Sunday, March 01, 2009

State Memories Project: Florida

(For an overview of what I'm doing here, look here.)

My elderly Aunt Dorothy was kind enough to let me stay with her in Tampa during my 2005 spring break baseball trip to Florida (the only time I’ve been in the state). I made it a point to bring an audiotape player. My plan was to talk to her about family lore for posterity’s sake.

She told her whole bittersweet story. Dorothy never felt welcomed by the family. She married my great-uncle Casimir just before he went off to serve in WWII. She was not Polish and not Catholic, so it was a bit scandalous that Uncle Cass, who was both, would marry her. But when I looked at those pictures…damn, they were a good-looking couple. Cass was a star football lineman at the U of Detroit who played a year professionally with the Giants, and Dorothy was a major, major beauty. But it was clear she always felt like an outsider. “We stayed married for 54 years!” she boasted to me—I think defiantly at all those who rejected her.

I’m very thankful for my Aunt Dorothy. When my mom married my non-Catholic, non-Polish dad twenty years later, it surely raised some eyebrows, but my great-grandma insisted she loved my dad, to the point of INSISTING he help her across streets, etc. Maybe it was that Dad was a doctor, but maybe Dorothy had softened the blow for her and prepared her for the next non-Catholic to come along.

After my interview of Aunt Dorothy, we--along with several other family members--had a party. There were signs, cake, and the works, all to celebrate Prince Charles’ marriage to Camilla Parker-Bowles that week. “They want her to be like Princess Diana,” Dorothy said, “and she never will be. But she still deserves a party.” So I ate meat pie and cake and celebrated the marriage a woman who could never be accepted by the family of the man she loves. And after listening to Dorothy’s story, it didn’t seem like a strange celebration at all.

Aunt Dorothy passed away in August 2007. She's probably in heaven, her gorgeous young self again with her gorgeous military football-player love. And for her, heaven may well include just a pinch of I-told-you-so.

(I also told a brief version of this story back when it happened.)

What are your Florida memories?


Paula said...

My maternal grandparents lived in Bradenton. I remember Bradenton Beach, white sand, and eating breakfast at the grill on the beach amid pesky seagulls. My paternal grandparents and a million cousins of varying degrees lived in Lakeland. I remember huge family gatherings, lightning bugs, wet heat, and feeling acutely non-Baptist.

MCMC said...

My folks moved to Florida about seven years ago. They'd lived in Colorado for 30 plus years, and I'd lived there all of my life, until I went to Kenyon. It was hard to see them pulling up stakes and moving on. But once we saw them in their new surroundings, it made all the sense in the world. They live five minutes from the gulf and a block from their boat.

We've had lots of good memories since they moved there. My favorite remains a day that all of us, including our daughter, who was about 1 and a half at the time, went to the beach. Sarah had gotten over her fear of the Gulf and the sound of the waves and charged relentlessly for the water every chance she got. We played in the waves all day.

As the afternoon wore on, and it got closer to sunset, we saw dolphins swimming maybe twenty yards from shore. Anna picked Sarah up and walked out far enough to be closer to the Dolphins, but not so close as to startle them or anything.

We have an amazing picture of the two of them, standing about waist high for Anna, the sun starting to sink behind them, the dolphins, out of view of the camera, frolicking and fishing and having a blast.

Anonymous said...

TRP's Dad proposed to his wife in Miami Beach 46 years ago. Smartest thing I ever did.

TeacherRefPoet said...

How did you ask her, Dad? Where?