After packing and saying our goodbyes to Jean and Vicki, Gilda and I drove south towards Alligator Alley. I was excited to be driving across Florida and to get a view of the everglades. My father, a civil engineer for the Army, had worked throughout South Florida on various projects before I was born. The names of towns were familiar to me because I had grown up listening to him talk about them.
While I felt as if I were home and had hopes of catching a glimpse of an alligator, Gilda’s husband Stu had warned her not to get out of the car because he’d been warned there were large snakes in the area. Gilda wasn’t sure what to do when I pulled over and asked her to take a photo of me by the water. But she did! Then I took one of her. Just don’t tell Stu, she said. And we laughed.
We arrived in Miami in one piece and were struck by the change in scenery…busy highways, hotels, so many Spanish-speaking people. Our time in Miami was filled to the brim with non-stop activity. But a few things stand out in my mind.
The Friday night Meet and Greet was busy and loud after our quiet time at the beach in Naples. Authors were invited to leave copies of their books and business cards on the hotel counter. By the time Gilda and I arrived, there were so many books and cards, we had to squeeze ours in.
We met Laura and her sister Christina at the bar. They waved us over and introduced us to authors they had met. We talked for a bit, shouting over the noise. I’m always struck by Laura’s beauty and vivaciousness and enjoyed watching her interact. She’s a natural publicist, always sharing warm words about her authors and listening intently to the stories of others.
After the social hour, we were ushered into a large room where several presenters gave talks. The room was so full, we had to split up in order to find seats. After two presentations, Gilda and I stepped out to look for Laura and Christina. We found them in the hotel lobby and ended up pulling up chairs and spending the rest of the evening in this less busy setting.
Around the table, the four of us shared pieces of our lives and got to know each other. I couldn’t help but think how it was as if the conversation that had started in Naples was continuing. My mother, who loved stories and intimate connections, was surely smiling down on us all.
The next day, Laura, Gilda and I met in the lobby, so that we could ride the shuttle to the Miami Book Fare. It was a gorgeous day in South Florida with partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the mid seventies. Our plan was to find the Readers’ Favorite booth, take photos of our books and then just walk around and enjoy the scene.
The Miami Book Fair is recognized as the finest literary book fair in America. I’ve never been to a street fair that was made up of so many booths of books. It lasts for eight days and is a veritable feast for a writer. More than 250 publishers exhibit and sell books and over 450 authors read and discuss their work. Everywhere we turned we found something to marvel at!
The four hours we had planned to spend at the book fair evaporated like water on a hot sidewalk. And before we knew it we were back on the shuttle to the hotel. But we had each had a sweet taste of this special festival and even had the opportunity to celebrate with other authors and meet Mitch Kaplan, co-founder of the Miami Book Fair.
There was just time to touch base with Laura’s sister by the pool, then run out to pick up some gluten-free, dairy-free food for Gilda and me before we had to get ready for the main event, the Readers’ Favorite Award Ceremony.
We had heard the event was formal. But it wasn’t until I saw a few women dressed in ball gowns and sparkly, sequined outfits that I truly took that in. Gilda and I were impressed with how the event was set up with rows of white, cloth-covered chairs, a stage and photo area with a Readers’ Favorite backdrop, a bar at the back of the room, and two side areas where a buffet dinner would be laid out. If you had a good imagination, you could pretend you were in Hollywood.
Gilda and I joined Laura and Christina in an area to the side of the stage. The host told Laura it was prime seating because you could see well and make an early escape if you didn’t want to stay through all the awards. It turned out to be perfect.
After a short introduction, the host called authors in different sections of the audience up to receive recognition and awards. It was thrilling to hear my name and Motherhood: Lost and Found announced. And just as thrilling to join the applause when Gilda and Laura’s names were read!
Christina took photos of each of us on stage. Then we proceeded to the photo area where a professional photographer took pictures and we, of course, took our own with our phones.
One of the most interesting parts of the evening was getting to talk with other authors. Gilda and I noted how it was unusual for authors of a certain genre (memoir, in our case) to mingle with authors of another genre. In my typical day-to-day interactions, I tend to have blinders on, blithely ignoring writers of fantasy or science fiction. Yet, here we were in a room where no two authors had written from the same perspective. Once the blinders were off, I realized how much I could learn from these writers.
