weeki wachee

How a mermaid gets in hot water

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As readers of my new book “The Other Mother: a Rememoir” now know – my mermaidenhood is fishy, to say the least. I come clean in the book, as all memoirists should. There’s a whole chapter disclosing how my scaly side came about and I wouldn’t dream of spoiling the book for you by giving away any important details.

Instead, this is a blog about consequences. My publisher, Susan Kammeraad-Campbell, is a big believer in mermaids herself so she saw no harm in putting proof on the invite that we mailed out to supporters and friends of Byrne Miller – my other mother. I figured it’d come out soon enough anyway, since its one of the photos actually in the book.

"The Other Mother: a Rememoir" launch invite
“The Other Mother: a Rememoir” launch invite

Anne

Marina

What I didn’t count on is the whirlpool of confusion it would create for two of my favorite little girls in the known universe. Ann is a 10-year-old who lives in Beaufort (top photo) and Marina is my niece, ( bottom photo) an almost 9-year-old who lives in Florida. Both girls saw the invite with my mermaid picture. Both girls were shocked – for different reasons.

For Anne,  it was more about the picture. She’s never known me before I dyed my hair black, so there’s that issue. (It seems a lot of people have that issue. I’m so not a blonde anymore. Just accept it.) She’s also never seen my mermaid tail. And that’s a problem, since we are swimming buddies who spend hours each summer cavorting in the creek behind my house. I’ve always told her I was a mermaid, but she wrote it off as just another inane thing her silly friend says to make her laugh.  I’m not sure how it’s going to play out. Anne came to the launch but was suddenly shy, as if she wasn’t sure who the heck I really was anymore.

Marina had seen the picture before. She was scared that by putting it on the invitation everyone would find out and it wouldn’t be a family secret anymore. We have lots of secrets in my family – this is probably the only good one. My mermaidenhood is something like an exclusive club – even her older brothers are sworn to secrecy. Her concern is entirely logical, given that  the reason I’ve always given her for my tail not showing itself anymore is that I’ve been suspended by mermaid management. On account of the first time my nephews saw my tail, in the bathtub, conveniently captured in the photograph. It happened before Marina was born but such is the way of legends.

My sister and nephew, surprising me at the launch of "The Other Mother'
My sister and nephew, surprising me at the launch of “The Other Mother’

And now I’ve gone and blown it. Outed myself. Normally when I do stupid things I ask my younger sister Jenny to help get me out of trouble. Before my suspension by mermaid management excuse, Jenny told the boys that the reason my tail isn’t visible to anyone but family is because of the secret (suntan) lotion I carefully smear all over  every time I swim. Earlier this summer, when we had a family girl’s trip to Weeki Wachee and saw a mermaid show where some of the performers did NOT have tails, it was Jenny who explained that river and spring mermaids are different. She’s always got my back, or tail as the case may be.

Marina, at her first Weeki Wachee show
Marina, at her first Weeki Wachee show

Marina turns nine this weekend and for her birthday she wanted a “mermaid encounter” at Weeki Wachee instead of a party. Weeki Wachee closes for the winter so Jenny booked the “encounter” for last Sunday.

Marina's mermaid "encounter"
Marina’s mermaid “encounter”

I was supposed to go, along with my mermaid sister Lolita, but a blown tire blew our chances. We had to content ourselves with a phone call after the “encounter.” The conversation with a very tired little mermaid went something like this:

Me: I’m so sorry we missed it. We wanted to swim down the Intracoastal but even with our tails it’s too far.

Marina: That’s okay Auntie Mermaid. I had fun anyway.

Me: Did you get to swim with a mermaid?

Marina: Yes, her name is Christa.

Lolita: Oh Crista – we know her.

Me: (silently) way to go Lolita!

Marina: Is she a friend of yours too Auntie Mermaid?

Me: If I remember correctly, she has blond hair…or maybe blondish brown… or

Marina: Yes! She has blond hair and it gets kinda brown when it’s wet.

And so, thanks to both my actual sister and my mermaid sister, Anne still thinks I’m silly and Marina still believes I’m a mermaid. Now if I can just make sure neither one of them reads the book until they’re, like, twenty….

Auntie Mermaid

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Spoiler-alert…if you choose to read this blog you will find out one of the deep dark secrets in my upcoming memoir “The Other Mother.” I am a mermaid. Ask two out of my sister’s three kids and they’ll confirm it. They’ve even seen my tail. The original sighting happened just once, years ago, in the bathtub of my sister’s Orange City Florida home and because of that mermaid transgression, I’ve been on long-term suspension by mermaid management.

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I had to have some answer to the question that has plagued me ever since: when do you get your tail back? That it isn’t up to me has been a good enough excuse to satisfy my two nephews (the oldest one until he turned 15 anyway.) But it didn’t seem fair that only the boys had actually been to Weeki Wachee Springs and seen the live mermaid show that started my nickname of Auntie Mermaid.

