Friday, June 29, 2018

Part 3, Florida

We pulled into the pretty gated neighborhood with our convoy of vehicles. Even though I wasn't sitting on a quilt covered wooden settee beside Elly May Clampett on the back of the truck like Granny arriving in Beverly Hills, I wondered if the neighbors were thinking, "Oh no, there goes the neighborhood."

But it was a beautiful April day in Florida with low humidity and a breeze blowing from the Atlantic Ocean only a few miles away. And there was the excitement of unloading our furniture in a 5,000 sq. ft. house that would be our home for maybe a year while we looked for a two-bedroom house that I pictured something like the one below, with old Florida style and lots of character...

and with a small yard and unusual landscape, something with the uniqueness I saw below during one of our many house huntings.

Much later on I realized I was only dreaming but at the time I felt hopeful.

For three weeks I unpacked and rearranged. What woman doesn't enjoy nesting? I fell into bed exhausted each night.

After RH took the last empty box to the second floor, I thought I would at last have time to get back to blogging and to writing my stories. 

I had the perfect "writing room" to work in, even if the two windows looked right into our neighbor's garage wall. 

Our red leather sofa went in the room and an extra television, and I'm ashamed to admit that the sofa and the television were used more than my desk and computer. 

The muse rarely visited me.

But the laundry room was close to it and a powder room. Towards the end of the hot summer I spent most of my time there, discovering a channel with Law & Order reruns, a show I had never before watched. [A strange thing is that the only time I've watched it since moving back to Tennessee is when we lost Milo & Otis last fall, when it helped pass the time of being lost in grief.]

I carried my breakfast and lunch to my writing room and sometimes my supper too.

I did spend a lot of time in the kitchen simply because we had to eat.

It had everything a cook could want including all Thermador appliances, a large gas range that I was terrified of, separate convection wall oven, dishwasher, refrigerator. 

It had a walk in pantry, miles of granite countertops, cherry cabinets and the same Brazilian cherry flooring as the rest of the house.

I tried everything to make it look cozier, friendlier, but it never did.

Still, I cooked and cooked and cooked and took hundreds of pictures for blog posts I never wrote...

and set tables that no one saw or ate at but me.

But at least the kitchen was used daily. I think we used the dining room twice, when visiting family was in town. If you think that our furniture didn't quite live up to the style of the room, you'd be right.

The foyer became only a place to walk through, our foyer furniture nonexistent, gleaned from other rooms.

My goal of a window spot for a girlfriends' place for a tête-à-tête never actually being needed.

I chose the large master suite in the west wing for my bedroom, mine and Otis & Milo's...

thinking it would be nice for once to have all that space, much more than my small bedroom at Valley View. 

I ignored the fact that I had been used to RH's bedroom being right beside mine at home, our headboards pushed against the wall between us where all I had to do was reach up and knock if I needed him.

I could even hear him snoring faintly at home but here he wouldn't have heard me if I had yelled my head off, or I him.

My bathroom here was larger than my bedroom at home, with massive vanities on opposite sides of the room, separate water closet, huge stone walk in shower, humongous jetted bathtub, and two walk in closets. I carried a chair into the bathroom in case I felt faint and needed a place to sit down quickly. I could have easily put a sofa in there.

RH chose a bedroom in the east wing that got the morning sun with a bathroom and a window in the shower and a glass door that led to the outdoor shower. 

There was a small office for RH that he spent days organizing and then never used once.

Beside it was our guest room with another full bathroom. I began to consider moving to it but that seemed like far too much trouble, and I had wanted the big bedroom, after all. 

Six months later I spent all day moving all my things to it, and closed the door on the master suite.

Upstairs, I think RH told me, there were two more large bedrooms, each with its own bathroom. I kept meaning to go up there and look but never did.

I spent a lot of my mornings when it was cooler on the back porch...

tending a few pots of herbs and flower baskets while Otis and Milo did their business in the small fenced in grass area off the terrace. Sunday mornings were usually spent out here after our big breakfast of the week, the only one eaten together. RH finally had time to relax. He didn't have to worry about any yard care as an army of professionals came through regularly. I soon learned not to walk around the house in front of the big windows in my nightgown.

