There are five bottles of sunscreen in my suitcase tonight: Three of the spray-on kind, and two SPF 50 lotions. It's almost certainly overkill, but "better safe than sorry" my grandma always said.
Early tomorrow morning, Jay and I leave for Florida. This long-awaited vacation is in honor of our 25th anniversary, and will mark the first time we've taken a trip without the kids in, well, about 25 years.
Unless you count the time we took off on a whim to see U2 in concert in Kansas City. But we were gone for less than 24 hours that time, so I don't think it counts.
I have very few plans for our week away. My itinerary basically consists of three things: Float in the ocean. Dry off in a beach chair. Repeat. Also, I will, at some point, raise a glass to Rex.
I first crossed paths with Rex more than five years ago, when Jay and I and the boys took our first-ever Florida vacation. We were eating dinner at a restaurant called "Eat Here" when I first saw him.
He had white hair, combed at an angle off his forehead. Neat chinos. A tidy polo shirt. And a face that stopped me in my tracks. He looked like my Grandpa George.
Struck by the resemblance, I stole as many glances as appropriate over the course of dinner. And then he was gone … except not really. Because two days later, in line at Island Haus Coffee, this same man stood two people ahead of me.
The illusion hadn't wavered. Chinos, boat shoes, a striped polo, white hair neatly in place. I was trying to figure out how to talk to him when he turned around, spotted me, and walked past the woman between us to stand at my side.
"Well, hello!" he said. I thought maybe he'd made a mistake — that he'd meant to talk to someone else. But, no, it was me.
"Hello!" I replied. "I think I saw you at dinner the other night."
"Could've been," he said with a warm smile. He asked if I was vacationing on the island, and I told him that I was. He said that he'd lived here, year-round, for 30 years. I said that it sounded like a wonderful life. Even though what I really wanted to say was: "You remind me of my grandpa. Can I buy you lunch and talk to you all afternoon?"
But then the barista called, "Rex?" And my friend returned to the counter to retrieve his coffee before turning to leave with a tip of his hand off an imaginary hat. "Good day," he said. "Enjoy your vacation."
But that wasn't the last of our communication. When I returned home after that vacation, I wrote a column about the experience — and sent a copy of it to Island Haus Coffee, asking if they'd please share it with a regular named "Rex."
A week later, Rex sent me an email. He told me he was surprised to get my package, and delighted that he could provide a memory of my grandfather. Then he gave me his phone number and wrote, "When you come back to the island — and you will come back, everyone does — give me a call. Also, send more of your columns."
I wrote back. Sent columns. Told him I would be in touch if we ever returned.
But before we could, Rex passed away just short of his 90th birthday. I never did get to know the man beyond a few kind words. But every time we return to the island — and Rex was right, tomorrow will mark our fourth trip — I think of him. And raise a mug in his honor at the coffee shop.
Jennifer Koski is associate editor at Rochester Magazine. Her column appears Tuesdays. Send comments to email@example.com.