Last month, as Fay was terrorizing Florida, my mother's cousin's life partner B breathed his last. After a battle with pancreatic cancer and stroke, he left this earth, leaving behind a host of friends, family, and Cousin P to deal with a world without him.
There were arrangements to be made and finally, this past weekend, we gathered together on the middle-west coast of Florida to pay our respects and remember this man.
So very early on Saturday morning, I got up, packed my bag and my parents picked me up for the drive down. It has literally been about 20 years since I made this trip - which I'd made countless times as a child going to visit family that lived down there.
Tripping with my parents is quite different now. Of course, back then, there were LOTS of us kids in the back seat, not just me. It was noisy and bouncy and tearful and very occasionally silent as we all nodded off. I imagine those rare moments were treasured by my weary, driving parents. These days, Dad drives, Mom sits in the front seat, and I have the back seat to myself. And we talk about all kinds of things...
And of course, my father, who loves gadgets, has a GPS. It's one of those that gets stuck to your windshield so you can move it from car to car as needed rather than being one of those built-in ones. It has a screen with a map and arrows, but it also has a voice that tells you where to go. My dad calls it "Naggy Maggy" because she can be quite insistent if you're not doing exactly what she says to do. When we turned onto Hwy 27, she said, "Continue for 218 miles" and went silent. Didn't say another word until we got to half a mile from our next turn. I guess she had nodded off a bit - she was a little slow in her directions from time to time.
I have always enjoyed roadtrips. With my dyslexia, reading roadsigns has always provided great entertainment. I discovered that I wasn't the only one, though. As we stopped in Tarpon Springs for gas, my mother commented on the sign for "hot, pissed Cubans - Tampa-style". Oops. Hot, PRESSED Cubans! As in sandwiches. But we had a giggle over it anyway. Then there was the sign for the All-Topless "Gentleman's Club". Underneath was a changeable sign with the words, "Senior night - 3 for 1" and below that "Tuesday 2-4-1". 3 for 1 what? Three drinks? Three geezers? Three lapdances? We had great fun pondering the possibilities.
We saw the old Sinclair Gas station shaped like a dinosaur (it's now a car repair place) and drove past Weeki Wachee's mermaids and waterpark. We admired the old palm trees and noticed the differences in architecture in each little town.
I can't remember everything we talked about, but it was non-stop conversation all the way down and all the way back. I'd brought a book, but I don't know why. I never opened it in the car.
We arrived at the church, a little tired, a bit hungry and in need of a good freshening up. We spotted Cousin P, who was running around attending to last minute details and told her we were here, would go grab lunch and be back for the service. At lunch, Maggy got rebooted and was much more alert and cooperative afterwards.
The service itself was absolutely beautiful - perhaps the lovliest memorial service I've ever attended. This was done at a Universalist Unitarian church and they did it well. I also enjoyed the layout of the church. There was a roundish floor space, surrounded by stadium seating that went all the way around the interior - religion in the round, if you will. Yet the space managed to be warm and inviting and intimate. An amazing feat.
I learned a lot about Cousin P's friend, B. He'd always been a nearly invisible entity. Mostly, I'd say he drove through my life. Cousin P and B owned a house in the mountains in addition to the Florida house, and they would drive through our town on their way back and forth. Usually, they just stayed at my parents' house and go from there - not staying to visit for long. Then, a little more than a year ago I think, they came through with a bit of time to spare. We went out to dinner and I got to know him a little better. I could see why Cousin P had been with him for so long - he became real to me.
It was obvious that he will be missed. Lots of people came to the service and milled around afterwards drinking punch and eating cookies and reminiscing.
After the service, we went back to Cousin P's house for naps - big dinner planned for later that evening. We'd started out very early and if we were to have a prayer of making it that night, we had to have quick naps. Dad stretched out in the guest room, Mom chilled out in a recliner. I couldn't actually sleep, but sat quietly and read.
Dinner was amazing. B's sister set out a spread that was breath-taking. Coming from a large Italian family, his sister set out salads and cheese plates and sausages and penne and a lasagne to end all lasagnes!!!! There was also a huge cake, but people were so stuffed from dinner that it never even got cut.
There was lots of talking and visiting. It was held in a condo's clubhouse, so dad challenged me to a game of pool. I am not exaggerating when I say we BOTH totally suck at this game. And ironically, at one time, we were both quite good! It became quite the embarrassing comedy - but only for us. No one else ventured in to observe, so we managed to keep that particular secret a secret that night. I am no longer a pool shark. I believe I may even qualify as bait now. The kind that won't get away.
It took the wind out of us - Dad and I repaired back to Cousin P's house to crash, but Mom stayed at the party with P, returning late.
Cousin P has handled things well. She cared for B in his last months as only someone who loves can. His passing has left a large hole in her life and it's going to be a while before that hole starts shrinking. It is hard to see someone struggle with this, but I think P will be okay eventually. She doesn't know it, but she's a very strong lady. There will be times when tears overwhelm her, when she will be lonely and feel like she just can't cope anymore with that space - but she'll be okay. She has friends all around and family that loves her. She just needs to let that love surround her and help her to heal.
We all had lunch this morning at "their" Sunday morning restaurant. It was a really nice place for breakfast. Not greasy, not big and commercial - just a little neighborhood restaurant. We talked about all kinds of things and it was with big hugs that we finally said goodbye, got into our separate cars and headed in our different directions.
Naggy Maggy told us where to go and Dad put his foot down on the accelerator, taking us home.