I stepped off the shuttle van at the Miami Airport Doubletree hotel, barely glancing at the huge chocolate chip cookie emblazoned on the side of the vehicle. I was more concerned with getting the group members traveling with me into their rooms than I was on the warm, sweet treat promised at check-in. I wasn’t anticipating any problems with the reservations, but as a group leader the “mother hen” instinct sometimes runs rampant with me.
The check-in went smoothly, and after getting luggage up to the room, I found myself once more in the lobby. The Miami DoubleTree is very familiar to me, being the starting and ending location of Juliet dive trips for the past few years. With a few minutes to spare before meeting with the group again, I took a stroll through the lobby and into the attached mall area. There were a few minor changes of some stores in the few months since I had last been there, but I was pleased to see that the little gift shop right across from the reservation desk was still in operation and mostly unchanged.
For many years it has been a tradition for me to send a postcard to my dad and to each of my nephews, and I had purchased cards in this gift shop in the past. They even had postage stamps, which made it simple to get the cards into the mail at the front desk! Ordinarily, I like purchasing and posting the cards from some point along the journey, especially if it’s a foreign port, adding a touch of “legitimacy” to the card with a foreign postmark. It’s a nostalgic and fun way to link us together, and while I really couldn’t speak to what my nephews thought, I knew Dad loved getting them for the very same reasons I enjoyed sending them. But while very little might have changed at the DoubleTree, a great deal had changed in my life….
After a nearly five-year battle with Parkinson’s disease my dad had passed away in November.
Dad’s health issues seemed to strike suddenly, though looking back now we all realize there were prior indications that had gone unheeded. The signs and symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease are varied, not always manifesting in ways we think most common, and can make the disease difficult to diagnose. A great deal of suffering and confusion might well have been avoided had we known who the enemy at the gate was, but a couple of years slipped past in the process of confirming a diagnosis. Dad also had blood pressure issues and failing eyesight due to cataracts that combined with the Parkinson’s to create a “perfect storm” of health problems.
One of the most difficult results of the health issues was the loss of dad’s mobility. He had never been one to simply sit around at home, and if there was any way possible to travel dad was the first in line to go. I truly think some of the happiest days of his life were while he worked for Eastern Airlines, which gave him the greatest opportunities to travel far and wide. His weekly letters to his mother and sister often talked about things he had seen and done while being in all parts of the country.
I certainly inherited his wanderlust, and my life in the scuba industry has afforded me the opportunity to travel to some pretty amazing places, to see rare and incredible things, and to meet some awesome people. While dad had seemed to change jobs fairly often, never really settling into a particular industry or planting solid roots, I found a career that indulged my love of adventure and travel. Dad wasn’t a diver, but he loved “sharing” the adventure. We also shared a love for writing; his forte was old-fashioned correspondence, while mine is in story-telling and writing magazine articles.
A postcard, therefore, was the perfect medium to combine all these things. Even when dad’s eyesight reached a point he could no longer read the words I had written I knew mom was reading to him, and I can picture his face with that ever-present grin as he nodded along to the tale of whatever adventure I was describing. When it came time to place his remains in the family cemetery one item I laid in the vault was a postcard, with what I considered at the time to be a final note. And now, ten months later, I stood looking at a rack of postcards in a hotel lobby gift shop, debating with myself about continuing the tradition.
For the moment I decided to postpone making a purchase, reasoning that the cards would simply lay in my cabin or in my bag during the trip. It wasn’t uncommon of me to wait till the last day of a trip to purchase postcards; that gave me the entire trip to pick and choose what I might write about. If the trip was to a foreign country, or if the boat were to make a port call during the voyage, that might change my thinking. However, this trip’s itinerary on Juliet was still a bit undecided because of recent hurricane activity and our hope was to sail south of Orange Cay to the Santuren Channel, which would mean no land-falls. If the itinerary changed, and we made port in Bimini, I would be able to purchase cards there. At any rate, I wasn’t pressured to immediately make a purchase, which would also give me more time to decide if I would continue writing cards.
We boarded Juliet Saturday morning, happily greeting familiar faces among the crew, and making acquaintance with a couple we didn’t know. One of the new-to-me crew members was the cook, Amanda, who also turns out to be an artist. Her work adorns several places aboard Juliet, and quite often during the week she was found on her free-time painting small canvases. It came as no surprise that she also did hand-painted postcards.
Some might say this was a sign from above, or that the postcard tradition was meant to be. For me there was no epiphany, no hallelujah moment, simply a decision to help a new friend by purchasing some of her artwork, and to continue writing postcards for now. It’s a small gesture to mom and the nephews, but one that says life is still going on for all of us. I still enjoyed handing the cards to the lady at the front desk to drop in the mail for me, and it was rewarding to get a phone call from mom a few days later that she had received the cards. She even commented how pretty she thought they were this time!
If writing and sending postcards is truly more about the connection than the card, then I believe the tradition will continue. Dad’s name didn’t go on the address line this time, but he was very much on my mind, and the process strengthened the memories of other trips, other postcards. The “trouble” of finding a card, writing a narrative, addressing it, and posting it serve as an even greater reminder of who I am, and where I came from. His name might never again be on the address line, but every card in some way goes out to Dad.