Well, I finally got to take my 8-year-old niece on a girls weekend where I introduced her to the wonders of her mermaid heritage. She too, believes she is a mermaid. After all, her name is Marina Teresa, after her aunt. She has personally applied the magic suntan lotion to my legs so that her Auntie Mermaid’s tail becomes invisible to anyone but other mermaids. We wouldn’t want any non-family members to find out my secret and ruin it forever. But eight years is a long time to go without meeting another living, swimming mermaid.

mermaidshowpix

I don’t know which one of us was more excited, me or Marina. I love the fact that Weeki Wachee is a piece of old Florida, charmingly hokey while still a natural oasis. But I was a little worried that the whole park would seem stale and boring to a kid raised on special effects and amusement parks like Disney in her backyard. I should have had more faith.

The first Weeki Wachee show was, of course, Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid.” Marina sat next to me in the underground amphitheatre with its glass wall looking out an actual fresh-water spring. The curtain rose with a cascade of bubbles and when they cleared, four nubile mermaids waved back at us, their long hair drifting in unseen currents.

marinawatchingmermaids

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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For the first few minutes Marina was so entranced she couldn’t talk, and then the questions never stopped. “Is she your friend too?” and “I think her tail is the most beautiful, don’t you?” were easy. When, during the second show, the emcee explained “how they do it,” Marina’s questions got trickier.  We decided that fresh-water mermaids have to use little tubes to get air because they’re used to salt water. The girls with legs instead of tails are just actresses pretending to be real mermaids, or else they use the same super secret leg lotion I do to keep their tails invisible.

I would gladly slather myself in mermaid lotion forever to hold onto the magic of our Weeki Wachee weekend. One day Marina might think her Auntie Mermaid delusional and embarrassing, but for now she swears she wants to grow up and be just like me. Except for one thing. Instead of writing stories about what it’s like to find an “Other Mother,” Marina plans to write a book about being a mermaid.

Marinas 7th birthday 001

Mermaids and Karma

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I’ve been dwelling a lot on karma these days, maybe because it’s too hot to do anything more productive – like contemplating or considering or rejecting karma. It may not even qualify as karma, but I’m referring to the kind that goes like this: if you make up a story to get out of a bind that story will end up coming true.

 What this has to do with mermaids is this. Many of you know that I am one, have been long before Disney merchandised the whole concept with that cloying Aerial. But for the past two months I’ve had to stay clear of the river that flows in front of my house because of a small but pesky open wound that may or may not have started from a spider bite. For a mermaid, not being allowed to swim is the equivalent of being grounded. I’m not the only one. A mermaid sister of mine, Lolita, has been grounded thanks to a nearly-broken back. We’re both miserable. Which is why I’m wondering if karma is to blame. I can’t speak for my mermaid sister’s case, but I may have had it coming.

 About three years ago I invented a story. (Okay lied.) I told my inquisitive nephew Brandon that the reason he couldn’t see my tail anymore* is because I was grounded by mermaid management. It isn’t necessarily permanent, but until the powers that be say so, I am no longer a mermaid.

*The tail he once saw (full disclosure here) was a costume I rented before his little brother could walk and before his little sister was born. On a visit to Florida, I wore the costume in his bathtub and posed for this picture. This does not prove that I am not a real mermaid. It was simply easier than auditioning for the Weeki Wachee mermaid show or giving up my voice to marry a prince. I’ve been Auntie Mermaid ever since.

 

I come by mermaidenhood honestly. I wanted to be a ballerina but I wasn’t tall enough. As I’m explaining in the book I’m writing for Joggling Board Press, my mother conveniently taught swimming lessons at the Hillsboro, Oregon indoor pool. Here’s a little sample (not yet edited):

 “I spent hours each summer day cross-legged at the bottom of the shallow end, holding my breath and trying not to puff out my cheeks too much. Through the stinging, chlorinated water I looked up at my mother’s legs, treading water, and resolved never to look like I was riding a bicycle. I squeezed my legs together instead, pointing my toes and bending at the hip to propel myself under the struggling students. Blowing tiny bubbles from my nose, I could undulate across the entire length of the pool without coming up for air. I refused to wash my hair with the special chlorine rinse my mother used because I wanted my blonde hair to turn green, like the moss tangled in the illustrated Little Mermaid’s locks.”

I loved that my nephew knew me not as Teresa but as his Auntie Mermaid. But once he reached about ten the questions started coming fast and furious.

Q: Why doesn’t your tail come out every time you swim?

A: I have special lotion (sunscreen) that I always put on my legs to keep my tail invisible.

 Q: Is Gary a merman?

A: No. He’s not a good enough swimmer.

 Q: Can’t you make him one?

A: No, I love him too much to drown him.

 Q: We won’t tell anyone. Can’t we see the tail again?

A: Sorry. Mermaid management found out about the first time you saw my tail and that’s why I’m grounded.

 See what I mean about karma? The story I told to get out of a bind has actually come true, just ten years later. Swimming in the life-giving, organism-filled waters of our tidal ecosystem is a recipe for flesh-eating bacteria. I didn’t just ascertain this from the tabloids – actual doctors concurred. Wait until all broken skin is completely healed. No matter how hot and humid it is. This weekend marks the all-clear mark when it’s safe for me to swim again. So for the sake of karma, don’t mention it if you see a mermaid’s tail break the surface of the water.