by Prissy Elrod | December 6, 2021

Prissy Elrod on French Kissing Follies, Botched Bathroom Breaks and Embracing the Unexpected

From a tied-up 9-foot gator to a pig in a blanket, a lifetime of exploits led her to discover one of life’s biggest lessons

Illustration by Stephen Lomazzo.

It was unseasonably cool that June day in Tallahassee. I tapped the outdoor walk icon on my Apple Watch screen. A lingering scent of fading gardenias filled the air as I stepped through my front door. I inhaled and captured the glorious aroma. 

The AirPods crammed inside my ears blasted Ed Sheeran’s “Happier” from my playlist. The volume was higher than the 75 decibels recommended by know-it-alls who knew it all. I didn’t care. Tinnitus, an incurable culprit ordained in hell, was my newest affliction. I’m dumbfounded there is nothing out there for tinnitus sufferers—yet impotence is all but cured with Viagra. 

When I reached the next street, I bumped into my neighbors walking their dog. “There’s an alligator,” the man said, his finger pointed toward the pond. “Don’t go there.” 

“I’m not scared of gators,” I replied. They stared at me as if I had two heads. “I grew up on a lake; they lived in my backyard,” I explained to them.

 “Well, we called someone to catch it,” the man said as a puff of fluff pulled on the leash his wife gripped. “That thing could eat my little dog,” she said. The anxious Yorkie looked up at her and trembled. Clearly, the dog was too smart for its own good.

 “Thanks for the warning.” 

We bade goodbye, and as soon as they turned their backs, I beelined to the pond. When I arrived, there was a spectacle of commotion in motion. I confess one of my favorite activities is documenting the crazy in life. Dare I say I have more material than needed nowadays.

An audience of landscapers, maintenance workers and homeowners gathered on the sidelines of the large pond. A strong, skinny and clearly confident man stood on the edge in knee-high waders and battled the weight of the struggling reptile hooked to his pole. A net, snare and ropes spooned his rubber boots.

I confess one of my favorite activities is documenting the crazy in life. Dare I say I have more material than needed nowadays.

I inched my way up past the crowd and stood next to him. I watched and waited as he pulled the wiggling gator from the water to the lawn’s edge and tranquilized him. As he lassoed and bound the gator’s crusty feet together with the rope, I questioned the nuisance-trapper. His name was Broderick Vaughan of Vaughan Gators. Instantly, I knew the man had a passion and talent for reptile ensnarement. But I soon discovered he was also an entertainer, citing facts and stories to his spectators as though giving a TED Talk. 

 “How long you think he is?” I asked as I slid over to the gator and rubbed my hand along his armored back. 

“Hmmm …’bout 9 feet,” he answered as sweat poured from his forehead and through the cotton shirt that clung to him.

“No way, how tall are you?” I asked. 

“6-foot-1,” he replied. 

I studied the gator’s rope-bound, stubby legs. His back feet had four webbed toes with brittle, fungus-covered nails. His front feet were the same but had five, not four, unwebbed toes. I leaned in and whispered to the drugged creature, “Don’t be scared.” 

“Wow, can you lay down next to him so we can measure?” I asked the fearless Broderick. 

He smiled, scooted down and positioned his boots next to the motionless tail of the gator. “Nine feet, 4 inches,” he announced.  “Largest yet from this pond.” 

He’d speculated that the gator came from Lake Jackson, a 7.5-mile-long lake off Rhoden Cove Road, only 1.2 miles from our neighborhood. The lake was lower than usual, even dry in places. 

“Guess he was exploring, searching for water, could be looking to mate,” he said. 

The horny thing should have heeded the “NO TRESPASSING” sign and kept his tail out of our gated community. Now his hide will be a belt, wallet or purse and his tail fried as an appetizer, I thought as my mind flashed back to the beginning of my own fearlessness growing up.

The Age of Exploration

As a young child, long before helicopter parenting became a thing, I loved escaping to explore. Almost every morning, I ventured off, riding my radiant blue Schwinn bicycle, with its two-tone saddle seat and twin headlights. A wicker basket attached to the handlebars housed my self-made lunch, a butter-and-sugar sandwich on Sunbeam white bread. Most days, no one knew where I was or when I’d be home. Usually, it was dinnertime, because I was hungry. Seldom did anyone ask or care where I’d been those four, six, sometimes eight hours. I was a busy bee who collected foliage, flowers and friends. But it was a different time back then, long before the world turned upside down and angry. 

As a teenager, around 16, my thirst for adventure became more audacious. I had a driver’s license and four wheels, not just two. I was no longer confined to the city limits of my small, sleepy town. My inquisitive, foolhardy and precocious self journeyed outside the city limits to other Florida cities, sometimes alone, other times with my older sister, Deborah. She and I burned many a tar road as we raced to get home before our father discovered our wild and forbidden expeditions: a Beach Boys concert in Jacksonville Beach and a sly getaway weekend in Daytona Beach. When we were caught, and we were, we paid with Daddy’s restrictive stipulations. He was the disciplinarian, my mother not so much.

Bonnie showed me his stable and empty stall. He also showed me how to French kiss several times inside his stable. Was it worth restriction once home? Indeed.

