I find it hard to believe that a week ago today; right about this time (3:20 or so) I was behind the wheel of my little, old, rusted, two door red car. My mother in law in the seat next to me and my “just turned 13 year old son sprawled out in all the backseat, two hours before we had dropped off Cousin Lisa at her home in Indiana. I hated saying goodbye and leaving her there. Our awesome vacation had to come to an end, after almost two weeks on the road with the four of us packed into my car, with a lime green cooler in the middle of the backseat and an atlas jammed next to the passenger seat, unless the 13 year old wanted a “lookey see” of where we were and how much farther till the next hotel. Suitcases for four, filling the trunk so full I prayed each morning the few bags of souvenirs we accumulated would squeeze in between the luggage.
This trip had been decided on the heels of last year’s trip with my mother in law and son out east to run a 5K race in Peabody, MA. There were a few reasons I chose this year’s trip that had nothing to do with the trip last year. Last year I wanted to run Peabody in the Patrick Downey 5K race, because I had seen a little blip in Runner’s World magazine about the race that was held in Patrick’s memory by his sister, Shannon. I felt a link to Patrick, although I of course never met him. He had esophageal cancer and it took his life. You all know it hit a nerve with me and my tonsil cancer diagnosis. It also had a perk, free Converse Chucks till they ran out or didn’t have your size. Most of you also know I love Chucks so much I even wear them to Church in a dress. My husband has stopped shaking his head at me, because he dislikes the lime green cowboy boots more than the Chuck Taylors. So yeah, I felt Patrick could have been a friend, had we known each other, so I hold him in my heart to this day, as well as his sister Shannon who I have had the honor of meeting. I will always consider her a friend, even though more likely than not, I will never see her again. Peabody is a long way from Illinois.
About mid-way through that trip last year, my mother in law several times commented on how much fun we were having and wouldn’t it be fun to do another trip the following year. At the time I thought, yeah wishful thinking, but I can’t afford another trip. Then someone I loved died. I got a little pocket change and that wishful thinking became a reality, because that pocket change would be spent for something fun, a way to keep the memory of my loved one with me. And one of the memories I had was a trip to Florida around my 30th birthday, with my parents, my grandma and my two young children, who are now adults.
So I started looking for a race. Yes, it couldn’t just be a trip to Florida, there HAD to be a race and I found one! It was in Key West. My excitement was gaining speed; I had NEVER been to Key West! I wanted to go! The race was the end of July, and although that may seem like a bad time to run a 5K in Florida, it was perfect for us, because it meant, this time my husband could go with because his job has a mandatory shut down the last two weeks of July! The trip planning began! Shortly thereafter we found out my husband’s company for the first time in like FOREVER changed their shutdown to the first two weeks of July. I was bummed, I was sad, but I told him, I was going whether he came or not. It was a tough decision but I cannot any longer live my life waiting. Life is too short. I never know what tomorrow holds for me, I refuse to sit still and find out. He gets it, but we both still felt bad.
EnterCousin Lisa! On a whim, after hearing her say something about never going anywhere I told her, “well there’s a seat in my car to Florida if you want to go with us!” I meant what I said, the more the merrier, I love sharing my adventures with most anyone who wants to “not sit still” and watch life pass them by. The thing is I love Lisa a lot.
However, she’s not MY blood relative, she’s my husband’s blood. So I didn’t grow up around her, nor have I really spent quality time with her, other than funerals and weddings. Yet here I was offering her a place in my vacation. When she said she wanted to go, I was excited. I wondered how my 12, soon to be 13 year old boy would feel about going on a trip in a little car with 3 women. When I told him, Lisa was going his response was, “oh, she’s a lot of fun!” I knew we were in for a ride of a lifetime and it was a ride, a trip, and an occasion to be remembered, trying hard to log it into my damaged memory bank.