We happened to be sitting in front of Ben Burgess, Jr., for instance, who is a New York detective and has written multiple award-winning novels focusing on crime and prejudice. We all commented on how fascinating it was to hear his stories, and we ended up trading copies of our books with him for his latest novel, Black & White.
By the end of the evening, we gave hugs all around to each other and our new friends. Gilda and I were buzzing, though we hadn’t had anything to drink. We could have stayed up all night talking, but we made ourselves lie down in hopes that we could get a few hours of sleep before our alarm went off at 2:15 a.m.
Perhaps we dozed a bit because when we woke up, we were much more groggy and tired. But we managed to gather our belongings and head down to the hotel desk to checkout. We asked the young fellow at the counter if he would accompany us to our car. This was Miami, after all, and it was the middle of the night.
The dark streets were ribboned with light from the street lamps, and we made our way to the Fort Lauderdale airport easily. We turned in our rental car and stood in line at the airport. We made it through security without being searched or even taking off our shoes.
When we settled into our seats on the plane it was close to 6 a.m. Once we were up in the air, we could see the Atlantic Ocean to our right. A thin line of light hovered at the horizon. I made Gilda stay awake long enough so that we could take photos of the sun rising over the ocean. Then we both closed our eyes and slept.
Before drifting off, I thought of Jean and Vicki and our intimate bond through AlzAuthors. I thought of my deep friendship with Gilda and our affection and admiration for Laura. I felt the warmth of each of these relationships and sensed my mother’s hand on this trip, as if she had somehow helped orchestrate these sweet connections, bringing us all together so that we could reach out to others. I said a silent prayer of thanks.
Later that day, Laura sent us a photo of the sun setting as she on her way home to New York. It seemed significant that all of us had witnessed the sun in its transitional state. Laura, who had been so instrumental in the flights of our books, generously ushering them and us through an amazing experience, while Gilda and I were coming home to what felt like a new chapter in our lives, a doorway filled with light, opening towards something yet to be revealed.
The evening after the eclipse, Sunny and I take a walk. The sky is mostly clear, except for a few dramatic clouds hovering behind the tree line. The horses are grazing as usual, their coats covered in fine sweat that is just beginning to evaporate as the heat and humidity slowly lift. It is 8 o’clock, four hours after the sun and moon finished their dance through the sky.
Joel, Sydney and I went down to the barn and watched the eclipse from there. We did the pinhole through the cardboard trick and used eclipse glasses to take short peeks at the scooped out sun.
Sydney and I let the horses out because they seemed eager to enjoy the grass under a slightly cooler sky. The temperature gradually dropped from 91 to 87°.
At one point I brought a chair and sat in the shade under a tree. I was surrounded by the shapes of crescent moons created by the sun filtering through the leaves.
As the moon covered 97% of the sun I looked and listened for anything that might be a sign. The cicadas continued chanting, a single bird chirped behind me, the horses eagerly cropped grass. Sydney noticed that one of the cows from next door was looking at us and the herd was slowly making its way toward the neighbor’s barn. Maybe the unusual light made them think it was time to come in.
And suddenly the crescent shapes shifted from one side to the other, and the scrim over the sky seemed to lift.
I thought of all the people looking up – friends and family in the mountains, at the beach, in town, in faraway states. For that one moment, we were linked. Held together by a celestial ribbon, an awareness perhaps of the beauty of our sun – its strength and fragility.
When the eclipse was over, I was exhausted and empty, as if a part of me had been scooped out. I hadn’t expected to feel that way. Actually, I hadn’t thought about what would come after. Maybe I was picking up on the collective sigh from our country.
Tonight, I am grateful for the presence of horses grazing in the fields, the dog who walks by my side, my family and friends who share this wide world with me and the glorious colors left behind by the setting sun.
I’ve been at the lake for almost a week, just enough time to slip into the rhythm of a lake dweller. Someone who has forgotten the minutiae that occupied my mind before I arrived, someone who eats meals on the deck and no longer cares about washing my hair, someone who takes note of the wind and checks the surface of the lake each time I’m outside. Someone who cools off before dinner with a swim.
Here at Lake George the weather shifts from cool and windy to warm and sunny to damp and rainy within a few hours. This year, we’ve been blessed with beautiful days where we’ve enjoyed being out on the boat, swimming to the float at the family beach, spending a morning on a dining porch or an afternoon on a dock chatting with cousins, watching the sun set over the mountains.
