I went to Florida the summer after my mother passed away. I drove down by myself. I guess you could say I was looking for my mom and for myself too. The trip was magical. Weird things just seemed to happen. Beautiful things.
One of my first stops was Anna Maria island, a place we often went as a family. It's been over twenty years since I was last here.I passed by the house we used to stay in. I sat on the pier I used to fish from as a kid. I took a walk on the beach my sisters and cousins used to play on. My head was filled with so many wonderful memories. It was sunset time, and the water was smooth. I couldn't help but roll my pants up and walk into the water. Like the air, the water was quiet and warm and still. When I saw the dolphin fins emerge from the water, I could not believe my eyes. At first I was terrified, thinking, "shark!" I was delighted when, silently and slowly, a mother dolphin and her baby swam so close to me I could almost reach out to touch them.
My next stop was Longboat Key, another special place full of memories. While I was there, a manatee swam along the shore of the beach near my hotel. This rarely happens as manatees prefer mangrove areas and channels. I spotted its dark shape from my lounger, threw down my magazine and ran to the shore line. A crowd of people began to form around me as I pointed to the manatee.
I have never been so close to dolphins and manatees before.
St. Petersburg was the last stop on my trip. My mother used to live there. I visited Mary Ann, a longtime family friend. Mary Ann took me to to see the Morean Arts Center's Chihuly Collection. I have seen a few of Chihuly's pieces in hotels and Casinos and loved them all, but not to the point of emotion. I had never seen a whole collection exhibited. I was deeply engrossed in the beauty of the glass pieces featured in the collection when I came to the last part of the exhibit, the Fiori. Chihuly makes large pieces of art called fiori, which is Italian for the word flower. These particular pieces are so large they take up an entire room. I walked into the black room where the fiori piece was. It was like a spectacular glass garden laid out before me. Beautiful, bright colors and shapes sprouted from the ground. I was so blown away by the beauty of it I had to sit down. It literally brought tears to my eyes.I have never seen such vibrant colors and fantastic shapes before.
Mary Ann and I also visited a hot shop, and watched a live glass blowing demonstration. The whole time I was in St.Pete looking at all this art, I was thinking of my friend Amanda, who teaches art at my school. I snapped photos and took video clips and sent them on to my art teacher friend. I knew she would love to see all of this. She sent me a text saying, "more!"Seeing how much I loved Chihuly's art, Mary Ann gave me a
Chihuly poster and Chihuly books and postcards. I put them in
my car and headed back home.
As I am driving home from this wonderful trip, barreling down one of those lovely flat, smooth Florida highways with the music turned up loud, up in the horizon, dozens of colorful hot air balloons are lifting into the air. Another magic moment. This turned out to be an amazing trip.
When I get back home, I bring the Chihuly books and poster to my art teacher friend Amanda to use in her classroom. Soon after, Amanda comes up with this great idea for a Chihuly-like sculpture for her students to make.
Amanda and I plan a virtual Chihuly tour in the library's computer lab to introduce the sculpture project to the students. We turned out the lights and tried to replicate a gallery setting. We showed the students examples of blown glass. We watched videos and played music softly in the background. The students loved it. They were excited. The lesson was a wonderful collaborative effort.The art students work on the sculpture. Collecting bottles,
painting, assembling. Two years go by.
Today, a gorgeous sculpture hangs from the ceiling in the library I work in every day. What a gift! The art project started and ended in the library. How cool is that?
And it reminds me of my mother.
And Amanda the art teacher reminds me of my mother.
Because she sees something and she lets it inspire her into creating something beautiful. Just like my mother would. She makes beautiful things.
The trip I took to Florida was surreal. I felt as if my mother was blessing me with these beautiful treats in the forms of dolphin, manatee, the warmth of childhood memories, Chihuly art, sunsets, good friends, and hot air balloons. I had nothing to show for it but a few pictures, memories and stories.
Not anymore.Most people will look up at this sculpture and see only a
beautiful sculpture. When I look at it, I see a journey, a gift, a
wonderful collaboration, friendships, and a little magic.
And I see my mother.