Like most of our trips, this one started at about 3:30 am as we dragged sleepy selves to catch a 6 am flight. Look at the joy on Harper’s face. By the way, her disappointment was as driven by our refusal to buy her a salad out of the “fresh” vending machine at 4:30 am as it was at the time of day. Seriously? Vending machine salad?
We had a pitstop at JFK, long enough to pick up some Baked by Melissa minis, which made everyone a bit perkier. Plus, T5 has the best soundtrack. Any terminal that spins cuts by the National is a-okay in my book!
Then, Jacksonville, the go-to airport for most of my life. We found our lunch at Zaxby’s. Oh, Zaxby’s chicken fingers! You’ll never be Guthrie’s, but what chicken finger could compete with the deliciousness of gas-station driven thru chicken fingers, eaten in the Archer Road Target parking lot. None chicken finger, that’s what. Still, Zaxby’s is a solid substitute: fried chicken fingers, Texas toast, super salty crinkle fries, crushed ice for drinks, and the ever-mysterious Zax-sauce. Note, what you see in the photo below is, in the universe of Zaxby’s, called a “Zax Snak”–it doesn’t even qualify as a real meal, just a lil’ sumpin’ to tide ya over. The only vegetable on our table was the celery sticks that went with Penn’s “Wings and Things” plate–btw, the “things” were extra chicken fingers, as in “I’d like a side of differently fried chicken with my fried chicken, fries, and Texas toast.” How we love you, Z-bird! Someone needs to open a Zaxby’s in Rochester. It would crush it!
Then, we followed the sign of Publix (“Where Shopping Used to Be A Pleasure” until we found Wegmans) to Gainesville. Look at those beautiful clouds. So puffy and full of menace. We knew we had about 40 minutes before the regular Summer afternoon deluge.
So, we took a tour of our old homes. Ned and I lived in one of the four apartments carved out of this old duckpond neighborhood house (bottom left in photo). We learned a lot of self-advocacy in that place, as we had to take our landlord to court to get her to replace a roof that fell in while we were living there. It had no AC and no heat and running too many electrical products at once would throw the breaker. We shot a film there about literary theory, and I wrote my master’s thesis on Paradise Lost while watching the Pistons on a tiny tv. Ah, grad school!
Our next stop was this tiny Cracker house up the block. It was a major upgrade: a couple room air conditioners and heat in one room! We felt so grown up when we bought a washer and dryer together–which is when we knew we’d be together forever. Stuff was routinely stolen from our front porch, which did have a nice swing, including my bike. Actually, my bike was also stolen from our other duckpond house, too. I started putting things that were broken, but didn’t look broken, out. After a while, no one stole anything anymore. Like Ned, our across the street neighbor was a bit of an insomniac, so he would call at all hours, and we got our first new fangled cordless telephone in this house. Ned would literally walk up and down the street talking on it. This was a real “band house” with folks there at all times of day and night; it was very close to downtown, which made it a natural pitstop. Most of Ned’s band friends lived within walking distance, and in our first brush with fame, River Phoenix lived around the corner, and I yelled at him when he let my cats out. Really, this was a lovely place to spend our grad school years.
There’s a house in between the above and below, but we ran out of time to drive past it. So, imagine a photo of a classic Florida concrete block ranch here. While we lived there, we had two beautiful babies and painted all of the walls with random cans of bright colors we got off of the discount rack at Home Depot. We saved our money and remodeled the kitchen just before baby one, and moved a full room’s worth of stuff into the garage to make room for baby two. One neighbor was a corrections officer who used to mow our lawn when it didn’t meet his standards, and another had a bizarre enough home life that once a young woman came over to hide until her friends came to claim her. One fall, we had to pull a full tree off of a corner of the house after one of Gainesville’s many hurricanes–it claimed a swing set but not our home. Eventually, we got jobs that allowed us to move to a new house:
This was our last Florida house. It had a huge backyard with orange trees and we plunked a new swingset with a tall fort in it. Penn’s room had a Buzz Lightyear door, and Harper’s had a Princess one. I got a sewing room–which doubled as my PhD workroom. Once Penn tumbled down the stairs and emerged without a scratch; another time, the kids stumbled into a fire ant nest and we had to call 911. We went trick-or-treating as a family and were able to leave out a gigantic tub of candy for others without worry that it would all disappear. Once an opossum with a violent temper took up residence in the garage, and we would sometimes watch armadillos scamper across the backyard at night. After stepping in a hole, I called Ned one night in a panic that our house was on a sinkhole. We hung stockings at the fireplace at Christmas, painted all the rooms our favorite colors, and changed out all the wallpaper for new patterns and all the light fixtures for cool ones ordered off the internet at bargain prices. Ah, memories.
Now, on to the present. We came back to Gainesville for my remarkable, accomplished, and wonderful niece Gaby’s graduation. It’s hard to believe this is the same girl who spent more than an hour playing in a box of packing peanuts. Time flies. Her proud mom, my sissie, is in the foreground.
Gaby rejected her family’s alma mater (Go, Gators!) for the welcoming arms of the University of South Carolina, where she will be safely ensconced in their Honors College, killing it on the course with their nationally ranked D1 golf team, and living in a dorm that looks like a luxury hotel. Sweet!
You can see how impressed her brothers are. Oh, family. They always keep us humble.
In more moments of nostalgia, the graduation ceremony took place at UF’s O’Dome, located directly across the street from East Hall, where I spent my first two UF years in the honors program.
Good crowd of grads and well-wishers!
Because Gaby’s last name begins with A, we had a long wait from her walk to the end.
Our 3:30 am wake time was beginning to take it’s toll on some (lucky for Ned, I did not snap photos of him actually asleep during the ceremony).
Unlike our vigilant and polite family, others just bolted once their grads crossed the stage. This cleared out considerable space for cousin-catch-up time.
Afterwards, we headed to Mi Apa for a Cuban closer to a long day. Ned took this photo as a tribute to his mother–who spent most of her life in Miami and responded to news of our nuptials with one of the phrases in this window poster. I’ll leave it to you to guess which one 🙂