Vacation Week: February 28 - March 6, 2012
Here, just a few stories, highlights, and simple thoughts about my Florida vacation with my ma.
8am – Tuesday, February 28 2012
This was it! Our long awaited, much anticipated vacation down South was finally upon us. It was last summer when my mother and I decided that we would make the long drive to Florida together in dad’s convertible, this one last time before she sells it later in the spring. My now widowed mother (it is SO weird to type that) has no need for 2 vehicles, after all; she finds it strange enough to think that she'd outright own one, let alone two cars, PLUS a 5 bedroom house on her own for crying out loud!
Mom and dad had been taking up residence in Sebring Florida for the past nine years, heading down each winter for the entire month of March, each time cruising the I-75 interstate as the means to get there, never flying, always eager. This pleasure always made possible by my loving Uncle John, mom’s brother, and his amazingly sweet and generous wife Anne, who brought the Florida home into my family and has so kindly offered it to my folks each year since.
We knew that March 2011 was to be my father’s last trip; his health fast deteriorating by that point, mom having to pack up both his walker and wheelchair for that final journey. After dad’s passing, mom made the pledge to keep up tradition, and made plans to come back this year, as strange as it may feel without her husband. We all knew it would be difficult for her to bear alone, and the idea of my mother driving that long route solo was just as unimaginable. So I decided to accompany her on the trip down, my sisters will visit over March Break, and many of my aunts and uncles will also be making the trip down at various points throughout the month as well; never a quiet house for long, much love and support to my mom when she will need it most.
So, back to the road trip.
We left our hometown with fresh coffee in hand by 8am (I decided to end my coffee detox that day in celebration of vacation!) and managed to make it all the way to Knoxville Tennessee on that first day of travel. Now this probably doesn’t seem like all that a miraculous feat to some, but consider that my mother was the soul driver (I don’t have my license anymore!) and that’s a whole lot of miles to cover without any switch-offs behind the wheel!
We settled into our hotel room shortly after 7pm that night, just south of the city, and after a brief stint of staring exhaustively at terrible hotel room TV, we were both down for the count and slept through until 6am the following morn. The next day was another long day on the highway, but we managed to make our way right into Sebring at dusk, the sweet aroma of orange blossoms infiltrating our senses, and instilling instant calm. We grabbed some groceries and a bottle of wine, and once at the house “cheered” our successes, and settled mom in for the month (and in my case, the week).
Now I can’t go any further without giving a shout-out to our additional wonderful roadside companion; a true miracle worker when it came to navigating us through the big cities, a wealth of knowledge regarding all things I-75, a variable wizard of facts, and inspired storyteller to boot. I don’t know Dave Hunter personally, but his presence on our journey along the Interstate sure did make the trip vastly more enjoyable and smooth, and really had the hours flying by.
Dave Hunter is the author of the book “Along Interstate 75”, a step by step mapping of the entire trail from the Canada-US border, right through to the Georgia-Florida one; each page filled with lane change directions, speed trap information, geographical factoids, and where to stop for gas, food and lodging. I spent the better part of our car time flipping through the pages, reading, researching, and guiding my mother as she weaved through the heavy traffic of Detroit, Cincinnati, Knoxville and Atlanta.
So, what did we get up this week? Well a whole lot of nothing! Mom and I whiled away our days lazily, sleeping in (I never made it past 7:30am however!), leisurely grazing over breakfasts, reading, knitting, shopping, cooking, sunning, napping, shopping, eating, reading, sleeping, wining, dining…
We arrived to 28 plus degree weather, with nothing but heat, humidity, and sunshine for the entire first 3 days. Quite a welcome change from the single digit temps of Toronto, and a delightful way to welcome my first few sessions of suntan-time.
At one point on the trip I had to comment that this way of living must be what it feels like to be a "kept woman"! It was just so easy. Some days involved waking up with the sun and heading out for an inspiring run along the sandy roads of ground-up seashell gravel, amongst miles and miles of orange trees, their sugary sweet smells filling my nose and heart with a peaceful happiness. This was always followed by a drawn out breakfast outdoors in the sunshine, a far cry from my rushed 4am wake ups in Toronto. I spent a ton of time in the kitchen, cooking up meals for mom and I to enjoy; many salads, grilled goodies, and even created a few new vegan dishes that I am excited to share on my food blog at a later date as well! We wandered through a handful of supermarkets, exploring the vast array of food product not available in Canada, as well as made full mornings of department store shopping a regular occurrence. We aimed for at least one “outing” a day, whether it be a trip to the strip mall, a foodie stop, a simple drive, or a movie.
(me post-run, enjoying early sun and oranges)
Saturday March 3, 2012
This day. This day was my parents’ 39th wedding anniversary. For the past 8 years, they had been in Florida together to celebrate, marking the milestone with some sort of "special" treat like breakfast at IHOP, dinner at Ruby Tuesdays or Olive Garden, or a trip to the movies. It was always a nice excuse for mom and dad to do something a little "extra" to kick off their month in the south.