A grove of tall pines offered landing pads for unusual birds and I watched them and counted new hibiscus flowers that opened every day. I must not have made a full picture of this one but it bloomed magnificently all summer.

And every evening at 6 sharp there were carillon bells from a Methodist church nearby that played beautiful old hymns. I timed feeding Otis and Milo their supper early so we'd be outside for that.

The living room was large and was RH's television room, our big German corner sofa one of the few pieces of furniture we owned that actually suited the house, along with the large coffee table my father had made from Ponderosa pine water barrels.

Between it and the kitchen was the breakfast nook in front of a large window. You needed sunglasses there. We finally resorted to temporary paper shades. I'm sure the neighbors loved them.

For the first three weeks I was in nesting nirvana and the heat was bearable and there was a Mother's Day lunch with our daughter, son-in-law and his sweet parents at the beach, an ocean breeze cooling us off from what everyone kept assuring me was not a normal summer. That it was usually much cooler on the First Coast.

By Memorial Day weekend I was pacing from room to room, tears flowing, not sobbing, these strange tears that just seeped from my eyes as I whispered, "Oh, God. Oh, God. Oh, God."

I numbly wandered through the vast rooms, ceilings soaring above me, walls so far apart. I remembered my friendly walls at home that held me up as I sleepily moved from my bed to my bathroom in the middle of the night, in 8 steps, not 18.

I thought of the hills that surrounded my farmhouse on all sides and my daily habit of lifting my eyes to them. I thought about the three huge sugar maples that were a green umbrella over my backyard and about having missed the blooming of the huge Kousa dogwood outside my bedroom windows that in May became a bridal bouquet of loveliness.

[I know you may be wondering about all these "my's", thinking they should be "ours." Suffice it to say that at the time I was experiencing this, and writing it in my journal, I felt that RH had walked away from it all and so they were mine. And when RH read the rough draft for this post, as he does all of them, he was very emotional and I think understood for the first time the complete upheaval this was for me and why I had never before posted about it, but needed to. It brought about our first really good conversation about it. So all is good, okay? He understands.]

I thought of a son, our firstborn, who was also my neighbor, coming down the hill for coffee every morning, and many times for breakfast. Of another son who popped in often, and our youngest son, only 3 hours away from us back in Tennessee who used to bring his family to stay with us five or six times a year.

I thought of the days when RH would pop back home during the work day, as many as three times a day, and who now was gone before I got up in the morning and didn't return until at least 7 in the evening, often later, eat supper too exhausted to talk, then would shower and go to bed right after, six days a week and sometimes on Sunday.

I don't know what I would have done during the long days if it hadn't been for Otis and Milo. 

I didn't drive alone there once, too afraid of the heavy traffic and confusing new roads. Most Saturdays I was lucky if RH picked me up to rush to Publix and then back home again before returning to work. Otherwise we did that on Sundays.

On a rare free Saturday or on Sunday afternoons, we drove up the coast to three other local beach towns, me turning from side to side taking in the small towns that were quaint and funky...

unlike the town we lived in that was staid and stuffy with gates and luxury cars and office buildings, where I always felt I was a stranger in a strange land.

[I have to tell you here that this viewpoint is probably unique to me. My sisters and brothers-in-law who live in central Florida absolutely love visiting Ponte Vedra Beach. And our adult sons love to visit their sister there. I used to love to visit there.]

I lived for family times when my sisters or our children came to visit.

But when the time came for them to gather their belongings at the front door I was bereft again.

There never was time to explore other towns. I never once got to visit St. Augustine, the oldest city in America, full of history, that was less than 30 minutes down the coast. 

I never got to visit Fernadina Beach or Amelia Island, in the opposite direction, all destinations I had felt sure we would see. 

Twice we got on the interstate for Orlando a few hours away to visit my mother in a nursing home. [I won't count here our evacuation across the panhandle of Florida getting out of the way of a hurricane that year.]

There just was not time.

There wasn't even much time, for me anyway, with our daughter and son-in-law. Not their fault at all as Christy worked at her desk in Jacksonville from 7 until 7, and our son-in-law building luxury homes, a job that was pretty much 24/7, dealing with clients and subs. The one below near the beach, in progress, was one of RH's favorites and he became close to the nice homeowners.

