Two days before my husband, my father, and I were set to hit the road to Port St. Lucie, Florida for a week long, overdue, and much deserved vacation, I walked through the front door after getting home from work to find Jeff sitting in the recliner listening to Motown music and cooking dinner. It was a sweet relief, because I didn’t want to cook anything after a long day plus an early morning kettlebell workout that had basically handed me my ass and said you’re welcome.
Jeff kissed me, and said “two more days!”
I was quickly feeling calmer and calmer by the minute. The closer we got to Saturday morning, the closer I was to be able to sit in the sunshine and look back on how far we actually have come this year. It’s been rough. That’s the nice way of saying it. Many months of scraping by, stress about how much we needed to make before this or that date, and wondering if we were ever going to catch up from the financial blow we had at the beginning of our move last fall. We were supposed to save money. We were supposed to feel progress, not feel like we just took ten steps backwards. We were supposed to be comfortable and save money and have time to actually figure shit out. What do I want to do the rest of my life? ya know, the normal questions you ask yourself every day.
“Do you want the good news or the bad news first?” Says my loving husband. the husband I’m thinking is so freakin’ gonna die if he tells me something like ‘the car is broken, we can’t go to florida’ or ‘a huge bill came though, we can’t afford Florida’ or ANYTHING BAD THAT SAID WE CAN’T GO TO FLORIDA.
“Just give me the bad news, ya jerk!”
“The bad news is AARP thinks you’re 29 year old self is old enough to get senior citizen discounts.”
“And the good news?”
“You’re mamaw is coming with us to Florida.”
“How? My mamaw is dead. She died when I was four. Do we have ashes or something I didn’t know about?”
“No, you’re dad’s mom!”
“Oh, Grandma? …cool!”
I think originally he was nervous about how I was going to react. Since it was so last minute. But I don’t get to see my grandmother very often because, well, life gets busy, life gets tired. I know, I know, you should cherish your relationships while you have them, but I’m human, okay!?! Another thing, too, is that while I don’t see her very often, my grandmother and I have a wonderfully close relationship. It’s kind of a long distance friendship, where we don’t see each other on it, but when we do, we pick up where we left off. I would say our relationship has went through improvement in the past five years. There was a distance for a while, after my grandparents divorced after 39+ years of marriage, and it seemed to split our large family of aunts and uncles and cousins in half. To this day, there are cousins that I once played with as childhood friends that I haven’t seen in twenty years. It happened for various reasons. When all said and done, I still saw my grandmother when she moved out of their house, but I didn’t get to see her as much. There was no Sunday breakfast where I would get to watch her bake biscuits from scratch (and they were the best damn biscuits ever, no one has ever topped her buttermilk biscuits!), I would no longer get to cheat at battleship and Sorry! board games, and Christmas Eve parties were not the same because not everyone showed up like they used to.
But my memories of my grandmother are these precious gems of her doing what she does best, taking care of the family, singing, and playing the guitar, and completely putting herself out there for all of us, sacrificing her time and much needed rest. I have always felt so much love from her. I remember always observing all of these things and hoping one day I would be able to get to a point where I could repay her for her love, for her kindness.
So when, at last minute, Jeff said she was coming with us, I was elated! She never really ever has gotten to travel much, and at the time I wasn’t sure that in her 74 years on earth she had ever seen the ocean. I remember her coming to Dollywood with us when I was 8, and I would learn on the drive down, that my cousins and Uncle Jerry traveled with her to Disney World. She just never traveled, because, mostly, my grandfather for many years never wanted to go anywhere, and she really couldn’t afford it. I was so happy to be able to give something back for a change.
On the drive down, she was quiet, holding her purse for the first two hours in her lap. By hour six she was relaxed and singing along to the music. She insisted on sitting in the back seat because she could enjoy the view of the mountains better, especially Blue Ridge. She repeatedly said “I am so tired from driving, but I’m afraid I’ll miss something! I don’t get to travel much and see this kind of stuff often.”
