By Mitch Traphagen
Of all of the mammals I’ve met in my life, including humans, of course, a cat named Cora is among the very few who has somehow managed to find the secret to true happiness. She takes everything in stride; nothing seems to bother her. To Cora, life is one fun adventure after another.
How am I supposed to look into her big eyes and striped face and tell her that life is not supposed to be all fun? As my wife Michelle pointed out, Cora thinks her name is spelled F-U-N.
I’ve spent more of my life in South Hillsborough than anywhere else, including my home state of Minnesota. Over the past two decades here, I’ve met so many people I’ve deeply admired, along with a few who scared the hell out of me. Fortunately, the former far outnumber the latter.
In South Hillsborough we have artists and entrepreneurs, brilliant minds of selfless clarity and those who give so much of themselves. This is a community like few others, a place to call home in the paradise of warm Florida sunshine.
Almost two years ago, Tropical Storm Debby slowly moved through the Bay area, seemingly unnoticed by most people. But we noticed it — our street appeared to be one of the few that went almost completely underwater. And the water kept rising until it reached our house … and then reached into our house. We didn’t get a lot of water inside, but enough to be disturbing. We are loaded to the gills with sensitive computer equipment, and the brownish liquid flowing into our lanai and in through some cracks leading into our bedroom wasn’t the most pleasant experience.
Enter our neighbors, Glenn and Norma Jean Fagen. They had just moved out of their beautiful (high and dry) stilt house next door into their dream home in the country. Even though we had three dogs and two cats, they offered up their then-empty home as a refuge. I can’t begin to express our gratitude. I can’t begin to say how good it felt to be high above the water in a beautiful home, lifted magically above the troubled waters below. Even the animals seemed relieved. Selflessly, the Fagens saved us, expecting nothing in return, and shortly after, our friends became our landlords and their home became ours. We never had to worry about flooding again, although there were a few times we couldn’t get down the street for a few occasional hours when heavy rains turned our street into a stream, too deep for old sports cars to traverse. Our new driveway and carport remained high and dry, though, and from the deck of our home, it was still paradise, despite the short-term street flooding.
A few doors down, Steve and Bridget Fagen, owners of the Mullet Shack, ensured that we were comfortable with the move, offering up a beautiful basket that contained incredible smoked mullet and delicious mullet spread. Our other neighbor, Bev, delivered a wonderful box of steaks. It has been my experience that in South Hillsborough more than other places, from anything bad comes a whole lot of good.
That wasn’t the last time we were the recipients of generosity. Like so many others, our friends and neighbors are, to me, the heart of South Hillsborough. They give merely out of the goodness of their hearts. It is a tough world out there, but such people make it so much more pleasant; they make life livable. They are the hope that is needed; they are the quiet souls that soothe our souls. America is a nation born on the premise of rugged individualism, but even the most rugged occasionally need to grasp a helping hand. And America is also generous from the heart.
Michelle had managed an impressive collection of large fruit boxes from the Publix in Apollo Beach, and they were stacked up inside our doorway until randomly being grabbed and filled with clothes or paperwork or other odd bits of stuff that make up our lives. Cora the Kitty, in her usual way, took it all in stride, often enjoying hiding and playing in the boxes with the joy that only a cat with a box can possess. But when the furniture started getting packed up, her demeanor began to change. I’m quite certain that if she could talk, she would say that moving is NOT spelled F-U-N.
We had a beautiful home in paradise. We have lifelong friends. Why on earth are we moving? I wish I could answer that question, but the answer eludes me. And it has eluded me since the decision was made. Sometimes you run out of answers and just decide to go with the flow. If nothing else, Cora taught me that — and she showed me that things turned out OK when going with the flow.
Michelle offered up a story about a community of crayfish that lived in a part of a river with an unusually strong current. They spent their entire lives and all of their energy simply hanging on for dear life, afraid of what would happen should the current sweep them away. Finally, one crayfish had decided that he was tired of the endless grasping and enough was enough. He let go and was swept by the powerful current into a beautiful and calm part of the river. Now he could enjoy his life without clinging so desperately to what he thought was so important.
When she told me that story, I could easily envision that crayfish being swept away and smashed into a submerged wall of jagged rocks.
I sat down in a remaining chair, looking around our emptying house, a place that served as our refuge from a storm, a place where friends were made, and I wondered what on earth we were thinking. Just then, Cora jumped up on my lap and looked at me with her large eyes that accented the stripes on her soft face as if to say, “Cora is spelled F-U-N!”
And that’s all that really mattered. Life is good. Life is fun, and adventures await.