Following our 5-month-late honeymoon last week (which we will be sure to fill you in on soon), Kyle and I left Cancun and flew to Tampa, where my sweet grandparents picked us up and drove us to Bradenton, home of my heart.
Everyone has a place that makes their heart the happiest. It's that Pure Michigan cabin, lake living. It's in the seat of a combine, harvesting wheat. It's a sun room, hugging a mug of morning brew. It's a New York City book store, browsing titles and leafing through pages. It's wherever you feel most yourself.
For me, it's 90-something-year-old house in a Florida retirement community. I know, I know. I'm 23 years old. My haven should be downing margaritas at a swim-up bar in an all-inclusive Cancun resort. But that's just not me. This is.
The house has been in my family since 1975, when my great grandpa bought it without much agreement from my great grandma. She wanted to be in Clearwater, but he fell in love with this Bradenton bungalow, and 40 years later, here we are. Thanks, grandpa.
I could stare out those enormous windows (that my great grandpa put in just for his bride) at the Manatee River for hours, straining to catch a glimpse of a dolphin fin, or a manatee snout. And I do.
My great grandparents had no idea the extent to which their Florida house would mean to that little baby, Tony's youngest, Maggie: me. But in their riverside cottage, I feel close to them. I see my great grandma in the pink azaleas outside the picture windows. I imagine grandpa sitting in his chair, watching basketball.
I know why they bought the place. It's beautiful. But I'm certain that a part of them knew, or at least hoped, that it would be a place for their family to gather, and laugh, and love, for years after they were gone.
It has been five years since I was last in Bradenton. FIVE! I came down for spring break as a senior in high school with my bestie, Claire (pictured below). If you told me the next time I'd return to Bradenton would be with my HUSBAND, I never would have belived you. I can hardly believe it now.
You see, Bradenton has seen me at all stages of life, from the womb, to a bonnet-clad beach baby, all the way to now. Those wooden planks have waited for me every year, each time met with a different size of feet, a different color of nail polish, but always the same girl. And as I walked down the backyard pier for what seems like the thousandth time, it felt much the same as it had when my feet were smaller.
But on that day, last Sunday, I brought along another pair.
Even while life spins and time runs out, this house - our Bradenton home - seems to stay exactly the same: the layout, the furniture, the artwork (my great grandma's paintings). The house itself outlives childhood, outruns change - a fortress to protect memories.
Days there are predicable. Mornings are for coffee (and they begin early). Sundays are for Nascar. Evenings are for walks and the Bradenton Herald crossword. When you live in an unpredictable world most of the year, predictable is the best kind of vacation. If you hadn't noticed, my goal in life is to be a Florida Snow Bird. And I'm okay with it.
We woke up early on Sunday, so we could have breakfast on Anna Maria Island at 7:00 am, per Grandpa's breakfast schedule. (I must really love him.) Even after losing an hour going from Central to Eastern time, and an additional hour for Daylight Savings, we made it out of bed and downstairs by 6:30 am. I didn't match, and Kyle was a little frumpy (sorry, babe), but it was SO worth it. Behind us on the beach, you'll see a large pipe. They were renourishing the beaches on Anna Maria by pumping sand out of the gulf, and onto the shore. Blows my mind.
I'll end my post with this yellow chair, because it's late and I'm listening to a First Aid Kit record, and thus feeling poetic. This dandelion chair is older than me, but it's the comfiest thing that's ever hugged my rear. (Too much information? It's late, I tell you.)
It's more than a chair to me. It's a resolute fixture in this home of my heart. When I returned to work in the Midwest on Tuesday morning, I closed my eyes, and imagined sitting sideways, right here, legs dangling off one of its arms, reading. Thinking. Remembering.
Maybe this post doesn't resonate with you. Maybe you haven't found your Bradenton, or your yellow chair. You will. I feel a little materialistic talking about my emotional connection to things, so let me be clear: it's the people who have touched my life, who have sat in that yellow chair and held my hand walking down that pier, that make those "things" special.
If there's anything I've learned in the past few months, it's that life isn't about what you have. It's all about relationships - only about relationships. Friends, cousins, brothers, spouses, neighbors, coworkers, strangers.
Remember that. I'm sure trying to.