Turning into a small cul-de-sac in The Knolls in the Kings Point area of Sun City Center on May 11, you could hear jazz music coming from a sax right away. People were laughing, talking and keeping time to the music with their hands and feet, but the pleasant noise didn’t disrupt the neighbors.
The crowd was made up of the neighbors, as well as friends and family of Bette Terrill, who was celebrating her 90th birthday.
I was told this is not a one-time occurrence for this group. The neighbors celebrate all kinds of events together, keeping everything as authentic as they can.
This was New Orleans Day because New Orleans was one of Terrill’s favorite places.
Getting out of the car, you could immediately smell the aromas of real New Orleans-style food.
Having been there just two years ago, I recognized this as an authentic New Orleans street party and immediately followed the smells of food coming from one of the nearby homes.
Lulu Dirocco opened the door, and the mixture of famous smells poured through into the street. I went inside to see what was making the air smell like the place I had visited such a short time ago.
Although there were already appetizers on a table outside under a tent where the jazz was playing, I could immediately see more than 150 spicy chicken wings, red beans and rice with andouille sausage, shrimp puffs and shrimp cocktail.
Just then, Nancy Nicholson arrived with her fruit and cheese platters, champagne punch and a white rice dish with spicy red sauce.
“Costco made the cake to our directions,” Dirocco said, “and Publix made special little rolls so we could make cold sandwiches from shredded, pulled chicken later.”
The pièce de résistance were the beignets made from a recipe given over the phone by a chef from the famous New Orleans Café du Monde.
“April and Heidi made the beignets right here in my kitchen straight from the recipe given by the Café,” said Dirocco.
April is Terrill’s daughter and Heidi DeRosa is her niece. The two had flown in from Boston together just for the event.
By now, the jazz had turned to vocal ballads, and I had to find out more about the musician, Gene Cannon.
Cannon is a local man who plays at Apollo Beach’s Latitudes on Thursday evenings starting about 6 p.m. During the New Orleans event, he alternated between jazz and blues in vocals and using his sax, flute and guitar.
Suddenly, everything stopped as an immaculately decorated golf cart appeared with Steve Nicholson at the wheel. Next to him was the birthday girl, Bette Terrill.
She was immediately greeted by her daughter April and DeRosa.
Terrill made it clear right away that the entire event was not just for her.
“We’re celebrating all the May birthdays,” she said. Others were Mary Fabiano, Deb Matlick, DeRosa, Elynor Fabian, Ellie Curry and Anne Clausner.
The driving force behind the many themed events this neighborhood provides is Fabian, I was told.
“She decorated her doorway (for this event), gathers whatever can possibly be used for decoration at a future time, and when events are planned, works for weeks on them,” said Dirocco as she continued to cook.
In the past few years some of the things Fabian has spearheaded are an Evening in Paris; a Renoir painting party where everyone dressed in black and white; a Hawaiian luau; Cinco de Mayo; and other themed birthday parties.
The neighborhood credits Fabian with going so far beyond the call of duty as to draw specific diagrams for cakes and making all kinds of decorations from what she finds and buys.
“Once she went out behind Home Depot and got a lot of cardboard they were throwing away and stored it in her house,” said Dirocco. “We never know what she’s going to do next.”
In this fast-moving world where many do not even know their neighbors’ names, and others complain about their neighbors’ yards, pets and children, it was a pleasure to see a neighborhood “where everybody knows your name,” that helps each other out when needed, and celebrates fun times together.
Good going, Knolls.