Sweet Annie’s is closed for Christmas

My wife and I are empty nesters. Of all the things I have ever been, this might be the one I love the most.  I highly recommend it.

For the first time, I celebrated the holiday season in one of my favorite places, though it’s not a place many midwesterners see as synonymous with Christmas. We went on a trip to Marco Island, a quiet little place south of Naples, Florida.

My family has been there several times for Thanksgiving, all when my two boys were younger. On this trip, both of my boys came down for a few days as our Christmas gift to them, and also to celebrate my younger son’s twentieth birthday. On their last night on the island, we all went out for ice cream at one of the local ice cream shops, Sweet Annie’s.

There had been a low level controversy brewing between my birthday boy and his girlfriend back home as to which spot was “the best” ice cream shop in town. She was a Sweet Annie’s booster while my wife and I were loyal to Beebe’s across town. But that was purely because it was closer to where we were staying.

The first thing we noticed when we walked into “Annie’s” was pretty important: they sold the same brand of ice cream as Beebe’s. One would think that makes the contest an immediate draw. Turns out nothing could be further from true.

All I ever knew about Annie’s before this trip was that my dad treated my boys to ice cream there on one of our Thanksgiving trips probably in 2003.  The reason I remember is a little weird–it’s because I was off playing golf when they went and I distinctly remember how much I would have rather gone for ice cream with them that day. I must have played horribly.  Whatever the reason, on the eight or ten trips I have made to the island since then, I have always referred to it as “that place grandpa took my boys for ice cream.”

Dad passed away last year. Going to “his” ice cream joint made me miss him in a whole new way. I guess I miss my dad for many of the same reasons many guys my age miss a lost parent. I find myself missing him less for the things I knew about him, and more for the things I know he would have enjoyed seeing and experiencing but didn’t. Like his grandkids all grown up.

Grandparents love Christmas, probably second only to young believers in Santa Claus. The partnership between grandparents and grandkids is awfully strong on this. The joy and excitement of opening gifts by the youngsters and the same feeling for the old folks who are allowed to give without the responsibility of the parent is hard to rival.

The holiday is missing something without either part of that partnership.

I strangely feel kind of the same way about beaches. Growing up, I never thought much of the beach. Then I took my kids there. Now I always and immediately think of my boys when I go to the beach. It’s one thing I love that I learned to love from them.

Beaches are a giant discovery zone for little kids, and though it is obviously different than Christmas morning, beaches and kids go together in much the same way for me.

I have found that as much as I now love the beach as a grown up, it just isn’t the same without children playing there. I have been to quiet beaches in recent years and I just don’t enjoy them for long.  I need to hear kids laughing or crying or whatever.

One day this week, there was a pesky flock of seagulls hanging around our beach area.  There were two kids about three or four years old who kept running through them, forcing the flock into an imitation of Hitchcock’s “The Birds.” I watched the routine startle and then agitate some old people who were out there reading or napping.  I was the guy laughing hysterically, and I was sad when the birds had finally had enough of those two little hellions and flew away for good.

My dad never liked the beach. But he did love his grandsons. I’m glad we found a reason to leave the beach to go to dad’s sundae shop.

Sweet Annie’s has bar stools to sit at and an air hockey table in a side room. The place is also a candy shop, so it has an abundance of sugary goodies that only a grandparent would buy under cover of a holiday. We had a great visit.

When we left, the manager stopped us on the way out to thank us for coming and to remind us of their holiday hours like he knew we would be back.  They are closing an hour early on Christmas Eve, and are closed completely on Christmas.

I appreciate the manager’s heads up on the schedule. But Sweet Annie’s won’t ever close for me.