The times we were able to spend with our daughter and son-in-law were wonderful and I'll always treasure those memories. [Perhaps I was spoiled by them coming up to Tennessee so often to see us previously? And we're very lucky that they still do.]

I enjoyed the Sundays when RH and I would get in the car and he would drive me across the Intracoastal Waterway. I felt something come alive in me when I saw the marshy grasses waving in the wind, the golden color that changed to pinks and greens. 

Whenever we crossed the bridge and turned into old neighborhoods, searching for that perfect two-bedroom old Florida bungalow with lots of charm, and wound around streets of older houses where it was like driving through shady green tunnels instead of down sunny wide boulevards lined with palm tree after palm tree, there were neighborhoods backed up to the marshes that I felt I could have lived in, with their small communities, if I could never see my Tennessee hills again.

It soon became clear that marshland neighborhoods were almost as expensive as beach town property. It began to look as if the only house we could afford would be an hour away from our daughter and from RH's job.

Elizabeth Buchan writes in The Good Wife Strikes Back, "My situation was hardly intolerable--I was neither oppressed nor abused--but my spirit was dented."

For nine months I lived in a house and town that people dream of retiring to, especially if they golf or fish. 

I was neither abused or oppressed but my spirit was dented.

As the months went on and on, I lost myself.

John O'Donohue writes that "Home is where you belong." I didn't belong here and I felt more and more invisible and completely alone except for my dachshunds. 

Those of you who have followed me for a long time and knew our home called Valley View, understood why I was not home here. I was as lost as our bits and pieces were in this large house.

When I end this series with Part 4, Home Hill, by telling you why and how we made our way home to Tennessee, I think you will see what a miracle it was.

And when you see our new home I think you will understand why we love it so much. Even if it is not your own "style," and it probably won't be, I believe that you will better understand now that it is mine.

And everyone should feel at home at home, shouldn't they?


  1. I felt my eyes welling up with tears as I read this. Clearly the luxurious you had were artificial when it came to your heart and soul. And you conveyed this without sounding negative, just your feeling like a fish out of water.

    I know this story has a good ending, but I'm still rereading every word slowly. I know what it feels like to float through rooms and spaces that I thought would eventually replace pieces of my heart, but the truth is---you can go home again.

    Jane xxx

  2. Dewena, there’s absolutely NOTHING about that house that fits you. In fact, I’ll go as far to say that that house would only fit someone who is more interested in a house rather than a home. Yes, on paper it sounds wonderful, but it’s soulless. While I like the professional appliances (unlike you I must have a gas stove), the rest of the kitchen is dark and boring with zero personality. Certainly not suited for someone like you who would prefer to design a kitchen with freestanding furniture than cabinets.

    One thing that stood out to me was when you said you never went upstairs to see the other bedrooms. My jaw almost dropped when I read that, as I can’t imagine living in a house and not exploring every nook and cranny, but I think it’s because you didn’t care. Your heart just wasn’t in it.

    It’s a shame RH was away so much. I can’t imagine how bored and lonely it must have been for you, especially since you didn’t drive anywhere. I was under the impression he wasn’t going to work as much in Florida, but boy was I wrong! Six days a week and nearly twelve hours a day is too much for anyone, much less someone who is well into their retirement years, but RH sounds like a man who MUST work. And you sound like a woman who lives for her family, so yes, it makes perfect sense you were unhappy.

    I hope you share the events and happenings that led up to your leaving Florida, and what those conversations with RH were like. Would he have been perfectly happy to stay there, or was he happy to leave too?


    Guess what we bought today? Paper shades! Screw the neighbors I say!

  3. A square peg in a round just wasn’t you. When I see that beautiful house I know right away that it would never do for you. It didn’t have your soul. No wonder you moved.

  4. Your words touch my heart. I'd have been a fish out of water myself and totally understand your feelings. The miracle is that you're back "home" with the consolation that your real home is still in your lovely family. Life is full of twists and turns and it's a true blessing when we can be where we want to be in our final years. Besides being in a quiet secluded place, for me it's perfect when neighbors aren't in sight - near, but not up close. To walk outside in your nightie if you choose is beyond wonderful! God bless you always. I'm so happy things have worked out for you after that big bump in the road!!

