For several years I was Parish Visitor for an older congregation. My work (a calling really) included visiting a large portion of our congregation who were no longer able to attend church services regularly, but not specifically confined to those folks. I also saw a number of people who were just getting up in age-and slowing down.
One of the ‘senior’ dinners at church. Charlie and Barb are pictured…
One of my favorite couples had lost half of their duet. It had been a long, painful dementia trip. The winter following his death, Sally came to me with an unusual request. She and Paul owned a lovely place in Destin, Florida. The condo had been their second home for many years and Sally realized that part of her life was now over. This would be the first time she and Paul would not be traveling to the condo together to spend the winter. But Sally wasn’t quite ready to end her yearly migration south (like her kids were). She wanted one more trip to the condo before she put it on the market.
Her children were adamant that she not drive down to Florida by herself. She was over 80 and had never driven there by herself. To appease them, Sally asked me to drive her to Destin, stay for a few days then fly back to Grand Rapids. I’ve loved driving since I stole, borrowed really my first car for a joyride when I was 14. Might be a small exaggeration but mostly true. (http://dvb517.blogspot.com/2014/07/petty-crimes-misdemeanors.html). Sally would be busy for the next 2 months, deciding what to keep, sell, give to her kids or donate. Plus say goodbye to several dear friends she and Paul made over the years. The plan was that I would fly down to Florida in late February, stay a few days (free in her exquisite condo), then drive us back to Michigan. Since Sally had the van, she would be able to bring back any personal, special items she didn’t want included in the sale. Dang, I couldn’t say yes fast enough.
My mistake was in not doing any research about Destin and the surrounding area. I’d been to Fort Meyer’s Beach a couple of times and assumed Florida is Florida. But Ft. Meyer’s is WAY south of Destin, which lies in this skinny panhandle (which shouldn’t even belong to the state).
Hubs dropped me at Sally’s before dawn broke on New Year’s Day since we were driving her van. I hadn’t packed much in the way of clothes BECAUSE I WAS GOING TO FLORIDA IN JANUARY. Five glorious days with warm weather and sunshine. (Surprise, surprise) Drove to Nashville, which was rainy and cold where we spent the night. By early afternoon on the 2nd we were about an hour away from Destin. Sally wanted to drive this last little leg after we filled up with gas near the Alabama/Florida state line (she claimed gas was always a few cents cheaper in Alabama).
We hauled everything out of the van into the condo. Don’t remember exactly what floor she was on, maybe 5 or 6. It had a lovely view of the Gulf, complete with Dolphins sluicing through the water. Sally found a can of soup so we didn’t have to go grocery shopping until the next day. I brought along a couple bags of glazed popcorn I’d made before we left which was our dessert. By 4:45 it was dark. I texted the Hubs saying we were safe and sound, went to bed early, excited about my mini vacation.
It gets lights earlier in the panhandle (central time zone). I got up early and dressed for my walk. Figured if I stayed on the street in front of the condo I couldn’t get lost. Walked past a huge state park, some beautiful homes, glancing over and checking out a shopping center across the busy highway/street. And froze my ass off. It was 30 degrees with some wind and drizzle. If it hadn’t been for the palm trees, I would’ve swore I was walking in Michigan. Brrr. Got back to the condo with chattering teeth, wet clothes and an instant hatred for Destin.
Showered, dressed in the warmest clothes I had and felt somewhat better about life (though not Destin). Sally and I trotted off to a Publix grocery store to pick up some staples. One of the things she bought was a loaf of bread from their bakery. Cranberry Walnut. Delicious. (After I got back to Michigan I tried 5 different bread recipes trying to duplicate that bread and never did succeed). Stayed in the condo for the rest of the day because it was rainy, windy and cold, but Sally was easy to talk to and we yakked for hours. (Without her cheerful demeanor I might have gotten bitter).
The next day’s forecast called for temperatures in the mid-50’s with periods of sunshine in the afternoon. Great, I can start my tan I thought, digging out my swimming suit and finding my way down to the pool. Soon I realized, “periods of sunshine” came in 3 minute increments-and there were 2 of them that afternoon. My goose bumps were bigger than my boobs. “Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone.” (She’s gone cause she froze to death).
Sally insisted we have lunch at one of her favorite restaurants in Destin called McGuire’s. Plank flooring resembling the inside of a barn maybe, leading to different sections of an Irish saloon. The ceilings and walls were covered with stapled dollars bills, swaying to breeze of busy waitresses. One of their signature dishes-wait for it-Senate Bean Soup, at the cost of 18 cents a cup. Sally and I supped at McGuire’s both times I stayed with her. (That’s 2 Reuben’s, fries and 2 cups of Senate bean soup for me. I am nothing if not consistent).
So last week, this Alabama snowbirding couple decided to head to Destin for the day (trying to erase the bad taste I’ve held for that city, 8 years running). Again the trip researcher did not do her homework. We left at 10 thinking we would be at McGuire’s by noon. Well it was a lot further than we thought and most of it 2 lane, going 55. We were famished by the time we walked in at 1:30, but the place hadn’t changed. Hubs got the daily special, a chicken dinner and I ordered ‘my usual.’ We stapled a dollar bill on the wall by our booth to commemorate the day.
Fumbled our way through town trying to find the condo (I must be the only person on earth not smitten with Destin). The town seems to have doubled in size. Hectic traffic, shopping centers every few blocks. The only way I stumbled my way to the condo was the Bealls store (nice department store) across the road. Shopped at Bealls for old times sake, then it was late afternoon and we still had a 2-1/2 hour trip back. There has been some serious hurricane damage to a long bridge (the bridges are all long down here in the south) by Pensacola so we had to use a different route, north out of our way, but at least our way (west) was moving. The folks going east were backed up about 10 miles and only going about that fast. I think most were commuters and I felt bad for them but ecstatic all that traffic wasn’t on our side.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with Destin. My perspective was just off, like this morning in Gulf Shores. It was 62 by 9 am with 10 mph wind. (The windchill in Michigan was 14 at the same time-perspective). There were people walking by our condo in winter coats, hoods, long pants. I dressed in capris, short sleeves, slapped on my shades, headphones, grabbed my walking stick and zoomed out the door singing:
We come on to Sloop John B, my grandfather and me,
Around Nassau town we did roam. Drinking all night, got into a fight,
Well, I feel so broke up, I (don’t) wanna go home…