This year, it was just mom and me. The night previous, we had quite a few tears talking about Dad. We spoke about his illnesses and his rapid fifteen month progression downhill. We reflected on many of our greatest memories, laughed over all the funny quirks posessed by the man that we both love and miss so dearly. We spent a good time sitting at the kitchen table just remembering, feelings of sadness and anger boiling up, and then acceptance seeping in to calm us. I think we both went to bed that night feeling a bit of a pain in our gut, mom more so than I, as she was crawling into a bed that was now empty, her sleeping partner of 38 years no longer there for cuddles and kisses.
The next morning, anniversary day, I decided to get out a bucket of soapy water, the garden hose, and a rag, and proceeded to scrub and shine up the Sebring, my gift to Pops on this special day. Earlier in the week mom had commented that dad would have been just disgusted by the filthy state of his loved convertible with the smattering of dead bugs on the grill, the streaks of mud and grease on the body..he would never allow his vehicle to look so unkempt for very long. I can clearly recall waking up early on Saturday mornings while growing up on our farm, seeing Dad out in the lane way, turtle wax in hand. He would wash and shine up his cars with precision, listening to golden oldies, enjoying every satisfying minute.
Later that day mom and I ventured to the far North end of town to the movie theatre, and once there decided to see “The Descendants” over “The Vow”, as we figured there would be no contest between the two had Dad been there and given the choice. So we saw what he’d have wanted to see, and cried our way through the two hour performance. It was a hard flick to sit through that day; a movie filled with family pain, illness, hospital rooms and death - all things we had experienced firsthand not ten months prior. Once again, I think both mom and I walked out into the parking lot after the movie with matching pain in our guts. Pain that we went home and quieted with a couple of sweet glasses of Muscato wine, and a wee bit of Sherry.
Sunday March 4 2012
It was cooler out, a mere 20 degrees with a light rain through the morning, and cool breeze in the afternoon. Mom and I spent the entire morning indoors, reading, blogging, knitting. After I did a lunch hour workout, we had a quick bite to eat and then ventured into town to shop at the mall (I managed to spend the remainder of my allowable customs limit quite easily on 2 pairs of delicious boots). Before dinner that day we headed out for a nice long walk to the neighbouring lake, with a pit stop at the neighbour folk’s house, where we spotted Allan, a silver haired man of the south, who upon approach, I immediated related to the likes of a Munchkin a la "Wizard of Oz". His silky hair set in a perfect kiss-curl, his cheerful eyes squinting in smile, his skin, a shade of scarlet red against his crisp white attire. Allan and his wife Caroline have been lifelong residents of Sebring, only recently being dealt the news of Caroline’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis. We chatted for a while with Al, and then were on our merry way, making a huge loop of the quaint community on foot, exploring the neighbourhood, growing so shamefully excited by every orange, grapefruit and papaya tree we encountered along the way.
Later that evening, as mom and I sat down to our big bowls of homemade coconut curry for supper, we spotted a wee, slow moving silhouette of a person making its way up our lane way. It was indeed Caroline the southern belle, having heard of our earlier visit with her husband, and wanting to say her own "hellos" in person. The three of us spent a good 20 minutes chatting, and it was quickly clear to me how the Alzheimer’s was affecting sweet Caroline’s mind. She had much trouble recalling details of her stories, not to mention her own grandchildren’s names and even her own age. She was full of life and energy however, beautiful in her 72 years, her age slyly calculated by my mother via quick tally of the few facts we were able to discern from conversation. I can only imagine what a knockout she must have been in her glory days, as she was a vision of pure charm and grace that night on the lane way. And God bless the sweet woman, dementia or not, for when asked how old she figured I to be, her answer was an honest twenty years of age.
After we said our farewells, and promised another coffee and catch up session very soon, mom and I made our way back inside, where we spent the remainder of the night cuddled under blankets, with my DVD copy of “Julie and Julia” to entertain us until our eyes drooped in sign for sleep.
All in all, my week in Florida was simply divine. There really is no better way to describe it. I departed Orlando International Airport early afternoon on Tuesday with a stopover in Atlanta, and was home in my Toronto apartment by 8pm that eve. I have to admit, that the moment that I set down my suitcase and kicked off my boots, I was a tad let down. I immediately felt a wave of sadness, missing my mom and the cozy environment we had created together that week in Sebring. A dear pal of mine had picked me up at the airport upon my arrival, and she and I spent the drive to my flat discussing many things, catching up on events of the week, but the conversation that spoke most to me, was the one about mother daughter relationships.
She had just spent a weekend away with her mom as well, and was super stoked about how they "clicked" so well; how they were so comfy; how like "best friends" they were. It is true. That connection you can have with your mom really is the epitome of intimate closeness, if you allow it to be. I know my relationship with my mother has been one that has had its ups and downs, and twists and turns to say the least. But it is one that I so loved tapping into this week, and one that I can honestly say is the most important in my world; bar none. There is a undeniable level of certainty, comfort, ease, and honesty that breeds between mother and daughter, and I am learning that as I get older, it is becoming more important, and more sacred than I ever imagined.
The biggest takeaway from the is week, is not only to continue treasuring every moment in my life, but also to truly appreciate the people that I love, and the ones that unconditionally love me back. I look forward to my next session of "girl time" with my new bestie, my mom, when she comes to slumber party with me at my apartment here in Toronto later on in the Spring.
I really did love my road trip, and I truly and deeply love my mom.