The first few days, we rushed to get everything in, still running on the energy of our regular lives. But today, my last day here, I want to slow down and absorb the messages this place holds.
On our first days, we took Sydney tubing with a cousin, went kayaking around the bay, swimming at the beach. We gathered with cousins for our annual family meeting and picnic. There was a flurry of activity and fun.
Midway through our time here, something slowed inside me. My daughter and I canoed to Joshua’s Rock. The wind was so strong, we hardly needed to paddle on our way out. We sat on the ledge that I’ve shared over the years with my mother, my siblings and cousins and looked out on the expanse of lake. Neither of us said much. My daughter picked wild blueberries from the bush beside her as I studied patterns of moss on the granite under my bare feet. On the way home, we had to dip our paddles deep to keep from floating backwards with the current.
Before sunset, the wind died down and we took our friend’s pontoon boat out. The water in the bay was like glass and the sky a tapestry of greys.
Today, I walked down the hill to the beach and felt the echo of my childhood footsteps, how I couldn’t stop my young legs from running, skipping over the stones that rose from the green grass like the brows of my uncles.
The sight of water behind the tall pines along the shore never fails to lift my heart. And on a day when the sky is china blue and sketched with white clouds, this place feels like a small piece of heaven.
* In honor of my horse Crimson, I’m giving away a copy of the Kindle version of Motherhood: Lost and Found. For a chance to win, leave a comment at the end of this post. Be sure to include your email address. A winner will be selected next week. Good luck!
* Two winners have been chosen. Thank you for your comments.
Motherhood: Lost and Found tells the story of my struggle to have a child at the same time I was losing my mother to Alzheimer’s. For those of you who don’t know me, the back drop of this story is my love of horses.
During this decade of loss, I was deeply involved in the horse world. Most mornings I could be found at the barn grooming or riding my horse Crimson. My afternoons were spent teaching dressage and hunter/jumper to a group of riding students who I adored.
Crimson was a very special horse. He happened to be a grandson of the great Secretariat. An Appendix Quarter Horse, I learned that Crimson had won one race before his career at the track ended. I purchased him as a green six-year-old when we lived in Houston, and trained him to jump. We transported him to North Carolina when Joel and I moved back home to be closer to my parents.
A chestnut gelding just shy of 16.2 hands, he looked a lot like Secretariat. And he had the heart of a champion. Crimson was the kindest horse I’ve ever known. When I was overwhelmed with the grief in my life, I went to him.
Some days when the sorrow was too much to bear, I would go down to the barn and watch him grazing with the other horses. Other days, I could do nothing more than lean against Crimson and rest my head against his neck. He would stand like a statue absorbing my emotions.
My mother’s illness lasted for over 10 years before she died, and for much of that time, Joel and I remained childless. Because my mother required constant care, I had to board Crimson at other farms for months at a time. It was heartbreaking to let him go. But I sensed that he understood. I was also fortunate to have wonderful horse friends who helped care for Crimson while I was away.
After my daughter was born, I was finally able to bring Crimson home. It was a gift to have him at the barn. His kind and gentle nature always lifted my heart. Each morning, I did chores – cleaning stalls and filling water buckets – while Sydney rode in a pack on my back. It was hard work taking care of a mother with Alzheimer’s, a young child and Crimson. There were long days when my mother was sick, Joel was out of town or my daughter had been teething throughout the night. But Crimson’s presence gave me strength and peace.
During those years, I didn’t have much time for riding. But occasionally I would hop on just to feel the rhythm of Crimson’s gaits, his rocking canter. I remember one day wanting to share this wonderful feeling with Sydney. She was delighted when Joel lifted her up on the horse in front of me. Crimson was a perfect gentlemen, as I knew he would be.
I’ll always be grateful for the time I spent with this wonderful horse. Crimson passed away in 2003, after a serious attack of intestinal colic. He was 19, the same age his grandfather Secretariat was when he died. We laid him to rest on the farm near the magnolia tree given to me by my friend Lyn in honor of my miscarriages.
To order a copy of Motherhood: Lost and Found, click here. I’m so thrilled that it has been No. 1 on Amazon’s Hot New Releases for Eldercare. For more information, please see my website: www.anncampanella.com.