I sat alone by the pool, listening to the mix tape he had handed me at Detroit Metro, right before I boarded the plane for Florida.
“They’re just some songs I like,” he had said, in his usual flippant tone. “It doesn’t mean anything.”
I listened to the tape anyway. Belinda Carlisle sang, “Never-ending love is what we’ve found,” but The Pogues countered with, “You took my dreams from me when I first found you.”
He was right, I thought. It doesn’t mean anything.
I turned off the Walkman and headed back to my family’s mobile home. As I walked the path I had taken so many times as a child, the streets, homes and palm trees seemed smaller than I remembered, almost miniature.
They hadn’t changed. But I had.
I had just graduated from college and was about to start my first full-time job. The weight of responsibility loomed, and I wanted, needed, to relax with my aunt and uncle, my second parents, the people who loved me unconditionally.
It wasn’t a typical spring break for a 21-year-old. My aunt and uncle were Michigan snowbirds who spent the colder months at their mobile home in Lake Seminole Resort, a retirement community in Pinellas. Instead of keg parties on the beach, I visited the local flea market with my uncle, played bingo with my aunt at the community hall and caught early-bird dinner specials with their retiree friends.
After dinner we would sit on their screened-in porch, and my uncle would tell stories about their early years together. They met at the dime store where my aunt worked in downtown Detroit. My uncle, who managed a theater nearby, was immediately smitten and kept trying to get her to go on a date. She finally agreed.
“I found a million-dollar baby in a five and ten cent store,” he sang, with a big grin. They had been married 50 years, but it was as if they had just met.
Toward the end of my visit, my aunt and uncle surprised me with a trip to the Salvador Dali Museum. I was a big Dali fan and had no idea my 70-year-old aunt even knew who he was.
As we drove to St. Petersburg, I remembered the other tape in my purse, Patsy Cline’s “Always,” which I had brought to share with my aunt.
My love for Patsy began when I was a young girl living with them. A family friend used to sing her songs at parties, and I knew my aunt would enjoy reminiscing to “Bill Bailey, Won’t You Please Come Home” and “Your Cheatin’ Heart.”
When she popped the cassette in the tape deck, my uncle took her hand in his and began to sing along to the title track:
“I’ll be loving you, always. With a love that’s true, always. When the things you plan, need a helping hand, I will understand, always…”
That’s what I want, I thought. I want it to mean something.