Vacation & Coming Full Circle

It’s hard to believe that it’s been over two months since I’ve written anything.  I spent many days getting things ready for the tax preparer.  Still my taxes aren’t done.  Two weeks trying to keep the store open with three of my eight employees out with COVID and another week with Scott in the hospital unexpectedly.  I had high hopes of submitting something in the local writing contest in February but that didn’t happen.

Even more astounding is that it’s been over a year since this painful journey began. The story begins and will end on vacation.

Looking back, it looks as though I was at my wit’s end in mid-January when I last reported.  We FINALLY received payments from AFLAC after filing multiple complaints.  Can you say too little too late?  I still have more claims to file but can’t seem to get motivated to start the process all over again.  Scott’s return to the hospital lasted about a week and he has been feeling incredibly better since then.  So much so, we headed out on a much-needed vacation on Friday, February 24th with his doctor’s permission. 

Several friends had extended offers for us to stay with them if we could get away; so, we decided to take them all up on their offers.  We also wanted to spend some time in Nashville, Tennessee again.  We considered going to the Grand Ole Opry but ultimately decided to look for something unique.  I found a concert venue in Pelham, Tennessee; more specifically The Caverns.  Larry Fleet was going to be there on Saturday the 25th so I purchased tickets for that Saturday night making our trip official.  We were going to a concert in a cave.  No turning back now.

Scott packed his vacation shirt and I did the 101 things necessary to be gone for two weeks, everything from making all the reservations to cleaning out the refrigerator.  We dropped Zeus off at Grandma’s and left the house almost on time that Friday morning.  Equally amazing was the fact that we arrived at our hotel in Nashville approximately the time we had mapped out.  Anyone that has traveled with us knows that a trip that maps out at say 7 hours will end up taking us about 10 hours.  We checked into our hotel and inquired about the free shuttle to downtown Nashville.  After learning that there was only one shuttle and he was already downtown, we decided to walk.  After all, the hotel advertised that they were within walking distance to all the activities on Broadway.  That is if you are a high school track star.  It turned out to be about a mile and half uphill from all the activities.  Walking downhill was sure better than the reverse but walking that far on a decline in cowboy boots comes with its own challenges.  After being in the car all day, the walk wasn’t all that bad.  That was until we reached our first destination and I was carded.  I immediately knew what I had done.  In packing my phone case to avoid carrying my purse, I had forgotten to include my driver’s license.  I knew better.  Imagine my frustration; I just drove seven hours, then walked a mile and half, fully anticipating enjoying a high-priced drink, only to be carded.  Needless to say, Scott dialed up the shuttle man and asked him to pick us up and take us back to the hotel.  We were able to catch a ride back downtown relatively quickly so it wasn’t a total bust.  We had to laugh, of all the iconic places to reference in downtown Nashville, our driver was picking us up in front of the Apple Store.  Nice young man but he obviously didn’t come to Nashville for the country music. 

Downtown Nashville, TN

We returned to our favorite bar from our last visit which has ironically been renamed “Losers”.  No wonder we felt so at home there.  We got seats right by the band and stayed for dinner.   Most of the really popular places were packed so we avoided them.  We did some more sightseeing in the morning and headed out in the late afternoon for our next stop.  I had booked a room in a place called the Smokehouse Lodge in Monteagle, TN.  It’s been in the same family for over 60 years.  They had a fire a couple years ago that took down their entire restaurant.  So they remodeled their shop into a make-shift eating establishment complete with live music.  We ate off paper plates and drank bottled beer and water.  I ordered pulled pork; my sides were Brussel sprouts and cucumber salad.    You know, trying to be healthy.  Imagine our surprise when they brought out three FULL plates of food – just for me.  I think it was about 3 pounds of Brussel sprouts, probably 3 cucumbers sliced with a tomato or two and a hefty pile of sliced onions; with a bottle of Italian dressing.  It was really a shame since we had no way of keeping our left-overs.  Scott’s food all came on one plate but we really don’t know why they were different.  The best part was that it was probably the cheapest meal of our entire vacation; around $30 including tip. 

The concert was really good.  Unfortunately, it was a decent walk from the parking lot to the cave and the drive to it was probably the most fog I had ever driven in so that made me nervous about getting back to the hotel.  The acoustics were great and there wasn’t a bad seat in the place; because there were NO seats.  After a rather long day of walking around Nashville, we could only do 3 hours on our feet before we had to make the decision to leave before it was over.  Thankfully the fog was a little better on the return trip and we had a restful night. 

Our next stop was Valdosta, GA at a Drury Inn by recommendation.  We would certainly recommend Drury Inn’s as well.  Not only did we each get three free drink tickets at check-in; they also provided a full supper meal.  It appeared that they cater to an older crowd.  They knew what they were doing with that plan; I’m pretty sure we weren’t the only guests that were in bed by 8 p.m. with full bellies and a nice buzz.   Makes for a really quiet establishment.  In hindsight, it was a great way to celebrate Day 200 post-transplant.