  5. This piece just tugs at my heart, Dewena. I'm glad I know your happy ending, but still, your descriptions of what home is -- and what it isn't -- are spot on. The little cottages in Florida look so charming. But, is it wrong that I'm glad you didn't find one, because it means you're back home? Looking forward to reading the next part of your story.

  6. I can say it now. I couldn't then because I was afraid it might just come true. but now it's over like a strange and depressed dream.
    it was then that I literally feared for your life there. it's as if you were a little boat cut loose and floating on high and frightening waves. all alone. and no one who really understood. I worried about RH trying to keep up physically. he is such a trojan! I doubt he would ever give in until he collapsed. and what kind of life is that?
    and I worried about you both marooned alone in a beautiful mistake.
    those houses have their own beauty for many I'm sure. but for those of us who revere the words cozy and small and even intimate... the sound of great echoes and our own footsteps are frightening and soul taking.
    if all that Brazilian Cherry is real wood and I'm sure it probably is... then it comes from an endangered rain forest. and that makes me sad. I hope I'm wrong. you know. ever the protector of precious trees.
    but one thing that's not wrong is that you and RH have found each other again. you can live your lives in the sweet mountains surrounding your beautiful little home in Tennessee now. just as it should be.
    God bless you darling sister mine. God bless you. xo

  7. Dewena, it's a lovely home, but not you. I agree with Doreen, completely. I remember your beautiful Tennessee home and how charming it was, full of red accents and your colorful kitchen with its black and white floor was a showstopper...warm, cozy and full of personality. I am so glad that you are back home in another fabulous house that you love, but I am so sorry that you went through such a sad period in Florida. I am sure that was not easy at all. I'm so happy you're all smiles now...

  8. This is so touching that you have shared this journey with us. Sometimes what we think is going to be a great fit for our soul is not. Trust me I have been where you have and can understand completely. Houses are everywhere and come in all sizes and prices but a home is unique to you. You have to walk in your house and feel you are home within your heart. Your journey has certainly taken some tough turns but you have pulled yourself up and followed your heart. So happy you are home again. Hugs to you my friend. Thank you for sharing your story with us.

  9. Dewena, that house was certainly not your style, whatsoever! I can see why you were so very unhappy. And then to have your hubby gone so much and not there even when he was there because he was so tired. You were both fishes out of water. I'm so glad you are back in your home state. Tennessee is such a beautiful place in such a different way as Florida. The four seasons, the forests, the hills, so much more you!

    I would not be happy in that big, beautiful house either. I would feel like a fish out of water there, too. I much prefer your idea of home over those fancy modern houses!

  10. Oh, dear Dewena...I am so glad you're writing this story. I have a feeling this will be very healing for you. I knew immediately when I saw the picture of that huge, modern house, that it wasn't for you. That is not you at all. And then when you wrote about rarely leaving the couch and TV, never driving anywhere (especially since St Augustine was only 30 minutes away!), being afraid of that big stove, RH not around, not being able to hear him, etc., etc....I could feel your depression coming right out of my screen. (Just for the record, I wouldn't have been happy there either - that house may be beautiful for some, but it's so not me either.)

    We have lived in this house for 28 years and while I'm pretty content here and love my house, there's also a lot of things I don't like - mostly, having neighbors literally on top of us on all sides. There is no privacy at all. I feel like I'm in a fishbowl with people looking in when I'm outside. I would love to live in a little house with a ton of land and neighbors far away where I could barely see their house. Or not at all. Looking forward to hearing about you moving back to TN. xoxo

  11. Dewena, this post was no surprise to me. Back then I knew and felt that you were sad and lost in your new enviroment. I know I would have felt the very same. I am so happy that you made it back to your Tennessee where you could feel at home and happy once again. I look forward to the next installment.

  12. Good Morning Dewena,
    Oh you have captured and shared your feelings so vividly. I felt them, I felt the trap you felt you were in. These writings nailed the absence of feelings of today, where too often people buy the house and it is never truly a home. It saddens me to know that you went through all of this anguish and yet who or what could truly dampen this vivacious, colorful, warm, honest, loving and beautiful spirit of yours. Certainly not a house! I am so looking forward to the next chapter...So glad that this story has such a happy ending.


