Some of you might be wondering where I’ve been lately, as I haven’t been to aerobics class, line-dancing class, stretching class, woman’s club meetings, church, or even to Food Lion. Others of you might not have even noticed that I’ve been M.I.A., so wrapped up were you in your own holiday madness, and then later worrying about all your Popsicle relatives and ex-neighbors digging out up North.
Well, I didn’t want to tell you (because I didn’t want someone to rob my house or do the Home Alone thing with daughter-dear who was minding the homestead), but I was skipping Christmas. Sounds like a great name for a book, right?
Bill and I had the opportunity to housesit a home on the Intracoastal Waterway in Delray Beach, Florida for three weeks. Such a blessing, as it came at a time when I was really starting to feel my S.A.D. (Seasonal Affectation Disorder) coming on big time. I think I was two weeks shy of going into hibernation. So of course, we jumped at the chance to get closer to the equator and find sunshine—for free!
Claudia, the lady who owns the home, was going to Europe for the holidays and was accustomed to having someone living in her house to take care of things. There were only three glitches.
One: we had to take care of her cats. Now, some of you may know that I am highly allergic to cats. All kinds of problems ensue when I am around them, and none of them are pretty. But we were assured that the two in question were outside cats, that they only came inside to eat—once in the morning, once in the evening. Well, how bad could that be? Bill was designated to be the cat feeder, even though he doesn’t really like cats. But he does like me and prefers I keep living.
Two: the lady’s plants would need to be watered. Normally not a problem for most folks, but I possess a thumb (both of them actually), so black it would rival a West Virginia coalminer’s in a total eclipse. We determined that if all I had to do is water them, I would follow the instructions for each plant and hope for the best. (I would later find out that she has 143 potted plants, and that many are exotic orchids that would need to be watered once or even twice daily. Thank God there was an irrigation system in place for all the in-ground plants, ‘cause I’m not sure I can count that high).
Three: Darling daughter was becoming something of a Scrooge, moping around and complaining that we were abandoning her and ruining Christmas. Too bad . . . we were skipping to the land of sunshine and navels (oranges) anyway. She cheered up when she found what Santa had left under the tree—I had skipped Christmas, but not her presents.
We loaded up the truck much like the Clampett’s, sans rocking chair, and headed south, stopping in lovely Richmond Hills, Georgia before continuing on the next day. We arrived at our little cottage by the sea around noon the next day and began settling into a lovely Waterway house with boundless gardens and a front yard that was literally a bowling ball’s throw from a posh, world-class marina. While there we often saw a Bentley parked by one of the boats. One day we saw an Aston Martin. Corvettes, Jaguars, and Porsches were commonplace.
For three weeks we enjoyed sea and sand, living in a delightful home we hadn’t had to pay a penny for. The house next door was for sale and I went online to see that it was listed for 1.5 million. So this is what it felt like to live high on the hog.
I made polite acquaintance with the cats, Tulip and Bhindi, and took to task watering my 143 charges, including Bonsais (never been able to keep one of those alive past a week), Stag horns (which I understand are air plants, but I felt sorry for them as it was so hot and watered them anyway), Chicken and Hens (which are some sort of cactus, so I probably, definitely, over watered them . . . seems I have a generous nature). In addition, there were lemon and lime trees, a star fruit tree, Birds of Paradise plants, assorted palm trees that towered over the house, many varieties of orchids, and a kitchen and herb garden that would rival the items you would find on any salad bar. We had fresh kale, cabbage, arugula, Swiss chard, collards (yes, we had them on New Year’s Day), mesclun, beets, fennel, shallots, marjoram, rosemary, thyme, sage, basil, parsley, cilantro, mint, and both hot and sweet peppers. We had some awesome salads. I even made dressings from scratch. Seemed to me that if everything else was fresh . . .
We walked the street, rode our bikes, sunned on the widow’s watch, and were entertained in high style by Bill’s sister, Kathie, (who arranged this sweet gig), and her best friend Annette. Every Saturday, I went to the Green Market and purchased fresh Chicken Vindaloo, Naan bread, Paratha dip, and Cilantro Peanut Chutney, as well as my favorite snack, Kettle Korn.