Monday had us heading for Palm Harbor, Florida to have lunch with Scott’s former brother-in-law and his wife and daughter.  They provided a great lunch and we really enjoyed our short visit to their beautiful place.  Thanks to supper traffic, our one-hour drive turned into two; making us late for supper at our next stop.  The drive from Palm Harbor to Lake Placid was diversified.  It started out with busy city traffic and ended with sights and sounds of farm country.  Orange trees, sugar cane and quite a few cattle.  This stop was with my girlfriend and former co-worker at Farm Credit and her husband.  It was easy to see why this part of the state was so attractive to this retired farm couple.  The next day, he and Scott went for skid loader parts and a tour of farm country while she and I toured the town, admiring all the murals, did some shopping at Beall’s and stopped at the former Farm Credit office for a photo before hitting the lake for some sun.    

Wednesday we went on an airboat ride.  Rather than going for a large boat with many people on Lake Okeechobee, we chose to go to a smaller operation where he took just the four of us and was a really good tour guide.  We saw several gators, lots of birds and even saw a dead gator being destroyed by other gators.  It was an enjoyable adventure.  After a quick lunch we were back on the road.  This time headed to Fort Lauderdale.  Just to say we went there.  We spent a little time in the deserted pool and had a great meal at Smoky Bones.  The next morning, we spent a little time on Hollywood Beach before heading to the Keys to spend a few days with another good friend.  Hard to believe our vacation was half over already. 

This was another relaxing stay at another beautiful home.  Our friends had just purchased it this year and we were some of their first guests.  We enjoyed the pool, the thatched cabana and all the fish in the canal out the back door.  She and I went shopping at Beall’s – my new favorite store and got groceries for what ended up being several terrific surf and turf meals there.  I was surprised to find that both clothing and groceries weren’t any more there than they had been at home. 

We also got to go on a fishing charter on their son’s boat with one of his very capable and patient captains.  He kept pretty busy keeping bait on all our lines.  Scott caught a couple small sharks, I caught a puffer fish and we all caught some really pretty silver fish that we threw back as well.  They were more of a bait fish.  We ended up with a nice batch of Mangrove snapper that fed us most of the week as well as gave us a meal to take to our next stop to share there.  The water was amazingly calm and before we were done for the day we saw a whole bunch of dolphins; some very curious and coming right up to our boat.  I have a feeling we smelled like dead fish so they were interested. 

We took a trip to Key West but decided to see that mostly by car rather than walk since it was fairly crowded.  We had another great meal in town and enjoyed the people-watching entertainment factor of the whole area.  Another great stop on our tour.  I think we were up for sunset every morning; enjoying that on our friends’ deck.  Then later crossing the street to her son’s house to enjoy sunset on his upper deck.  Certainly, the life if you can get it.  We left there feeling very relaxed and rested. 

Scott’s 32 year old vacation shirt saw the light of day again this year; fitting better than it has in years.

Next was a quick stop at Scott’s niece’s place in Cape Coral where she provided cookies and lemonade and another photo op.  Our final destination; near Port Charlotte and Englewood.  There we stayed with one couple and enjoyed wonderful hospitality as well.  Each day we got together with other couples in the same area where we enjoyed the beautiful sunshine, warm pools, friendly card games and great company. We went for a pontoon ride for 14 in the Gulf where we saw more dolphins and I was able to do a little shell hunting. Four more days of total enjoyment with beloved friends.  

Day fifteen found us back on the road again; trying to avoid Atlanta, Georgia at rush hour.  After rising with the sun every day on vacation, we were able to leave Florida at 6:30 a.m.  By now Scott was feeling so good that he even did some of the driving home.  After about 10 hours on the road, we had a disagreement with our navigation lady and fought our way through Atlanta, despite her.  We made it to Columbus, Tennessee before calling it a day.  Twice on our trip we experienced something new.  Our navigation system was “speaking” and suddenly paused and said “I’m sorry, let’s try that again”.  Thanks for the apology but I’ve already missed my exit!  Over all she was a great help and I can’t imagine driving what ended up being over 3000 miles without her.    

We certainly feel blessed to have been able to be gone for two full weeks.  My employees did a great job while I was gone and I really did very limited work during our time away.  We got up early to enjoy full days and while he did enjoy a drink or two occasionally, his doctor report on the Monday of our return showed his liver and kidney numbers very good; no harm done.  After all that we went through in the past year, I certainly felt that we deserved a few days of sunshine and relaxation but even more so we felt blessed to be able to go.  We had survived what we hope to be the most horrific year of our lives.  Literally, financially, mentally and physically.  I say “we” because while it happened to him, thankfully he doesn’t remember all of it.  I may not have had to suffer the physical pain of his ailment; but my memories remain very vivid.  This post-apocalyptic adventure allowed us to see what our friends are doing in Florida and see them enjoy each other and their respective retirement years.  We saw a glimpse of what we would like our future to be.  Chemo brain still raises it’s ugly head occasionally but we feel like the worm has turned. 

We went to his appointment on Monday with a whole new view.  I drove without concern or worry; no longer fearing the two-hour journey. He was feeling great.  Even with our exit closed, we got there on time.  This visit, we were looking healthy and rested and even a little bit tan despite the SPF 100 sun screen.  We knew how to navigate the parking and get to his appointments without worry.  No longer one of the many people wearing faces of terror and panic about where their lives were heading.  Now we were able to help other people get where they needed to be.  

Don’t hate us because we look healthy, but please look at us and know that recovery is possible.  We look forward to enjoying all that life has to offer.  Seeing things through different lenses now that we realize that a healthy tomorrow isn’t always a guarantee and feeling like together; we can do anything.    

Hoping and praying that our future contains many more days of
“Toes in the Sand”

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