POSTCARD FROM FLORIDA
Sitting in my brother’s Florida kitchen I can watch out the back window at my two sons splashing in the pool like a couple of kids. The water’s surface is littered with floating tubes and blow-up rafts as two lanky figures cannonball into the deep end and throw pool toys as hard as they can at each others’ heads. A mother’s worry never abates even as they age; 20 and 22 now and they still act like grade-schoolers as I cringe each time one or the other crouches up on the edge getting ready to pounce as his brother swims by. All I can do is close my eyes and sigh. But after being apart for these past 4 months they seem to be enjoying each other’s company and I feel a warmth and a comfort as I watch them chat and laugh together. I only wish that boys didn’t need to express their brotherly love through so much roughhousing.
The last time I was back here with my family was for Michael’s funeral. Ten months have passed yet he has once again brought us back together. This time around we will be going through his things, divvying up his belongings, getting rid of everything that we aren’t able to drag back across the state or across the ocean to our own homes. A person’s lifetime floats in front of us, an entire life reduced to packing cases and piles of furniture, cardboard boxes and suitcases. He loved collecting beautiful things, unusual things and it is heartbreaking to think that these objects he so cared for will be scattered to the wind, snatched up by people who never knew him, never knew the thought and love he put into caring for each painting, dish or lamp. I comb through boxes of old family photos looking for hints of the past, childhood memories and emotions, and events long forgotten push their way back up through the thick haze of time and I smile sadly as I think of him. And then every evening as we gather at Andrew’s house, as the boys splash around in the pool, as the grill is fired up and the Wii golf turned on, discussion of Michael melds into more immediate concerns and life goes on and we move ahead.
Such a trip tinged with so much sadness also has its joys. This is the first family vacation the four of us have taken together for years. The boys laze around until lunchtime and then jump up and start to complain that there is nothing to do, begging to be brought to the mall to shop or to Uncle Andrew’s to swim. They clamor for game night – and JP cringes, fearful that someone will force him to actually sit down and play a board game. JP disappears to the beach for a morning walk and then drags his teen sons out again in the evening for a swim. Delis and diners, bbq joints and seafood restaurants lure us with their now-exotic flavors and the American grocery store, that Aladdin’s Den of mystery and delight, calls to us more often than we would like. Outside, the steam rises from the sidewalks, the air is heavy and the sun stabs at our skin. Palm trees sway in the slight breeze, sand peeks through the harsh grass in the front lawn and lizards dart across the cement walkway before scuttling back into the shade. This strange, savage environment never ceases to amaze us, this place where man is in a constant battle of control against the wild harshness of the flora and fauna: a stroll down the beach and we are faced with man-o’-wars and jellyfish while rumors of sharks just offshore send shivers up our backs and we step out of the cool water as it laps up around our ankles; the sharp rocks hiding underneath the water bite like sharks; the fleas and tics have poor Buster going mad; the heat is unbearable, pushing at us each time we step out the back door! But this is the land of my childhood, the sizzling summers of my youth and I feel like I’ve pulled on a comfortable old pair of sneakers, a familiar worn pair of jeans that I know so well, that feel just right.
They say that we can never go home again, but I am not too sure about that. I drive through this town that I knew so well and although I now feel like a stranger the memories of a childhood come rushing back as I pass Susan’s house and remember the slumber party in the tent in her backyard, or Shay’s house and think of that grade-school birthday party. I pass in front of the old elementary school and laugh thinking how many old friends I have found again all these years later, the stories and laughter that we share now each time we meet. TV blaring, ceiling fans swirling lazily overhead, air conditioner humming and I slip back into an old life as comfortable as if I had never left. Yet here I am with my sons, adults themselves now, and feel a stranger visiting a now strange land. Michael’s dog Buster rubs himself against our legs begging attention then flops down splay-legged on the cool tiles and we think of all that has passed, how life has changed for each of us and we laugh as tears well up in our eyes. I can’t wait to get back home to France. And I wish I could stay here – home – forever.
A little ice cream now and then is the one respite from Florida’s unrelenting heat, a little cold ice cream to cool and revive. This is a recipe given to me by my friend Clare when she visited us this summer and I absolutely love it. Smooth and creamy, tangy and sweet, it is the perfect summer cooler and a snap to make. And no ice cream machine needed.
LEMON ICE CREAM
1 large, juicy lemon, zested and juiced
1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar
1 cup (250 ml) whole milk
1 cup (250 ml) heavy whipping cream, chilled
Chill a medium-sized glass or pyrex bowl and the beaters from an electric beater.
Combine the lemon zest and the granulated sugar in a food processor or grinder and whiz for a minute or two. The zest will be very fine and the sugar a very pale yellow.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the lemon zesty sugar with the milk and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Stir in the lemon juice from the juiced lemon.
Whip the chilled heavy cream in the chilled bowl with the chilled beaters until thick and stiff peaks hold. Gently fold the whipped cream into the lemony sugar milk until completely combined.
Pour the mixture into a loaf pan or plastic container, cover and place in the freezer. Stir the ice cream after about 2 or 3 hours and allow to firm up, several hours or overnight.