends together, mostly at the beach. Nita’s brother Buddy practically lived in the water. He and his wife had seven kids, all named with ‘J’ names, and they lived in a little cabin on Escambia Bay until they outgrew it and moved into Gulf Breeze. When Buddy and his family moved into Gulf Breeze, they owned one of the first waterbeds on the market and had the first in-ground pool in the neighborhood. The only time I remember seeing the J kids NOT wearing some type of beach- or water-related clothing was at their weddings, several of which were on the beach or beside the pool.
After World War II, tourism became Florida’s biggest industry. The beaches where middle- and lower-class families had earned a subsistence living were now being bought out by large companies and turned into resorts. In 1971, Disney World was built near Orlando and became one of the largest resorts in the world. But other attractions were there before Disney: Sea World with its trained Orcas, Weeki Wachee Springs and its mermaids, Cypress Gardens, the water ski capital of the world. Seaquarium, Gatorland, Marineland, Silver Springs and its glass-bottomed boats, Kennedy Space Center. There were sport fishing tours, boating, canoeing, white sand beaches, airboats in the everglades…so many tourist attractions then and so many more now. Most of the tourism was centered around all of the water in Florida and all of the things to do in the water.
Show water skiing took off during this time and Buddy started his own ski school in Pensacola and started putting on ski shows as advertisement. The performers were his kids and Nita and Nora’s kids: five boys and five girls skiing in a group, skiing with one ski, skiing barefoot, performing shoulder carries, pyramids, headstands. They performed synchronized moves, skied backwards, did turns, jumps, and slaloms.
Buddy partnered up the boys and girls according to compatible sizes and felt it was best to always have the same partner so you were in tune with each other. Joyce and Larry started out as partners and never outgrew each other. They grew up entangled in the water and had to quickly put away being bashful or shy with each other. Water is actually pretty hard when you fall on it and since they were skiing without any safety flotation devices, everyone had to be watching out for everyone else.
As far as Joyce was concerned, it was a given that she was going to marry Larry when they grew up. Nora and Nita always said so, and the two kids spent a lot of time in each others’ arms. Cheryl and James were the only other ski couple not related to each other and James was younger than Cheryl; they irritated each other out of the water. Larry just thought of Joyce as a little girl he’d always known and skied with, but it was difficult to ignore when Joyce reached puberty.
Joyce was an early bloomer. Until high school, she was the tallest girl in class. She was the first to start developing. Still her daddy’s little angel, Joyce had all the latest fashions. Her hair was styled in the newest styles; she had all sorts of makeup and jewelry. She was tall and well-developed for her age, and boy-crazy like Nita had been. Except her focus was solely on one boy: Larry.
For his part, Larry dated other girls. He was young, after all, and had plenty of time before he had to settle down. He didn’t really have a steady girl; he played the field. Every time Joyce called to talk to Larry and was told he was out on a date, she was heartbroken. When she saw him out with other girls she was outraged. How could he do this to them? Why couldn’t he see they were meant to be together forever? She had to do something.
She asked for a bikini to wear while skiing. Nita said no; she was too young to be wearing a bikini. But Jesse never denied his daughter anything if he could give it to her. So Joyce was the first girl on their little ski team to have a bikini. Joyce made sure to hold onto Larry extra long after stunts. She flirted with him and made sure she could bring him whatever he needed. And before long, her plan worked: She and Larry were going steady.
Larry was 16. Joyce was 14.