The first stop of the trip was in Crystal River. We drove down Saturday the thirteen hours it took to get there, stayed the night in a hotel room, not getting much sleep, before heading out to swim with the manatees. The plan originally was that Jeff and I were going to go on the manatee tour while my dad took the car and drove grandma around to eat and shop a little bit. We convinced her otherwise. We all knew she would love the boat tour and sure enough she did. She sat quietly, as usual, but smiled the biggest smile. She laughed at how giddy I was to swim with manatees and how I planned on naming them, each and everyone of them, Bertha. I felt like it was a fitting name, right? Right. The experience altogether was amazing and very humbling to see these big blubbery creatures in their natural habitat. I took only a few pictures because I just new that it wouldn’t be able to capture the moment as beautifully. That, and I also had some kids foot in my face from some other larger tour. But through the slow cruise through the waters Grandma closed her eyes and took in the wind.
Look at BERTHA (that’s at least the name I gave her) moving her way up towards the food, she looks like she’s smiling…a little
Our instructor, Captain Fred, a person that I would to have loved all my life because he seemed to embody the love for manatees as much as I do, was wearing a shirt that was designed by his wife. From the sounds of the stories he told, his wife left him way too soon. The longing in his voice was enough to tell how much he missed her. The design was an outline sketch of a manatee, and I kept mentioning how much I loved it. Capt. Fred said his wife used to design and sell them, but he hasn’t sold any since her death. Grandma, overhearing this, decided that as soon as we got off the boat, she was going to spend what little travel money she had on a manatee t-shirt for me. Despite the fact that I said she didn’t have to, she insisted it was something she wanted to do to show appreciation for the trip.
And that’s just who she is. She never found a t shirt for me, but by the end of the trip she found a necklace with a charm of a mother and her calf. I wear it to this day proudly as though it’s a diamond necklace ( I just really fucking love manatees okay!).
The rest of the week we spent in Port St. Lucy at Jeff’s family condo that sits right on the beach. Grandma would sit on the 9th floor balcony of the condo, outside, and just watch. things. people. surfers. pelicans. cruise ships. Sometimes she would just sit out on the balcony while we went down to the beach and wave surfed. One day she sat out there for two hours watching the waves and didn’t realize how long she’d been out there.
Here is what was so humbling. She knew how small she was in this big old world, next to this big ole’ ocean. She was, in retrospect, like the tiny grains of sand on the beach. She didn’t have to go anywhere or do anything and see more. She just let herself be. She appreciated the sunset and the sunrise. She appreciated nature. She breathed in the salty air, let the wind blow her silver hair, she didn’t get too close to the water because she was convinced the waves would just carry her away. She was not limited by any of it, she was apart of it. Every year since it came out, I read the book Wild by Cheryl Strayed. She wrote,“It was all unknown to me then, as I sat on that white bench on the day I finished my hike. Everything except the fact that I didn’t have to know. That is was enough to trust that what I’d done was true. To understand its meaning without yet being able to say precisely what it was, like all those lines from The Dream of a Common Language that had run through my nights and days. To believe that I didn’t need to reach with my bare hands anymore. To know that seeing the fish beneath the surface of the water was enough. That it was everything. It was my life – like all lives, mysterious and irrevocable and sacred. So very close, so very present, so very belonging to me.
How wild it was, to let it be.”
My grandma Barbara. Isn’t she lovely!
The best moment was looking down at Grandma and my father in jeans, rolled up to their knees, carrying buckets and examining each and every sea shell to collect and take home. Despite the fact that she had never been there before, at that moment, she looked and felt like she belonged there, in paradise. I think that we all get caught up in doing more, making something of ourselves, traveling more, more more more more more….when sometimes, it’s okay to let it be. To appreciate what we have done. And soak it in. TO breaht it in. Because while you may not think that you haven’t done enough, there are people out there who think you have seen more in five years than they’ve seen in their lifetime. They tend to appreciate it more. Here’s to letting it be.