On the first night in our million-dollar beach house I went downstairs to discover Bhindi, one of the cats, the brindled one, curled in a ball on one of the straw place mats on the dining room table. She eyed me as I came down the stairs, but then went back to licking her fur. I pictured her doing the typical Halloween black cat arch and spraying deadly dander all over me. She just eyed me as I slunk by and made my way to what would become my 4 a.m. workstation for the next few weeks. Each morning Bill sterilized the table and then I polished it.
On New Year’s Day, Bill and I were fixing breakfast when I saw the next-door neighbor cross her driveway and make her way to our front door. I was still in my pajamas so I asked Bill to get the door. She told us that Tulip, the black and white cat, was dead. She had just found her by her koi pond, lifeless and appearing unharmed. This was not good; one of Bill’s charges had succumbed on his watch. He had become fond of Tulip and had actually been talking to her and petting her just the day before. I felt horrible about having vaulted one of the sofas twice to get away from her.
Emails to Europe ensued and it turned out that Claudia, in Brussels at this time, had been expecting her to pass. Tulip had a known heart condition and had been declining. It was actually a blessing that Claudia hadn’t had to deal with Tulip’s passing. She asked if Bill could bury her beside one of her gardens, which he did. Over the next several days I saw two new cats checking out the “hood,” vying for territory. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be adopted by this woman? All the kibble you could eat, fresh Fancy Feast in the can twice a day, and apparently a hidden cat door that allowed you access to scare the bejesus out of the plant and cat sitters.
We went on The Lady Atlantic, a big cruise/tour ship, where we had a wonderful Sunday brunch with Kathie, and learned some of the history of the area. The ship was docked less than half a mile away, so we saw it coming and going two or three times a day. It was comforting to hear its horn as it left at five each night, and then came back around eight. It was almost a signal to unwind and go to the TV room to relax and watch a movie or a football game.
Well, now we’re back and trying to get caught up in our daily lives again. And I’m telling you, I didn’t think it would take much to stress me out so soon. But coming back, we went from 85 degrees at 10 a.m. to 35 degrees at 10 p.m. We were unpacking the truck in shorts and capris. We were so ready to just get back in the truck and head south again.
One thing I learned that was pretty eye opening. For years I have wanted to live on the Waterway, envisioning myself drinking coffee in the morning watching the ships pass by, lounging after lunch, watching the ships pass by, sipping wine in the evenings . . . doing pretty much the same thing. Turns out, that when you have a deck right there and all the time in the world to do just that, it gets boring: one thirty-foot white ship, one forty-foot white ship, one eighty-foot white ship, a big white yacht, a big white sailboat, another white forty-footer, another white yacht, a ginormous white yacht, another white sailboat . . . it was exceptional to see any color but white. Sometimes you saw an older ship with lots of wood trim, or a tugboat. That was fun. The barges were the most interesting; they were the only ones that seemed to have any activity on board. The yachts had very dark tinted glass all around . . . so secretive they were. Having lived at Sunset Beach for fourteen years with a swing bridge, where I was often kept waiting for barges to pass, I’d seen plenty of them up close. So, as it turns out, even if I had a house on the Waterway, I wouldn’t spend every morning and evening watching all the boats go by. It gets a bit old fairly quickly. Nice surprise that I no longer have Waterway envy.
Also palm fronds swaying in the breeze, while pleasantly relaxing during the day, make a fair amount of noise rustling about when you’re trying to sleep at night. Hence the 3 and 4 a.m. wakeup calls. Not complaining, mind you. Just appreciating. But I sure did manage to get some wonderful writing done in those wee early hours of the morning. And the afternoon naps were simply divine.
Happy to be home, overwhelmed with trying to catch up right now. Haven’t made it to the Food Lion yet, or back to any classes . . . church tomorrow though, and next week I’ll get back to my “real” life, and our own wonderful beach.