This blog has been blocked all week. I think my creative juices froze up as soon as I walked out of that airport last Sunday afternoon and slopped my way through dirty snow and sludge to get to the bus/subway/streetcar home. I could feel the sad reality of February in the North seeping back into my temporarily sun-filled soul. And, to add to it, this whole first week back has been the coldest of the winter with snow and that awful, awful greyness that permeates every cell of my body.
Should I not have gone? Should I not have had that seductive little wisp of warmth and beach and sunshine? Should I have just have stayed here and toughed it out like I have every other winter since I’ve been here? An Aquafit buddy said she thought that staying through the winter was a sign of a person’s fortitude and strength of will. I thought it just meant you didn’t have the means or opportunity to get on a plane and head South — anywhere South. One of my Excellent Cat Sitting clients says we owe it to ourselves to get the hell out of here at least one week every winter. I longingly agreed with her but couldn’t see a way out. So instead I wrote a particularly whiney-poor-me-I-hate-winter blog — I should have been ashamed of myself. Then the unexpected happened: one of my aquafit buddies said to me a few days later, “Hey, I have a place you can use. Pick a date.” Just like that she handed me a week’s escape to “paradise”. How could I not go? And, to add to the pleasure, my sister, Mary, decided, at the very last minute, that she was going to meet me in Sarasota. I went.
There is something magical about getting on a plane with 16 layers (I exaggerate only a little) in a snowstorm and getting off it in sunshine. Be gone long-johns and mitts and sweaters and winter hats! I was now in the land of palm trees, flowers, blue skies and exotic looking plants and trees that I had no idea what they could possibly be. Mary decided it didn’t really matter what these trees outside our door were called. It was enough for her that they were very cool and would be wonderful to decorate for Christmas. I love my sister’s imagination. Once, when I had gum surgery, she made me a card with a cutout of a bed from a catalogue and tucked four pieces of gum under the sheets with the caption, “I hope your gums feel better soon.”
Some days the sea breezes became a little chillier than we had bargained on. If I complained just a little Mary would remind me, quite sweetly, of what we had left and
were going back into. I kept my whines to a minimum. Every day, she and I would explore another part of Anna Maria Island, riding the lovely little free trolley from one tip to the other. We may have been the only people ever to have visited for a week in Florida without a car!
One of the beautiful parts of travelling with my sister, is that she talks — and listens — to everyone. Every day, thanks to her, we heard people’s stories and histories. There were a remarkable number of people there from Ohio, even one guy who had grown up in our same neighbourhood. I would have been too shy to have done that on my own for sure.
On cloudy days, there were a couple, we went further afield. One day we took two trolleys all the way into downtown Sarasota just to see if other kinds of people existed in Florida. Then we went to Cortez that my friend described as a “quaint Florida fishing village.” The bus driver told us when we got off the bus to “just walk down that road to the end”. There was no one around. I said to Mary that I was feeling like a character in one of those UnSolved Mysteries. TWO ELDERLY WOMEN DISAPPEAR ON FLORIDA ROAD, NEVER TO BE SEEN AGAIN! Mary did not think that was all that funny. To tell you the truth, I didn’t feel all that comfortable either.
We walked all the way down that road and never found a town, or what we would have called a town — quaint or otherwise. What we did find was a bunch of boats of various sizes up on blocks getting ready for summer, a parking lot, a shack of a restaurant on the water that served a great grouper sandwich and a waiter in an Ohio State sweatshirt who didn’t mind at all that we sat there a long time sipping an afternoon beer — a sure sign of vacation is drinking at lunch time. From our perch we could watch all the birds swooping around hoping for a handout from the guys unloading the fishing boats. It was wonderful. I have never lived around exotic birds before so seeing an egret or a blue heron or a pelican still amazes me.
On our way back to the bus stop, Mary spotted a sign that said, “Preserve”. It was down a muddy path. I repeated my warning about old ladies and Florida back roads but by then Mary was already asking a fellow who was there working on his boat about what those stacks of crates were for. He climbed down off his ladder and came over and chatted about crab catching or whatever it’s called. He told us he had just bought his boat for $1,000. Mary asked him if it was seaworthy and he didn’t seem concerned about that one way or the other. When she asked if he sailed he said, no, but he had two sea captains who were going to teach him. His plan was to go up to New York and sail from there straight across to France because he had met a woman one time from there one time and he wanted to see her agian. I wasn’t about to say anything about the size of France and the odds of finding that woman.
The beauty of being on vacation is that you can really do whatever it is you want to do, stop when you want to stop, eat when you get hungry and do things you never do at home. We wandered around the little town of Anna Maria and found an art gallery that was having an exhibit of Cuban artists. I wondered if this was the beginning of the thawing of relationships between the two countries. Outside, was this sweet little garden of colors and greens and hints of what will be coming here much, much, much later. As we left, Mary spotted tomatoes ripening on the vine. Tomatoes in February!
On Friday, our nephew and his wife came over from Tampa with food and wine and hugs and stories. We aunties were well taken care of that night. In the morning, we took Mary off to the airport and sang, “So long Mary, How We Hate To See You Go” as she walked down the hallway to the plane. The rest of the day, they showed me what they loved about Anna Maria Island where they’d been coming for many years. We walked the beach and ended up at the
Sandbar Restaurant to watch the sunset. It made me sad to be leaving that white sand and blue sky and these sweet people and warmth.
In the end, I think my client was right. Everyone who lives in the North should indeed find a way to go and get a smidgen of warmth and sun and green and blue skies at least for a little bit every winter. It feeds our souls and makes it just a wee bit easier to keep going until it all happens here — well, except for the sandy beach, the exotic birds, palm trees and sunsets over the Gulf of Mexico!