My hair rested in a state of gentle frizz. An overcast sky sent down the occasional shower, but nothing too serious — the rain depleted most of its energy in the summertime. I wore shorts and a t-shirt in mid-November, and my skin, usually dry to the touch this time of year…wasn’t.
The last time I visited Jacksonville, home of the Southeastern-most branch of my family, was in August of 2012. Its landscape hasn’t changed much, but other stuff? Oh yes. For one thing, the running. If you’ve never experienced running during a Florida summer, I highly recommend you do it at least once. The cumulative sweat resembles the amount present during the final vinyasa in a hot yoga class. This time of year, there’s still some sweat, but mainly the moisture in the air just feels glorious. Add to it the mist that has permeated Jacksonville recently, and no wonder I left my Jergens lotion two time zones away.
Other changes? My niece and nephew. Ava and Ethan are seven and two now, and every time I see them I’m awed at how quickly they’re growing and changing. Last August, Ethan was at the “aim and launch” stage of toddling, and not quite talking. Now he struts like a pro, calls me Aunt Shannon, asks to get lifted up if he needs a better look at something tall, and probably works a computer better than I do.
As for Ava, I’m trying to hang out with her as much as possible before she reaches that “too cool for family” phase. Which is why on Monday, I swung by Five Guys, picked up a hamburger, a grilled cheese sandwich, and some fries, and drove to her school to surprise her with a lunchtime visit. She spotted me in the cafeteria right away, ran over to give me a hug, and we set up camp at a special table [the school has policies in place for such visits]. She waved over two friends to come eat with us. Thus began the most entertaining lunch I’ve had in years. The other two girls discussed their recent trips to Orlando and Dollywood, respectively. I learned about the different kinds of drills they do at the school (fire; weather; intruder alert). We played several rounds of “Telephone.” Remember that game? Yup, kids still play it! Over the extra fries that Ava and I decided we should share, we talked about the 5k run the girls did this year, and how exciting it was to get t-shirts and medals afterwards, even though the run was hard work. When lunchtime ended, the girls did an impressive job of cleaning up after themselves, and I got hugs from all of them.
It was awesome! The venue may not have been very glamorous, but the experience? Unforgettable.
With every year that passes, I appreciate my family a little more. I’m learning the true, monumental importance of spending time with all of them, both younger and older. I’m learning the importance of getting to know my parents, grandparents and siblings not just as parents, grandparents and siblings, but as people. Really cool people.
So I breathed in the humidity and Spanish moss and salty ocean air. I ran and sweated. I swung on a porch swing and ate seafood. And I was thankful.