23 Dec Not Home for the Holidays

Jill and I are not home for the holidays. We left our fully decorated home (readied for our neighborhood’s house tour–some photos attached) for Sun City, Florida, where we are visiting Jill’s father: Tom. Tom lives in a sprawling 4-bedroom stucco ranch house that has a huge screened lanai behind it, with a swimming pool he never uses. The swimming pool demands constant upkeep, which is expensive. He won’t empty the pool because he’s heard that the pool is constructed in such a way that it will collapse into itself if it doesn’t have water in it. That, to me, sounds most American: a luxury you never use but must keep up at great expense for fear that it will break.

I just got up from my afternoon nap — it’s the highlight of our day — and went looking for the sweet potato muffins, but Jill has eaten the last of them, I have discovered, and now I’m quietly resentful, obsessing over those muffins and thinking about eating the rest of the ice cream sandwiches in the freezer. Jill has been on a manic jag since arriving, setting for herself the task of bagging and boxing up all of her father and late step-mother’s extra things. There are tons of extra things. Dorothy — may she rest in peace — kept a very clean and tidy house but she was, we have learned, a secret pack rat. Jill just found (in the cabinet over the fridge) a box filled with all of the RSVP cards from the guests who came to Dorothy and Tom’s wedding seventeen years ago.

This morning, we were going to drive to the local power plant to see the manatees, who flock to the heated pond outside the plant’s turbines. It’s quite an attraction, we have heard. But Jill couldn’t pull herself away from clean-up. She loves to put things away. If I set my newspaper down on the kitchen table and leave it, say, to go to the bathroom, that paper will be gone — tucked into the recycling bin — by the time I get back. So, nothing makes her happier than to tear through somebody’s junk and make sense of the chaos. Already Tom’s garage is crowded with over-stuffed garbage bags of clothes and stacked boxes of nick-knacks.

She’s got Tom cleaning out his own closets too. We’re trying to get him ready to move. At first he was determined to stay here until the real estate market got better–because he overpaid for this house. Mind you, the man is 85, had open-heart surgery two months ago, still has congestive heart failure, and wears a pace-maker. We have suggested to him that waiting out the real estate market might not be the best use of his time. Since Dorothy’s death a year ago, he has been profoundly lonely and has recently started to date. He’s very sociable and there are plenty of single women hereabouts, as you can imagine. We’re hoping that a move into a nearby retirement community will vastly improve his quality of life. Now, mostly, he putters around in this too-large house and waits for something to happen. He can’t believe how bored he is.

“How about this sports coat, Ron? It’s brand new. Cost a hundred fifty bucks–it’s yours for the asking!” He holds it up for my examination. Mind you, he weighs about 50 pounds less than I and is about 5 inches shorter. I tell him, no, thank you. Three minutes later: “Ron, look at this rain coat — whadda think?” He smiles at me. I smile at him. This goes on for quite a while. He has a lot of clothes he will never wear.

Earlier today he supervised my planting of a tree he’s been eager to put in the front yard. Somebody gave him this Norfolk pine as a gift several years ago and he has, miraculously, kept it alive. I say “miraculously” because he’s nearly killed every plant in the house from over watering. Jill has instructed him how to save them — “Wait till the soil is stone dry, Dad” — but she doesn’t hold much hope, especially as he is now requesting that we pull all of the artificial plants from their storage boxes in the garage and set them up in the house so that the house will look good and “planty” when it goes on the market.

Here I am planting the tree with Tom:

Ron (digging a hole in the front yard).

Tom (watching): Look out for the water lines.

Ron (digging): You mean these pipes [that look like water lines]?

Tom (watching): It’d be nice if that tree could be closer to the house.

Ron (digging): It seems the water lines are in the way.

Tom (watching): Are there two lines?

Ron (digging): Yes.

Tom (watching): You’re going to put the tree right between those two lines.

Ron (digging) Yes.

Tom (watching) What kind of soil is that?

Ron (digging): It’s pretty sandy..

Tom: Do you have enough soil? Do you need fertilizer?

Ron (digging): I’ve got some fertilizer.

Tom (watching): You need manure.

Ron (digging): Okay.

Tom returns with a small bag of dried manure: Look at this manure.

Ron (digging): Great, thanks.

Tom: You want to put water in there?

Ron (digging): Eventually.

Tom: That plant’s gonna need some water.

Ron (digging): Yes, it will.

Tom: I’ll get you some water.

Ron (digging): Great.

Tom returns with a watering can of water: You might have to break that pot to get the tree out.

Ron (digging the tree from its pot): We don’t have to break the pot.

Tom: I think you might have to break that pot. That tree is root-bound.

Ron: It’ll be fine. I won’t break the pot.

Tom: I couldn’t get the thing out.

Ron (pulling the tree out of the pot): It’ll be fine.

Tom: Look at that. You want some of this water now?

And so on. Meanwhile, Jill is inside furiously going through drawers and cabinets and closets and cupboards. She finds — secured in a cloth envelope and tucked away in the back of a dresser drawer that is overstuffed with stained baby clothes circa 1965– a single broken drawer pull from a long-gone dresser. Later, she exclaims her disbelief before she takes her afternoon nap: “The things I’m finding!” I nod to show that I’m listening but, really, I have nothing to say. Then she says, “Am I a little manic? I’m manic, aren’t I?”

I leave her to her nap and walk into the too-quiet den. Tom is napping in his room on the other side of the house. Through the sliding glass doors, I regard the turquoise blue pool — immaculately cleaned — and then, beyond the shallow yard, the scrubby backside of the Little Manatee State Park. Tom claims to have seen wild pigs and bob cats and any number of exotic snakes venture from that wilderness. But every time we come, eager to see wildlife, we see nothing, not even a rabbit.

Later, admiring his newly planted tree, Tom says, “In a few years, it’ll give me privacy, shading the window of my office.” I nod agreeably, and he adds: “Not that I need privacy. Not that anybody’s looking, you know.”


We love the man.


 Happy holidays — may your days be merry and Florida-bright!