We traveled to Florida in late October to spend some long overdue time with family. Our first stop was Anna Maria Island to see Alexis’ siblings and nieces. We spent our time exploring the island, chartering a boat, swimming, grilling, building a sand metropolis, carving pumpkins, and getting our Halloween costumes good and sandy. It’s not everyday we get this group together in the same room, so I designed (under Alexis’ supervision) some commemorative shirts for some added fun. By our last day I even got called “Uncle Kyle” a few times, which is always as equally terrifying as it is heartwarming.
After a few days we were off to Estero Island to see my parents at our family timeshare, where one Smith or another has been making memories at for over 35 years. Here we got a few good sunsets in, tore across the Gulf of Mexico on some jet skis, and drank an amount of alcohol that would be cause for concern if we weren’t on vacation. We were also lucky enough to catch up with some aunts, uncles and cousins who we rarely get to see, but who were also vacationing on the island.
Before we headed back to California we had just enough time to clink glasses and crack some jokes with my brother, as well as drop in on some friends in Fort Lauderdale. It was a long trip, that went by all too fast, which is really just a roundabout way of saying, we had a great time.
My Grandfather passed away a little over two weeks ago. My Dad’s father and the only Grandfather I’d ever known. His name was James Patrick Smith. He was just shy of 89 Years old. A long life that above all else, defined him as a devoted husband, and a father loved by his five children. He was as hard working as they come. Legend has it, he hadn’t taken a day off work for 40 Years. A child of the Great Depression who cleaned his plate even if what was on it wasn’t always his favorite. Though, it’d be hard to know if he didn’t like something, since he never complained about a thing. He loved long walks, opera, football, and literally anything that concerned chocolate. He had a booming deep voice, and his laugh could fill every room of the house, and he laughed often. He always wore a wrist watch. I think he always understood the weight of time, which led him to always have a camera in hand or video recorder resting on his shoulder at any family gathering, which he and my grandmother always made a priority.
He filled many roles for many people, but to me he was someone I affectionately called Gramp. I had the good fortune of being born while my parents were still young, and my grandparents still only in the first half of their 50s. Still full of life and vigor. I’ll forever be grateful for that. An experience many of my cousins didn’t have. I wouldn’t be surprised if my brother and I even kept my grandparents a little younger, for a little longer. We’d spend entire weekends there with them. Together we’d play games, watch movies, indulge in all kinds of sweets, explore our town and soak up anything they told us like sponges. We were just about spoiled rotten. We loved it, and we loved them.
I remember a particular fascination I had with my Grandfather’s hat. So much so that when anyone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I’d tell them with unwavering certainty, a door-to-door hat salesman. It was a simple bucket hat he’d wear on his commute from the suburbs to downtown Chicago by train each day for work. When I was there on weekdays, I couldn’t wait for him to walk through the door to get my hands on that hat. As the story goes, I’d sometimes get a little impatient, and just use my imagination and put the dog bowl on my head instead. Regardless of how much dog food was already in it. When he’d finally come charging through the door, he’d always make this boisterously triumphant trumpet sound announcing his arrival. I’d run to meet him and in one swift motion he’d move his hat from his head to mine. Looking back on it, it’s clear I was just like any child wanting to wear the costume of a super hero they idolized. It must have made him feel fantastic.
As I got older, it was clear I didn’t fit the exact mold of some of the things he valued, whether that be having an interest in sports, being an ace student, or being involved with the church. Hell, I don’t even like chocolate that much. But none of that mattered and I know he was proud of me all the same, and know because he’s expressed that. Particularly, he was proud I chose to turn my passion into my career, and pursued my own kind of happiness.
In the end, I believe he was ready to go. His mind was still razor sharp, but his body had long been in decline. But beyond all else, I think he just wanted to be with my Grandmother again. Ever since she passed on, he’d often say with a chuckle something along the lines of, “I don’t know what I’m still doing here!” Particularly whenever I’d call him on his birthday. I can’t think of a more potent explanation of what love is than the sight of my invincible Grandfather crumbling to a thousand pieces as he stood over my Grandmother’s casket. And all this time since, he’s just been stuck at the station, waiting for his train to take him back home to her. Just as he always used to. He was a devout Catholic, and there was no doubt in his mind what he believed to be next for him, and it brings me a great sense of peace, knowing he was at peace himself.