We all got along, we saw new things together. Heck I even let both Lisa and my mother in law tastes things that I ordered to eat and drink. I DON”T do THAT. Just ask my kids. I can’t remember the last time I giggled like I, we, did on this trip. We would try to sing a song that came to mind, and after the first verse, or first few words there would be silence followed by a row of giggles, as none of us knew the words that came next. We stood together and witnessed the most beautiful sunset I have, and I hope they have ever seen, after we arrived “just in time” to see it. I faced my fear of driving over the 7 mile bridge, twice in one night with Lisa sitting calmly beside me and my mother in law and son in the back seat, pretending all was well. Well the 13 year old, could have been oblivious to my torment. I hate driving on bridges more than I hate running hills, and I would run 10 hills to not have to drive that bridge once. But I did it and I slowly un-gripped my hands from the wheel after I made the return trip, having just crossed it the first time by accident and making it back just in time to park the car and witness another beautiful sunset in yet another town down the road.
This trip was all about Key West, but that did not stop me from planning other things to see before we arrived. We met a new baby girl in Savannah, hugging and loving this new addition to the family. I stood in awe gazing at the Spanish moss that hung from the trees and walked around a cemetery where I knew no one that was buried there, just to see the monuments and pay my respects to these long forgotten southerners.
My son got to go to Universal studios and hear his mother beside him scream like a little girl when she got the scare of her life on a ride she hadn’t expected. I really thought this could quite possibly be the end of my life. I wasn’t sure I wanted it to end like that with me screaming like a baby. We got soaking wet on the water rides and loved it. It was good to laugh with this child, my last baby turning into a young man before my eyes. We saw birds and alligators and two of us saw dolphins, while the other two didn’t. None of us saw any panthers, and we all got out of the car to go visit with the postal worker in the smallest post office on Rt. 41 as we drove from east to west across the bottom of Florida, just so I could find that little post office.
Everyone keeps asking me, “What was your favorite thing to see or do while you were gone?” It’s so hard to choose. It was that much fun. I believe I’ve narrowed it down to my top 3. #1 of course has to be the Hemingway Sunset 5K race in Key West. The only time I have had a beer offered to me by a crowd of strangers along the race route and I took the time to not only cross the street, but to take the beer offered and hoot and holler with the crowd as the foam hit my upper lip. I was brave enough to drink it. I’m sure they didn’t pee in it, now.
#2 would be our little chug, chug, chug ride on the African Queen. It was hot, the boat was about as slow as me running a race and we were probably the worse looking vessel amidst the cruise boats we chugged along side in the canal. This little boat, The African Queen was in the movie of the same name and having a chance to sit and steer the boat where Katherine Hepburn sat and thinking about where Bogie stood to stoke the fire. Well I was giddy with pent up glee for being on that charming boat. It sure didn’t hurt when I found a beautiful rainbow bonnet at the local Walgreens to wear on my journey that day.
Katherine had a bonnet you know. I could feel the ghosts of Katherine and Bogart with me as well as the ghosts of a loved one gone that made this trip possible for me. #3 I didn’t have to think too hard about. It was the time I spent laughing and giggling with people I love on this journey. It was the time spent in my car, in the hotels and motels, some good and some not so good, but you sure couldn’t beat the view. The time we spent seeing amazing things. Lisa kept saying over and over again we were blessed. She was right, every time it rained, we were almost always somewhere it didn’t matter, or we just missed it, because we had to wait for something or other.
We made some wonderful memories together. I’m glad they came along for the ride. I’m glad we made it home safe and sound. We never got lost, or hurt. Although for a brief moment on our bike tour with Lloyd I wondered when as part of the bike tour he took us in his house, to play instruments. Before we went in he said we would be the last ones to see his house. I thought maybe that was because he was possibly a serial killer, but he was just sad he had to move and I hope in the fun weirdness of it all we brought him some joy when we played along on our rain stick and shell and whatever that thing was I wanted to play, because he made us smile and giggle along the way. We played some beautiful music along with Lloyd’s Congo’s.
We made some beautiful music in our memories; we played well together on this journey. I’m a bit sad each of us is in our own homes across the country now and I sit here alone while the 13 year old is away at camp, but I have tucked these memories into my heart and I will treasure them always. Thanks for coming along on my journey, and making it our journey Lisa, Carolyn and one 13 year old soon enough a man, my son.