Rich’s sister and parents moved a few months ago from Destin, Florida to Palm Harbor, Florida (near Tampa). Lily and I had not been to their new area, so we both got to explore everything together. Rich’s brother, Joe, and his wife, Heather, spend the week with us as well. Rich has an aunt and uncle that also live in the area as well as their oldest son and his family who are longtime residents of Tampa. When we first arrived, I was just kind of having a bad day. I was missing Joe and knowing I wasn’t going to have pictures of him surrounding me like I do at home, and I was not sure how the week was going to go, to be quite honest. While I was in the airport waiting for our bags to arrive, I looked at the bag carousel next to us and I got a jolt. The flight there had arrived and all the bags and passengers were gone. However, it said “Belleville, IL has arrived.” That is were Joe was born. Until just a couple of years ago, there wasn’t even an airport there. It is very small. I took this as a message from Joe that he was right there with me, even if I was travelling to Florida.
We had lots of family around and with the temperatures and humidity soaring to the mid-nineties or higher, we sought out shade and water most days. We spent a day at the beach….Honeymoon beach. We set up a tent and some chairs and then hit the water, which was not even at all refreshing. It was like bath water. No problems with ninnies like me who are walking on their tip toes trying not to get splashed or go under….it was so warm. You weren’t chilly getting out in the breeze either. Lily and her Aunt Heather spent their time sifting through the sand under their feet for the prettiest and whole shells they could find. They each found a large shell to hold their others as they sifted through the handfuls of sand. Lily forgot to pack her bathing suit of all things so she got a bikini at Walmart….it did the trick. It was the first bikini she had worn since we adopted her in China and took her swimming there.
We spent a day at the pool at the apartments Rich’s sister, Tammie, and their parents live in. That was also like bath water. Did you know they actually have pools that are cooled in the summer and warmed in the winter in Florida? Crazy! As I already mentioned, we went snorkeling with the manatees one day. This was something Rich’s mom wasn’t up to, so the two of them went on an air boat ride in the everglades just down the road and then stopped for ice cream. (She made it quite clear she never turns down chocolate ice cream.) The younger two generations went on a tubing trip in Rainbow Springs State Park with Rich’s cousin John and his family. That was nice. It hit triple digits that day and because it was in the springs (near where we went swimming with the manatees) the water was 72 refreshing degrees. Other than Joe coming nose to nose with an alligator when he was snorkeling, it was pretty uneventful and relaxing. I know that Joe and Michelle loved to go tubing with their friends and this was the first time I had done it in many, many years. It made me think of them.
We spent time at city and state parks. We toured Safety Harbor and went to Tarpon Springs a couple of times for some great Greek food (HUGE Greek community). We had a big traditional Italian family meal at Auntie Joyce and Uncle John’s house one evening. She hosted 15 of us and I am pretty sure there was enough to feed double that, in true Italian fashion. One evening we all gathered in one apartment to watch the original Top Gun movie since Lily had never seen it. A few days later, we took her to see the new one in IMAX. Loved it. Lily liked it too. I may even go see it again. That is saying a lot for this gal who hadn’t been to a movie theatre in maybe 3-4 years. I am typically not a movie person. But it defined my young adult life and was done well, so I really enjoyed it. Watching a flying movie with a pilot at your side laughing at inappropriate times during the movie because it is improbable to happen in real life is somewhat of a buzz kill but that only happened once. Even Rich said it was done pretty realistically.
Most of all, we spent time together as a family. Rich’s mom has Alzheimer’s and her memory has deteriorated drastically over the last two years. Her sense of time is off kilter and even knowing her own children and grandchildren are becoming a fading memory. I made a memory book for her of her kids and daughters-in-law, grandkids, mom, and her siblings. Very simple with one person per page with their name and who they are to her. She remembered her mom and her sister the most, both of whom are in heaven. Heartbreaking to the rest of us, she doesn’t really seem to remember my Joe, or that he has died. We shed a lot of tears talking about it and explaining to her everything. Something must have clicked at one point because the next day she apologized and said that she hadn’t realized I had lost a son, and she was inconsiderate for not acknowledging that. Then she forgot again. It is hard, and I know even more so for her husband who is watching her personality and memory fade, and for my sister-in-law, Tammie, who is also right there everyday to see the decline. Luckily, they both have a pretty good sense of humor, because it would be pretty awful if they didn’t. I had a nice talk with Auntie Joyce, who has somewhat slid into the place of my mother-in-law, now that she can’t really carry on a conversation anymore. I talked with her about my health…about the grief that overwhelms me more often than not. Since I am used to being alone 90% of the time, not being alone AT ALL that week in Florida was hard for me. I couldn’t just break down and cry when I needed to. Tallinn is used to it and he comforts me when I am at home. So it was good to have a few stolen moments to talk with her.
Here are many of the photos I took in Florida. I have decided that Florida has really ugly birds….it is like they all are part turkey or something. They have a lot of alligators (not my favorite, but happy to have said I saw them in the wild). They have hot, sticky weather (which made me mention more than once out loud that I can’t wait to get to Montana next year!). However…..they have gorgeous trees. The Spanish moss adds another special touch. I love photographing trees….so be forewarned. There is a tree in Safety Harbor called the Baranoff Oak Tree. It is the oldest live oak in Pinellas County and it is BEAUTIFUL.