We cannot become what we need to be by remaining what we are.
-Max De Pree
I was out visiting my mother in St. Petersburg, Florida. It was late on a Friday afternoon and we were looking for something to do.
“How about going to the Don,” mused mom. She was referring to the prestigious Don Cesar Hotel, often referred to as the Pink Palace.
“I guess,” I said reluctantly. I thought we should try someplace new. The Don is one of our favorite places to hang out on St. Pete’s beach, but I had spent a couple hours there earlier in the day watching the NCAA basketball tournament out at the pool bar.
“Or, we could go to that big old house that’s now a restaurant,” I offered. “What’s that place called again?”
“You mean the Hurricane?”
“Yep, that’s the one,” I said. “Don’t they have an outside bar on top of the roof?”
“Yes. We could go watch the sunset. Do you want do that?”
I couldn’t agree fast enough. Besides, there was something else the Hurricane was known for, but I couldn’t remember what. It had something to do with the rooftop bar and the sunset.
Spring Break in Florida
College students from around the country migrate to the beaches of Florida every spring to relax, bask in the sun, and party at the bars. And this day would be no different.
We got in the car and headed south. Sunset would be at about 7:30 p.m. and we were running late. It was 7:00 p.m. by the time we pulled up to the Hurricane, and, of course, there were no parking spaces to be found. Why should this be easy, I joked, as I dropped my mom off at the front of the restaurant. Surprisingly, she took everything in stride as she headed for the crowded elevator. “I’ll see you up there.”
As I searched for a parking spot, I felt a little guilty for dropping her off by herself. This was her first time out in St. Pete without my father, who had passed away just two months earlier. She was acting so strong—but I imagined she was concealing her grief and sadness. But that was mom. She rarely showed emotions and particularly didn’t like to be vulnerable.
I definitely had my emotional moments over my dad’s death; but, like my mom, I kept them to myself. Can you tell we’re from the same family? In hindsight, I was trying to be strong for my family, and especially for my mom. But truthfully, I was uncomfortable to have an emotional moment with my mom, afraid I would trigger her sadness even more. So, to avoid that, I purposely tried to keep our conversations light and humorous.
By the time I parked the car and climbed up the stairs to the rooftop of the Hurricane, it was already 7:20 p.m. The rowdy crowd was partying like it was Mardi Gras in New Orleans, and the line to the bar had no end in sight.
So much for toasting the sunset, I thought, wondering how I’d find my mom in this sea of spring breakers.
Just then I heard a familiar voice off in the distance, “Greg, Greg, I’m over here.” I looked in the direction of the voice, and there, to my surprise, was mom, sitting at a table with two drinks!
“How did you pull this off?” I said, as I sat down next to her.
Mom smiled and shook her head. “Gregory, you need to trust your mother.”
I still don’t know how she managed to secure a table and drinks among the crazy crowd, but figured my dad must have been looking after us. I raised my glass and looked at my mom. “Here’s to Dad!”
By then, it was 7:30 p.m. and the sunset was well underway. Various shades of yellow, orange, blue, and gold all merged just above the heads of the hundreds of people who were all blocking our view.
“Do you mind if I stand on my chair so I can get a photo?” I asked.
“Go ahead. Just don’t fall.”
It was 7:38 p.m. The burnt orange sun was touching the edges of the water.
And then there was a hush.
It was like the crowd was in a trance; frozen in the moment. All eyes focused on the sun as it eased behind the gulf.
And then, right on cue, a loud roar erupted from our rooftop, as the sun ducked out of sight. I had goose bumps all over and glanced over at my mom. “Now I remember what the Hurricane is known for. They cheer the sunset!”
But my mom looked away to avoid eye contact. I looked closer and saw tears running down her cheeks. Of course, I remembered, St. Pete sunsets were something my mom and dad had shared for more than 30 years.
It was a quiet ride back to the condo. I had finally witnessed my mom being vulnerable and showing her emotions, and I searched for a way to redirect the conversation to something safer…again.
No wait, I thought, I’m not going to pass this moment up. Too bad if I’m uncomfortable. It’s time.
“Were you thinking about Dad during the sunset?”
She nodded, “It’s just been so hard.”
And there it was: we finally began the conversation we both had been avoiding.
Prior to experiencing the sunset together at the Hurricane, I realized that rarely had I spent time (as an adult) alone with my mother. I was always with my mom and dad, or my mom and dad plus family members. This opportunity created an authentic moment for us to connect at a deeper level—something that had been missing for some time. I’m so grateful it happened. Sunsets at the Hurricane for me will never be the same.
*From Geese’s latest book, It’s All About Me: Stories and Insights from the Geese, by Greg Giesen