My mom sent me this link today, asking if it was my great aunt’s house. Although she likes to think they were very close, she’d never visited the house, which was built back in 1983. I guess she and my grandmother were talking about my great aunt’s homes and she decided to do a search for properties in the area.
I knew the house was going to have to go up for sale. She left it as part of her estate to be divided between six of her nieces and nephews (my mother was not one, I think in part due to me and the Florida fiasco). They all have careers and children they don’t want to move away from. Not that I blame them. Still, there was something odd about pulling up the site and seeing my great aunt’s house on it.
When I was 8 my dad and step-mom took me on vacation to Florida. At that time my aunt and uncle were still building the house. We stayed with them at their apartment complex in town and went out to visit the new house. I got to run through the empty rooms. We even had lunch, beans and weenies, on the unfinished deck. Before we could go out I had to promise to stay away from the edge of the porch because it wasn’t finished and had no rail. The house seemed like a castle to me. Partly because I was much smaller then, but also because without any furniture and unfinished rooms, it seemed so huge. I could run through closets and into entirely different rooms. I was enthralled with both its stories, and the cool staircase that was enclosed in a room all its own so that the upstairs and downstairs could be sealed off from each other and be separate homes. I was also amazed that a quick step outside the back gate deposited me right on the beach. After we’d explored all of the inside, we climbed the small dunes and spent the next hour or so playing on the beach. I helped my aunt collect shells that she later put into the mortar of the house.
The exterior of the house was definitely unique to my aunt. Although its not visible in the picture, it is a mixture of something like adobe and seashells, all hand picked by my aunt, uncle and their close friends and family members. They spent the planning stages of the house walking up and down the beach finding shells to decorate their home. Everything was designed exactly as my aunt wanted, including the open rooms and tiny kitchens, which made sense since she was not even remotely a good cook.
I don’t know how many times I visited before I actually moved to Florida, but I have lots of memories tied up in that house. The year my step-mom, aunt, cousin and I went down to visit Disney World with a few days layover with my great aunt. She was upset because some company wanted to charge her $600 to repaint the railing of her porch and the tiny “porch” that extends over her side entrance way. Being young and foolish, I volunteered us for the job in an attempt to alleviate her worries. Our visit was in the middle of July, which, if it’s not raining, is just about the most miserable time to be caught in the Florida sun. But we were. For two days we worked on that porch. We wanted to start in the cool of the morning, take a long siesta and then pick up in the early evening, but my great aunt was insistent we being around 10 am and stop around 4 pm. We had to paint both sides of the railings and the only ladder she had was old and rickety and not at all worth risking our lives to climb up (not to mention that I am the smallest of my family members and I was much bigger then). Instead we had to lean over the railing or try to paint blindly. It was time consuming. My cousin and I also had to get up on the tiny entrance way “porch,” which we found out had a metal “roof” and paint it while trying not to burn our feet. I was the lucky one who got to go up on the ladder to paint the outside of this “porch.” The ladder couldn’t extend all the way out since the area was so narrow, so it leaned against the second story as someone below tried to hold it steady.
One year my ex, dad and step-mom drove out to see her. The first night she served us a feast from her pressure cooker. My dad and step-mom wisely bowed out saying they’d eaten and needed to run in to town. My ex and I were handed plates. Mine had a mushroom, a few leaves of cabbage, a small potato, two baby carrots and a slice of grey meat. His looked about the same. We looked at each other, both curious about the ashen meat, but both afraid to ask what it was. Luckily she came to our rescue and told us it was ham. Now, I may not be a ham expert, nor was I much of a cook back then, but even I knew ham shouldn’t be grey.
On another trip she insisted the air-conditioning was on, but the house was so hot we had to sneak out and buy fans. We didn’t want her to know, so we had to wait until she went to sleep to turn them on, then turn them off the second we heard her moving around in the living room. Luckily she’s very loud in the mornings because she also had a habit of just opening room doors to make sure we were up and ready for breakfast. It turned out she did have the air on, but since she never uses it, it had been broken for some time. The temperature inside the house was close to 90. We actually made excuses and left early.
Then there was the trip with my husband, aunt and uncle when we found the dead possum in her tree. Since it was on her property, animal control wouldn’t come and dispose of it without a fee ($50). She wasn’t about to pay a fee, so my uncle had to put garbage bags on his hands and grab the stiff possum out of the tree. Garbage day wasn’t until the end of the week, so she made my husband and I put it in the trunk of her car, drive into town where her apartment complex was and leave it in their trash can since the pick-up was the next day. Mind you, this was also in the middle of July. By the time we made it to her apartment, which is a 15 minute drive, I was already gagging from the stench seeping in through the trunk. I felt for her poor tennants. We walked by the can on our way back to the car after an hour of shopping and the scent was enough to drive one mad.
Not all my memories are bad ones though. And even these I know look back and chuckle at. They make good stories to entertain others. And I almost always win a crazy relative contest.
It’s sad, but it’s moments like this, seeing my aunt’s house for sale that make me really miss her. Even though she was definitely crazy, and at the end very mean, it’s hard not to also remember the walks along the beach with her or riding in the top “bunk” of her conversion van, or cooking dinner for her and talking about our days, or just having her give me a hug and tell me she loved me. I wish my mom hadn’t sent me that link. I hope nice people buy her house.