One of my first solo adventures was to Ocala, two days after my 16th birthday. I convinced myself it was okay since it was exploration, a form of learning. In truth, I went to visit a darling boy I’d met cheering at an out-of-town football game. Our infatuation blossomed after letters were exchanged and he made multiple visits to see me in Lake City. He’d arrive driving his chick magnet, a fire-red sports car. But the dangled carrot that lured me to Ocala was his promise that I could meet Needles, the family’s famous horse, who’d won the Kentucky Derby. Ultimately, Needles would be responsible for putting Ocala on the map and would later justify Marion County’s claim to fame as the horse capital of the world. 

Bonnie Heath Farm was hidden down a winding paved drive surrounded by lush green pastures and magnificent live oak trees. The farm was named after his father, and, since darling boy was the third, also named after him. This impressed my infatuated self. But, after I’d driven the 80 miles (one way), Needles, the stallion, wasn’t even there. Alas, the winner was away on business. So, Bonnie showed me his stable and empty stall. He also showed me how to French kiss several times inside his stable. Was it worth restriction once home? Indeed. I deposited my explorative excursion inside my memory bank, along with many more that followed. Poor Daddy.

Taking Care of Business

The dictionary defines “explore” in many ways: to travel around; to investigate and inspect; to acquire information. I’ve met every definition 1000 times in my life. I’m always in search of something new, different and exciting. 

In my 20s and 30s, anything pig-related excited me, and I yearned for a potbelly pig. Boone, my then-boyfriend, surprised me on my 21st birthday and arrived at the Pi Phi house with a tiny pig wearing a bonnet and wrapped in a pink blanket. She was stolen 24 hours later. From that day forward, I never liked the taste of pork. But I did marry that man.

My next decades were spent exploring Walt Disney World with our children or tagging along with my husband to conventions at some of Florida’s gorgeous resorts. When these trips got stale, I bought a box of cereal. Well, I really bought 20 boxes, after I read the small print on the side of the first box. It was a contest to win a trip out West. Since we couldn’t afford to go any other way … I would win.

 “Prissy, what are all these boxes for?” my husband asked when he came home to find a tower of no-name cereal boxes stacked on our kitchen table. 

“We’re going to a dude ranch,” I declared. 

“What are you talking about?” 

I explained the contest.

“Do you know how many people will enter that thing? You’ll never win.” He jabbered on about the statistical odds of why I couldn’t or wouldn’t get lucky. 

“Well, do you know how few people read cereal boxes to know there even is a contest?” I walked out with squares sliced from the sides of 20 cardboard boxes. They were my proof-of-purchase validations.  

To say I am disciplined, driven and competitive is an understatement. The contest winner was based on the last call received by 11:59 p.m. on a preannounced day. I timed my calling in seconds, not minutes, and started calling only 15 minutes before the deadline. My proof of purchase had been sent and received in advance. As I recall, the more cereal bought, the better the odds. I dialed lickety-split quick.

Yes, indeed, I won that all-expenses-paid trip for four to Lost Creek Ranch and Spa in Moose, Wyoming, for an adventurous week. Then, I donated all my wounded cereal boxes to the local food bank. My second win was showing my husband I could win, that I was right. Or rather, I’d proved him wrong. If only I’d known how insignificant that kind of victory is.

After a lifetime of exploring this, that or nothing at all, I’ve discovered a truth worth mentioning. The unexpected in life is part of the journey.

As the years moved forward, my exploring was more for the purpose of discovery. Mainly, when I need to pee: Where is the bathroom? It’s never in the right place. The wrong place is a story my husband likes to tell any day, and to my dismay.

We were at the Tallahassee Civic Center for the annual home show of builders, decorators, plumbers and other vendors. Everyone had everything one needed to build a house. We’d been walking for what seemed like hours and I had to go—you know? We were far from a public bathroom, so I kept browsing and put a potty break out of my mind. Then, we came upon a trailer in the far back corner of the massive 54,000-square-foot building. I climbed the stairs and went inside. Lo and behold, as if by a miracle, it had toilets—two of them. I peed. But when I reached back to flush, there was no handle. Wait, is this not a toilet?! 

I raced out to find my husband (who can fix anything) and told him the toilet didn’t flush. Could he fix it? “Oh my God, that’s a showroom, Prissy, not real toilets!” I was confused. The room looked like those fancy outdoor toilets I’d rented for my daughter’s wedding. They were functional, not just fancy. We were both mortified and ran out the back door of the civic center before we, or rather I, could be discovered. There would be other explorations for bathrooms. Trust me, anyone who had 9-pound babies would be on the hunt. I believe one must find humor to survive the unexpected.

I see life like an amusement park, full of joyrides, panicked grips and the occasional harrowing bathroom break. The bumper-car moments can shake us to the core or blanket us with courage. Sometimes they can do both at the same time. After a lifetime of exploring this, that or nothing at all, I’ve discovered a truth worth mentioning. The unexpected in life is part of the journey. All those stumbles and triumphs all tangled together remind us of our pains, gains and everything in between. This universal message nudges me to embrace each new day as though it could be my last. The present is my present and a gift I will never take for granted. This turned out to be my greatest discovery of all.