  13. YES, everyone should not only feel safe at home, they should love where they are. I saw the pics of your TN home and I have to say where you stayed was not the same. I love to visit places like this but it is not me! Not sure that even my things around me would make it mine. I loved the house that you pictured that you said you were looking for. BEAUTIFUL..loving that style. Sorry that your time in the BIG HOUSE was so hard on you. Can't wait to see where you ended up. Hang in there.

  14. Hello,
    I do understand. I loved your TN home, I could feel the Home Sweet Home swell from it. It was felt right from the computer, I am not kidding.
    I do understand what you are sharing, I am happy you are sharing this with us.
    I am looking forward to the rest of the story.

  15. Just as the sunshine state saturates its land with comfortable temps, so do its houses (or any house, for that matter) need to feel warm, in a cozy way, to their inhabitants, otherwise what's the point of all those cool, state of the art features, if one can't truly 'chill' in their own, personal space?

    I believe that maybe, just maybe, you and RH were meant to make that move to that spacious and extravagant Florida abode, in order for you to finally arrive at your adorable forever home, in your beloved Tennessee, surrounded by your large and loving family. It was a necessary means to a destined end, which makes you appreciate your present residence so much more.

    I'm certain that these days, when you soar from room to room, any tears are ones of joy, as you whisper words of thanks to God, for a home you can enjoy.


  16. Dear Dewena, perhaps it was meant to be a grand adventure, eh? You're happy now and that's what counts.

  17. I'm felt blessed to read the last 3 parts of your journey. I can only imagine what it's been like for you since I know I would feel the same if I was no longer in my home...I'm happy to know even thought the road has been difficult it seems you journey does end well...Waiting for the next part!

  18. Your storytelling is so good, that even though I haven't "known" you very long, I get the picture pretty well, I think! Also, to live in such a house would be a nightmare for me. One of my daughters lived in a house even bigger, also pretty new, but that was with a family of six! As much as I loved to visit her, I couldn't help feeling how completely UNcozy it was, in spite of the huge heating bill in the winter (it wasn't in Florida).

    My own house I have always felt was barn-like, but it only has 8-ft ceilings, so it isn't really. I never loved my house so well as when I came back to it from India where I had stayed contentedly with my daughter for seven weeks in a quite different home and environment. I was surprised and so happy when I walked in the door to feel that my house was really a lovely house and it was welcoming me.

    While you were living there, of course you were trying to be thankful and content, and couldn't write about the unresolved struggle, but now, thank God, you don't have to learn to live with it all, to live in a place that feels like living in the grand ballroom of a hotel, with the hotel's kitchen.

    The whole experience must have made you appreciate more than ever coming back HOME to a place that holds you just right in so many ways.

  19. Sigh... "everyone should feel at home at home." Promise to show you my pictures of Home when I get there. There's only one for me now.
    I've missed visiting, dear Dewena. Enjoying catching up today.

  20. 5000 square feet? Yikes! I'm glad I know the end of the story, that you are back in your beloved TN, but I still can't wait to read the next post. Thank you for sharing this with your whole heart, Dewena.

  21. Thank you for returning the visit dear Dewena. Made me very happy to see your name pop up and to read your kind words of understanding. I am reading through this post again and I can relate at so many levels. I keep hoping to find a "cottage" but it's practically impossible in South Florida, and we can't leave here due to my husband's work. We thought we had found a nice farm land property earlier this year but it wasn't meant to be. Our daughter and son in law live in Central Florida and I enjoy visiting there. I can hear myself think when I do errands there. I read how you struggled with traffic. I started to struggle with it a few years back, but no one takes me too seriously because I'm in my 50's. This line is it... "I was neither abused or oppressed but my spirit was dented." Dented.
    I have so much catching up to do on your page.
    Be right back with coffee. ;)

  22. Thank you so much for sharing this with us.
    I have enjoyed the writing the wonderful photographs, but do agree with you, everyone should feel at home when at home …

    God bless

    All the best Jan


RH and I love your comments! They are sent to my email for moderation first but I do hit publish as soon as I read them. A few commenters' comments are not sent to my email for some reason but I try to visit that section on my design page twice a day to see if they're hiding there so I can publish them. I went the first 3 years of blogging not knowing that was there and when I discovered it there were many pages of old comments that never got published. I was so embarrassed and contacted recent ones but hid in shame from those who had given up long ago.

In these busy days I appreciate so much when you take time to comment. Thank you so much!