I knew when we got to Florida in December 2018, after Hurricane Michael had devasted the area, that I was going to need to do something. I couldn’t just come here, walk the beach and take pictures when there was so much work to be done. I told Joe, before we came that I wanted to volunteer somewhere. But as soon as I said it, I could see the look of near panic on his face. Joe came to Florida to fish; it was his refuge, his healing place. Taking time off of work at home to come here and have a “schedule” was not his idea of “time off.” It wasn’t that he didn’t want me to volunteer-if that’s what I wanted to do- but he knew it would ultimately affect his fishing time because I would need the truck.
Seeing how it stressed him out, I wasn’t pushing the issue; I knew that something would present itself- whether I would be calling a nearby friend to pick me up or I would possibly find something closer and be able to walk. But… after Joe’s first-morning of fishing, he walked in and said, “I know what we’re gonna do.” What!? I asked. (I was excited he had figured something out; because I didn’t know if this was a battle I was willing to have.) “There’s trash all over the beach, and we’re gonna go pick it up.”
FANTASTIC!! I said. Let’s go! And so we did.
I don’t know if you’ve ever picked up large amounts of trash on the beach, but most of it was HEAVY- filled with sand and water- a real workout! We found everything- pieces of furniture, cushions, rugs, lots and lots of bedding, swimming goggles galore, etc. Everything. I don’t remember how many truckloads we ended up hauling out before we left that year, but it was a lot of trash. It was so fulfilling- for both of us- being able to help out in a way that made such a difference.
Picking up trash has always been something Joe and I have done. It was one of our biggest pet peeves- showing up to a campsite and having to clean up someone else’s garbage because they were too lazy to do it themselves. But that happened often.
(This is from our own neighborhood last year. Trying to make the most out of “quarantine” and keeping our minds and hands busy, while also making our neighborhood more beautiful.)
EVERYONE that walked by took the time to stop and say thank you. They were so appreciative of our efforts. I cannot tell you how much it meant to the locals that we were here from Indiana cleaning up the beach. Of course, it’s true, we were here from Indiana, but we also wanted to enjoy the beaches free of debris, just like they did. It became our job for the remainder of our time here that year. After every storm, we would hit the beach for trash pick-up. The wind would always unearth, or the sea would spit out something new every time.
On one of those days, a couple of ladies from (I think) the Audobon society drove up and were witness to one of our impossible challenges- using the truck to pull something out of the sand- we always had to try! They stopped to ask: what are you doing, where are you from, and could they take our picture for their FB page? I thought they were going to dance! They were so happy to see us. (Isn’t that enough to make you want to do more? It was for us.)
This year, when I arrived on the beach, Grinch and I drove down to watch the sunset and listen to music. I was sitting on the tailgate when I recognized one of the locals, Lynn, walking by with her friend (whose name I don’t remember.) As soon as I said hello, she knew who I was. “Oh, hi, Marie.” I first met Lynn when I “accidentally” caught a big red drum (it was big to me!) that same year- (I told that story here.) Joe saw her almost daily when she would stop to chat and ask about his day of fishing. I think he felt a kindred connection to Lynn. She has a sort of toughness about her and does not seem to take any shit off anyone. (Last year, she 100% impressed Joe with her story of getting arrested when she stood her ground on principle and something that was important to her. Go, Lynn!)
She seemed genuinely happy to see me this year and asked right away, “where’s Joe?” When I told her he had died, she was shocked, and of course, wanted to know what had happened. When I told her he had killed himself, she was stunned- just as all of us were. She offered her deep condolences and then introduced me to her friend: “Joe and Marie are the ones that came down after hurricane Michael and cleaned up the beach.” WOW! That was not what I expected to hear. It immediately made my heart smile as my mind slipped back to that year.
I was so happy and proud that the first thing that came to her mind when she thought of Joe was that we had “cleaned up the beach.” Not that he was an avid fisherman and caught 14 sharks last year, or that he was on that beach fishing every. single. day– rain or shine (as long as the wind and or “salad” weren’t interfering), but that we had cleaned up the beach. Her friend invited me to join them on their daily beach walks before saying goodbye for the evening, and I thanked them. After they walked away, I grabbed my phone and began to look at the pictures I had snapped that year and the beach cleanup we did. It felt really good.
(Everyone always wants to know what we did with the trash. We hauled it up to the road and unloaded it into the massive piles that were already there, waiting to be picked up.)
I am so grateful.
I hope that Lynn will always remember Joe for his contribution after Hurricane Michael (and every year) to clean up the beach- instead of how he left this world– and that others will do the same; remember the good things.
Thank you, Lynn. Another gift.
xo, and peace.