In his crazy-eights youth, Steve would toss off his marital status as “separated- Janet’s in the suburbs, and I am in Chicago.” Ha Ha.
Fast forward 30 odd years, and that joke becomes our truth. Except that he is in Pompano Beach, and I am in Chicago. With strategic blending.
This is a blending week, and I was smart enough to go South rather than nag him to re-enter the polar vortex. Steve warned me that my clothing in the closet was somewhat dated. It is. I do not care a bit. Vintage is good here. Typical.
Our spot in Florida has family roots: my parents bought there in the late 70’s, a two bedroom, two bath in a low rise, 24 unit building on the inter coastal waterway. First floor, with a close parking spot. It was a Seniors only building. Mom and Dad were the upstarts, but they were looking down the road.
Over the years, we descended upon their condo to break up the winter. Our kids agitated the elders, and the crones watched the pool to be sure no children swam during adults only hour. Of course, no seniors actually swam, but they enforced the rule. Just. In. Case. Shower before entering the pool. Return chairs to be parallel to the inter coastal. No overnight parking in the Visitor’s space. No pets. Observe assigned times for laundry. Clean lint screen. Happy hour on Wednesday and Friday afternoons, 5:00. Pool absolutely closed at 10:00. We were often scolded from disembodied voices from above as we tiptoed from the pool at 10:01. Mom and Dad re-scolded us.
So why did we choose to join the asylum by buying? Timing, in part. The Seniors Only laws changed. Our kids wanted to spend time with Grandpa and Grandma. Steve received a payout from some stock. A gentleman was moving to the West coast, and wanted a fast cash sale. We had just stayed a a hotel for a week with all 3 boys, and we did the math: owning a modest, self managed condo would pay for itself. And it has, in so many ways.
We have made memories here.
Owning space in this building allowed my mother to get to know Steve, and to love him, before she died. Gave the kids time to frolic with grandparents they saw infrequently. (Patrick still has a three-pack of thong underpants that Mom bought him as a joke at the swap meet. He will not let me toss them.) When CBS ditched Steve, Steve high tailed it to Florida, where my Dad was ticking off his last days with congestive heart failure. He watched over him, telegraphed to me that my Dad would never see Detroit again. Drove Dad to sign out of his beloved Senior Gold league at the public course at Pompano. The next week he drove Dad to the hospital for his last days on earth, comforted my sister and brother as they swooped in to attend to him. Even from 1700 miles away, Steve was my rock.
It will be 5 years since my Dad died in March. Now his condo is owned by a family trust consisting of 5 of us. My brother Mike so loves it here that he opted out and bought his own place two doors down from us. My parents’ place is a bit of a shrine: dated in its appearance, but so reminiscent of Mom and Dad that we resist modernizing it. (although the two Joliat/Cavanaugh couples ruined their backs tiling the kitchen and painting the porch. Bravo. ) I can picture Dad in his chair, Mom in the kitchen. It is the 21st century hub for the next generation of Joliats. My siblings and their children and grandchildren fly in and out to aggravate the new generation of seniors. Which we are on the cusp of annexing to.
I love being here, sopping up the shadows of our younger days. I learned I passed the Bar Exam on the Pompano Fishing Dock. Hit Butterfly World with three extremely disinterested kids. Did the Sawgrass Flea Market carnival with nausea inducing Twister rides. Celebrated the Millennium New Year’s Eve. Enjoyed flame throwers and hula dancers at the Mai Kai. Followed launches of the space shuttle. Relaxed to the calm rumbling of the Blimp, which has its winter home just across Federal Highway. Listened to the amazing Father Tony guide his flock at St. Gabriel’s. Watched the boys get dressed for the Super Bowl that the Bears biffed. Toured the B-17 bomber with Dad, who could match the equipment with his war stories. Announced Mike’s imminent engagement to Kathryn, whom Dad adored, just in case he did not last until Mike popped the question. Had my last hug with Dad. It is the overstuffing of a very good life.
It is still a hard re-entry for me, though my reunion with Steve cauterizes much of my melancholy. I am sentimental, I look back. I miss my parents, and my other Aunt who owned here. I get a preview of the generation ahead of me by observing my co-owners. Life keeps challenging until you check out. Sometimes insidiously, sometimes irritatingly. It’s easier in the sun, with a lovely church tolling noon and 6 every day from across the street. The cocktail parties celebrate another week won. The Angelus at noon and the 6:00 bells celebrate smaller increments to be glad of.
Gladness is a great lubricant for living.
What we have here is proof positive that 850 square feet with a screened porch overlooking a boat parade is an extraordinary repository for the family roots, and a map of how-or how not- to age.
It’s a happy place, like dessert. We certainly do not need it, but it adds to the sweetness of life.
In three weeks, I will return. Two of my sons’ families will also head down to Dad and Mom’s place with their kids. We’ll “cruise direct” from our unit. It will be the start of a new generation of memories. Henry and Mary’s handprints on the old school mirrored walls will pattycake those left years ago by their dads, windexed away by me. I love the deja vu of it. My joy would be complete if Matt and Justine could bring Jackson- but this year, it is not to be. I know it will happen in the future. That will be the cherry on top. One in a series of treats.
Before I go I will take some pictures of our playhouse- it is a patchwork of stuff cobbled from different lives, or salvaged from the prior owners and and recovered. I’ll let you tour it, because it might bring a little sun to you. Plus, Steve has made many of the decorating decisions here, and I get a kick out of narrating his choices. Who knew he had an HGTV gene?Who knew he could live so monastically? Who knew he cxould resist the siren call of the West coast, with its white beaches and golf courses? I guess I did. I love that this is his dream home…for 3 months.
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Tags: Chicago winters, family vacations, Father Tony, Florida, Goodyear Blimp, grtandkids in florida, Intercoastal Condo, janet dahl, Matt Dahl, Mike Dahl, Pat Dahl, Pompano Beach, Spring Break, St. Gabriels, Steve Dahl, Steve Dahl podcast