Goodbye Gramp. I love you very much and I’ll never forget you.
Jason and Cat got married, and boy did they knock it out of the park. Their vows were funny and moving. The speeches were heartfelt and well delivered. The food was rich, the drinks kept flowing, and the dancing never stopped. There may’ve been actual flames coming off the soles of my shoes.
It was sincerely a beautiful day, and I’m thankful and lucky to have been part of it. I walked away from their day excited for their new chapter, and reminded and inspired to make good on my own vows.
I also walked away a little hungover the next day! Yes, I broke my no-hangover New Year’s resolution, but my Dad put it well when he said, “If there’s ever a time to be hungover, it’s the day after a friend’s wedding.”
Congratulations Jason and Cat. You deserve it all, and you got it all.
Over the years I’ve taken part in a few projects that’ve won awards and recognition. I’m hardly ever credited, but I don’t really care to be honest.
This award will always be my favorite and the only one I’ve ever cared about. Grades wise, I never did too well in school. A good kid but a bad student. This little award was confirmation that I was doing something right though. It certainly seemed more important to me than any report card I’d ever gotten. What can I say, it’s a major award.
Off the Southwest Florida Gulf Coast there’s a place called Estero Island. On that island there’s a seven-story condo called Sea Watch. On the 7th floor of that condo, there’s a unit that’s been in my family since before my time. I was just five months old my first visit. The Smith’s are still making memories there to this day.
My parents hold the keys to it now, and Alexis and I tagged along this year. It was her first time and I hadn’t been back in eleven years. It’s a special place, with a lot of history. It’s a place I’m very thankful for.
Another shooting. This time at a high school in my hometown. It was Valentine’s day. Really don’t know how much closer to home it could hit. We’re talking a margin of literally a few miles.
It’s disturbing not being surprised that this happened. Of course it did. It’s a part of our culture now. Likely only to get worse. If Sandy Hook happened and we’re still here doing this, then there appears to be no last straw, even though the camel’s back is already broken.
My shock is that this happened where I grew up. Where my parents and brother still live. If we had lived just a few miles one direction or the other, I would’ve gone to that high school. My wife graduated from there. She did the morning announcements.
I grew up in a great place to grow up. In a great home. I look back fondly on my younger and teen years there. It feels weird to have this piece of your heart tarnished. Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of pitfalls growing up. I’ve seen more than a few fall into drugs. But these are traps found everywhere. Navigating them is just part of getting taller.
Anyways. This one was different for me. Though, I said the same thing the last time I shared my thoughts on gun violence. Thoughts and prayers are useless, unless the thoughts are about solutions.
Levi and Ashley tied the knot. Yes, what I drew is supposed to be a rope being knotted, not links of sausage.
They exchanged vows on a warm Saturday, in Odessa Florida. It was a beautiful day. Felt really lucky to have witnessed it, and to have helped celebrate it. Was a little concerned my dance moves might get me ejected from the reception, but there was no harm done.
A couple days before the wedding, Alexis and I came to St. Petersburg to spend some time with my parents. Hurricane Matthew had other plans though. They had to hang back and secure their house in South Florida, so we didn’t see them this time. We made the best of it though.
A rare video chat with some of my oldest friends, catching up over beers, across thousands of miles, sitting in Florida, Oregon, New York, Texas, and California.
The occasion was Dan’s 28th birthday, who I first met when I was 11 years old. His finance Dominique set the whole thing up and surprised him when she handed him a laptop with all of our faces on it.
Such a great feeling shooting the breeze with some of my truest friends.
My Dad, manning the grill, next to the pool, under the Florida sun. Following his dream of getting his family the hell out of the Chicago winters.
Here’s to him, and my Mom, for showing me what it means to take a chance and follow a dream, and for always encouraging me to follow my own.
Me and my one and only brother, when we still ran wild, with the Gulf of Mexico to our backs. He turned Thirty last month, can’t wrap my head around it still. I’ve grown taller than him, but he’ll always be my big brother. He’s got a reputation for being quiet, but I think he just chooses his words very carefully, always respected that about him. I believe in him, and have pride in him, always.
Happy Thirty Joey.