Saturday, March 6, 2010

Florida Concentrate

My sister and I went to visit my dad last weekend in Florida. She wanted to introduce him to her new son, HRR. I went along to serve as her Paula Ab-Doula but really it was more of a Sherpa roll. I was happy to do it though for the time it gave me to spend with her and to catch up with my dad. The visit was really good, it felt vibrant. Dad was happy to meet HRR. We spent our days in easy conversation and naps. My dad was more himself again, making jokes and smiling at us. Of course, HRR brought a sense of promise into the mix with his gummy smiles and curious eyes. We spent our time doing the normal routine: Trivia at Panama Hatties Friday night, eating (always), talking about life over drinks, and learning new things about our family history. It was great to catch up with some cousin’s who were in town as well. All week I’ve been searching for a way to replay our visit. It seems specific concentrated moments are suitable to report.

N and I took to southern accents and referred to HRR as John Henry (saying it quickly and curtly in what we thought were accurate southern tones). The idea came about in the car on the way from the airport (perhaps after the 100th Florida billboard reminded us we were in the south). As all those silly things do, it added a funny element to the weekend and made us all laugh.

“Mind your manners, John Henry.”
“John Henry, go fetch your Auntie some water from the intercoastal. Quickly now.”
“John Henry, you listen to your momma. You don’t need no piece of pie after your hotcakes. Just ‘cause we at the Village Inn doesn’t mean you have to act like an animal.”

We were in forth place after the first round of trivia. Panama Hatties was too loud, too bright for a sleepy HRR so N was in the car with him. We ended up leaving early from trivia – Dad and Uncle G figured we weren’t going to win anyway. My contribution to trivia that night: “What young actor appeared at the beginning of Michael Jackson’s video Black or White?”
(Answer: Macaulay Culkin)

I caught one vibrant sunrise from the semi-comfort of my dad’s couch, surely the best treat of that sleeping arrangement. The lanky and curved trees had some moss hanging off them. It created a nice silhouette against the orangey-red colors diluted across the sky. It would indicate a day of rain, but at 6 am there was nothing to do but enjoy it. I did take some photos of the intercoastal on Sunday morning with the sun reflecting across it, low enough to create a band of dancing bright light on the water. Later in the day it doesn’t seem so obvious a scene until you find yourself stopping mid-conversation to appreciate a boat streaming by. A land-locked gal like me always finds that novel.

The days started out with a happy HRR swaddled in a blue and brown blanket. I held him while N got dressed and he cooingly smiled at me as we woke up together. He worked on rolling over; by the end of the weekend it seemed he made progress. Dad got up soon after that. I watched him do his early morning routine: taking his cholesterol medicine and orange juice; then retrieving the paper and unfolding it all. He looked at the news for a few moments only to refold one section and settle in to the crossword. Forever, this will be my dad’s move. No one I know folds a paper and sits with a crossword like him. Leaning over it with one arm curved on the writing surface he is at. Every now and then, he looks up over his glasses and considers the answer before penning it in his decisive engineer’s penmanship. It is his morning coffee.

Still raining, we drove back to dad’s passing the cemetery where Grandma and Grandpa are buried. I asked him if he goes to see them. I had some strange urge to stop by. N and I ended up doing it Sunday on our way back from downtown. We left HRR sleeping in the car and used our memories from my Grandmother’s funeral to find their stone. They are next to their good friends, the Tooleys. In fact, they have the same gravestone though Grandma and Grandpa’s is smaller. Standing there didn’t stir emotions as I thought it would. I just wanted to take a minute to check in with them. It’s funny how visiting a grave can seem so strange and comforting at the same time. Does knowing their physical bodies are still there make me feel better? Does that make them seem more “with us” for a few minutes? We walked back to the car considering names on stones; considering life spans.

Dad and I watched news about the quake in Chile. We checked the world map to see where Santiago was and how the ocean currents curved toward the islands. I was in disbelief that a tsunami would hit Hawaii as opposed to say French Polynesia. I love that my Dad has a world map hanging up to reference (D and I always consult ours at home). The news reported Hawaii had an hour before the tsunami would hit. I hate the news these days for the sheer drama played out. Was news that way before? It seems like they are gunning for the next big disaster. They already had branding of sorts for the “Hawaii Tsunami”. I'm all for getting to higher land but let's wait till something happens before we sell it to the American public. We left for my Aunt G’s as the hour countdown was on. The tsunami never did hit.

It’s always so nice to go over to the M’s beach house. Dinner was an amazing gluten-free lasagna and eggplant parmesan with a colorful salad and drinks. The lasagna was so yummy I had to go back for seconds (I was hungry from the VI experience earlier that day). Aunt G made some fantastic bundt cake too (I need to ask her about that recipe). The boys played and watched movies as we all chatted and moved around the room. We were the last to leave that night. Aunt G was tired in her chair, J was ready for more partying, and Dad was staying out later than he had in a long time. It was around 11 pm. We went back to his place and sat up for a bit talking. Perhaps this is my most favorite part of visiting my dad. It seems the late hours of the day inspire candor: stories are recounted and feelings are shared. We ask dad questions about his thoughts on life in the past. That is the thing I always want to do when I am around him: get more memories. Downtown St. Augustine was busy. We hung with Aunt G, J and R and their boys. J had to leave to play golf, but using his typical enthusiasm he came to hang for as long as he could. We sat and had lunch with the ladies and then putzed around the shops, making our way to a playground on the other side of the parking garage. Little J kept jumping through some tires and having me lift him up to the second tier. “One more time,” he kept begging. We didn’t stay on the playground too long. We said our goodbyes and made our way back to dad’s to hang out with him before we left for Orlando.

We sat in Dad's kitchen and looked at his photo albums for a while. The photos were of round-faced babies who are now teenagers. We watched the hockey game and switched to the Phoenix Open. It was around 6 pm when we decided to head to Orlando. Dad walked us out to the parking lot and we hugged goodbye. He went back inside as N and I got the car together. He came back out before we left to tell us Canada won the hockey game in sudden death. I thought that was cool, he wanted to share it with us.

(thanks to N and R for some of the wonderful photos)

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