Few months back, Alexis and I vacationed a week in Florida to spend some time with family. We originally meant to be in Ft. Myers, but Hurricane Ian had other plans. From what I understand, nearly the entire first floor of the condo our family has visited for decades, was under water, and a lot of Estero Island was erased. We came pretty close to canceling Florida all together, but we made some adjustments and saw it through, and I’m glad we did.
We started in St. Pete, specifically to take a boat ride out to visit Egmont Key, home to one of the oldest lighthouses on the Florida Gulf Coast. This is where Alexis and her siblings scattered their mother’s ashes earlier in the year. Although her mom spent her last years in Ohio, she missed Florida terribly. On top of that, she had such an affection for lighthouses, that you had to see her ceramic collection to believe it. Can’t think of a better place for her to rest. We spent the afternoon reflecting and exploring the key for a few hours before our boat had to take us back. A cover of Springsteen’s Atlantic City played no less than four times on our 40 minute ride across the water. It became a bit of an anthem for the trip, as well as a running joke to this day. Before leaving St. Pete, we discovered a strange species of seagull that had a striking resemblance to Danny DeVito, which we appropriately gave the scientific name of Danny DeSeagull.
For the rest of our trip, instead of Estero Island, we stayed at a beach house we rented on Anna Maria Island. We planned on having a good amount of friends and family come visit. Nine adults and four kids. There were a lot of us, but we made it a priority to get a place big enough to keep us all comfortably under the same roof. It turned out great. The kids declared they wanted to live there forever, so we must’ve done something right.
We walked the pier, drank pool side, marveled at lightning storms, caught sunsets, fired up the grill, built castles, dug holes, chased the kids, were chased by the kids, and astonishingly avoided getting sunburned. Not pictured is the half mile long trench I dug on the beach by pulling the kids in a wagon with wheels that absolutely refused to turn in sand. I’ll be damned if I let those kids think I’m not invincible though.
With as much fun was we had, it’s hard to believe we were ever considering canceling the trip. There’s a lesson to be learned somewhere in there. We know we’re supposed to spend time with our family, but sometimes you forget just how much fun it can be. Thankful we could make it happen, and thankful for the memory of us all sleeping under the same roof, together as family.
Marco and Kelly tied the knot. We laughed, we drank, we photo-boothed, and we most certainly danced. It was a fun night and we were thankful to have been included. Although the majority of my extended family lives in Illinoise, I don’t get out that way too often. It was a great chance to make some fun memories with plenty of aunts, uncles, and cousins that I hardly see. From dropping in on my Uncle Vince and Aunt Enza’s restaurant for a quick cannoli, to gathering in full force at my Aunt Marie’s house for Italian beef sandwiches, where Uncle Santo uncorked a few bottles of his homemade wine.
I’m kicking myself for not getting any photos from the day we spent at my Aunt Susie and Uncle Perry’s house with the Smith branch of the family. I blame the lapse of judgement on those martinis Aunt Susie whipped up for us.
All around, a quick but potent long weekend. Congrats Marco and Kelly, and thanks for having us.
Alexis’ mom passed away a few weeks ago. Much sooner than any of us should have to leave. Her name was Elizabeth, but family called her Lisa. It’s been hard to witness the emotional and physically toll Lisa’s passing took and continues to take on Alexis. Mostly it’s had me feeling helpless. Especially leading up to it. Understandably, there are certain weights that just can’t be lifted from the shoulders of the ones we love, no matter what we do or say.
Alexis had a complicated relationship with her mom, but even still, one that was rooted in love, and had countless moments that shone bright all the same. Unfortunately, I can’t say I knew her as well as I would have liked to myself. Over the years though, I did get to know her secondhand through stories Alexis would tell me about her childhood. Her Mom’s obsession with the movie Titanic. Her abundant and quirky sense of humor. How every time she used a strangers driveway to make a 3-point turn and headlights briefly flooded a house she’d say, “Don’t put the coffee pot on, we’re not staying!”
The days we spent sorting through and organizing her belongings after she was gone, grew my sense of knowing her even more. I learned she was a beautiful writer. She wrote a lot of poetry. She was a singer in a few bands as a teenager. She had many struggles. She held on to the smallest things from her children, which spoke volumes for how much she loved them. I also learned she was crazy about lighthouses! Just when we thought we’d collected and packed up all the lighthouses, of all shapes and sizes, without fail a few more would pop up somewhere. Over the course of a few days, we’d always laugh discovering a new lighthouse. A welcomed lighter moment in heavy days.
One of my favorite memories with Lisa was when we all went miniature golfing together. It was Alexis, myself, Her sister Elizabeth, our niece Scarlett, Grandma Nancy, and of course Lisa. Somehow I wound up with the tiny pencil and score card. After each hole, without fail, Lisa would check in to make sure I marked her score at least a stroke or two better than Grandma’s, regardless of what anyone shot. All the while, Grandma Nancy was asking me to do the same for her. Back and forth, and back and forth. Adjusting scores from four holes ago if need be! It was only my second time ever meeting them, so I was eager to please and in turn sweating bullets cooking the books. In the end, I think to keep all parties happy I declared Scarlett the winner, who couldn’t have been more than 5 years old at the time. It was a fun memory, and I think a testament to her fun loving spirit and humor.
It’s been a hard few months and weeks, and I’m left saddened this happened but thankful to have been able to stand tall by my wife’s side when she needed me most. In the end, I’m incredibly inspired by Alexis’ strength under such crushing weight of grief and responsibility. She’s navigating uncharted waters in her life, and doing so with as much grace as anyone one of us could ever hope for when it comes our own time to do so ourselves. Goodbye Lisa, we love you and will miss you.
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 Mom turned 60 years old today, but really I should be saying 60 years young! She looks great for her age and believe me, she knows it. She’ll never miss the chance to tell you one of her many stories about her customers at the bank who are left in total disbelief after they learn her age. Just last month when we were in Florida together someone thought I was her husband! Surely I’ll never hear the end of that one.
All kidding aside though, the fact is my Mom is just as beautiful today as I’ve always known her to be. Inside and out. Maybe even more so now that I’m grown and able to understand just how selfless a person she’s always been for us.
Happy sixty Mom, we love you. Don’t worry, it’s just a number, you don’t look a day over 30!
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.
You forget just how much family you really have until you get them all in the same room. We did just that for my Grandfather’s 86th birthday. All his grandchildren, some of us scattered across the country, came together for him. Can only hope all those years down the road the story goes the same way when it’s my turn.
My Mom’s side of the family got together for us at my Cousin Michelle and Mario’s house too. It was a great time. We ate, we drank, we laughed, and saw lot’s of faces. Some I hardly recognize anymore.
Going back is always a nostalgic flood. A reminder of where I come from. Things get so busy, you almost start to forget. But we always go back. Thankful for a small place in a big world that will always have us. You know what they say, home is where the Italian beef sandwiches are.
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.