Make mine a trailer park

Last Saturday, we drove to the beach to visit our friend Joy and swim in her pool. On the way, we stopped at my Dad’s former beachfront house to see how it looked. The mansion next door was for sale, so I jumped out to pick up a flyer.

The pricetag, $7.9 million dollars, was enough to make me gasp. But I was more disgusted by the thought of a 5-bedroom house with over 8300 square feet of space. “Give me a break,” commented Barry, “They call it a single-family dwelling!”

We were still grumbling about it when we reached Ocean Resorts, where Joy lives. As we turned into the park, for it’s considered a “mobile home park,” I found myself wondering who was happier: The residents of Ocean Resorts, who live in homes ranging from 240-square-foot trailers to modest 1100-square-foot houses, or the owner of that mansion?

Ocean Resorts wins that contest, hands down.

Started as a campground in the 1920’s, Ocean Resorts has a friendly family feeling to it. It’s not just for seniors, and people who live there know each other and look out for each other. Last year, 150 of the 400 homes were destroyed in Hurricanes Jeanne and Frances, but most of the residents are rebuilding and returning.

Joy is one of them, replacing the manufactured home that was destroyed in Frances with a charming 2-bedroom house made of concrete block and stucco, or CBS. Joy also introduced us to Marilyn, who had left for Hurricane Jeanne and then heard that her house was on fire from a fallen transformer.

“We called the fire department, but there was nothing they could do. The island had been evacuated. Why didn’t they turn the power off?” Five homes were totally lost in the fire.

Before the fire, Marilyn’s home had been full of her frog collection, with frog art everywhere. “She even had frogs on her towels,” commented Joy. Marilyn and her husband, who spend half the year in New Hampshire, bought a new manufactured home for their Ocean Resorts lot. “Every friend who comes through the door brings me a new frog!” she laughed.

We spent hours at the pool that day, and Joy seemed to know everyone there, jumping up to hug many of her friends.

I snoozed in a chaise lounge after my swim, listening to the surf and feeling the warm sun. I was almost asleep, not really listening to Joy and Dad’s quiet conversation, when I heard something of interest.

“Hmm,” I thought. “I heard her say treasure ship…but was it in Central America, or the Central America?” Just in case, I had to interrupt and ask.

Joy pointed out an older lady in a purple bathing suit. “Her son was the one who got all that gold from the ship, the Central America. That’s Phyllis Thompson.”

Now I was wide awake. “Ooh! Can you introduce me?”

It was only a month ago that I had galloped my way through the excellent book, Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea. It is the behind-the-scenes story of Tommy Thompson and the crew who raised the gold from the famous steamship, the Central America. One of the members of the crew, Alan Scott, belongs to our Seattle sailing club, and his presentation last year got me interested in the book. When I read it, I discovered that much of the preparation for the project was done in Columbus, Ohio, about a block from where I lived at the time. Now, in another amazing coincidence, Tommy Thompson’s mother was here at the pool.

We walked over to chat with Phyllis, who told us that her son had a place in nearby Vero Beach, “But he’s not there very much. He’s on his 29th lawsuit.” Sadly, the raising of the gold from the Central America also brought up a number of sharks — most of the money made from the gold was lost to lawsuits against insurance companies who claimed they had rights to it.

When I mentioned that we knew Alan Scott, she was delighted. “I haven’t seen him in years! When you see him, give him a hug and a kiss from me!”

Joy told us that Phyllis has her own share of gold — she won a number of medals while they were on the senior swim team.

We had a wonderful day, walking and swimming and meeting Joy’s friends. Even people she didn’t know (and there were few) smiled and waved. What kind of people live in such tiny homes, just a few feet away from each other? People who realize that happiness isn’t 8300 feet to yourself and a big gate to keep the rest of the world out. For the folks at Ocean Resorts, and many of the rest of us, happiness is about community.