I moved to St. Petersburg in 2004 when I took a job with Pinellas County. At first, I stayed with my grandparents in Tampa while searching for my own place. I have to admit loathing the sprawl found throughout most of Pinellas, Florida’s most densely populated county. It was enough to make me contemplate moving elsewhere, but a trusted friend and mentor told me, “Give it a year, then decide.” Good advice for lots of things in life.
I found half of a duplex, a cute little cottage on a shady street in a neighborhood called the “Old Southeast,” with a beautiful park right on Tampa Bay. It’s near one of the first areas of European settlement here. Previous inhabitants, the Tocobaga, also made their mark with shell middens that give this otherwise flat place some topographic relief.
My next move was local, to the Historic Kenwood neighborhood. Famous primarily for its many old bungalows, it is also well known as gay and arts friendly — huge assets in a region that wrestles with its identity. These parts of St. Petersburg are also very bike-able and many old homes still have front porches, both of which make it easy to get to know your neighbors.
I made life-long friends in what seemed like no time at all. The downtown campus of USFSP and nearby Eckerd College were instrumental in this, but so was the kind of happenstance that occurs when you live in such a charming little city. A few things I miss most when I’m away: the Tavern and Snell House at USFSP, front-porch Fridays at Joe and Jodi’s, random late-night bike rides, and easy canoe trips to camp on Shell Key.
In 2011, I moved across the bay into my grandparents’ old house in Tampa, which had been vacant for a few months. I took to purging decades of clutter to reveal their handiwork: a kitchen, dining-room, workshop and library that they added on themselves. Walls and shelves were decorated with their paintings and carvings. I also transplanted heirloom roses from the overgrown yard and resurrected a garden just outside the library’s big windows.
I have many fond memories of visiting my grandparents in this house, and the stories of their adventures. My dad grew up there. Old neighbors and friends still drop by to say hello, which makes it easy to feel at home. So does every visit by relatives. Every time I call Grammy (now living near my parents in Tallahassee) she tells me how glad she is that I’m there taking care of the place. That warms my heart more than anything else, and she never fails to cheer me up if I’m feeling blue.
I also have an awesome roommate, Laura — and her crazy cats — to keep me company. Because it’s a “fur piece” from St. Petersburg, my other friends wait to drop in en route from Tampa business, or they plan to spend the night. They say it feels like vacation in a woodsy cabin, which is exactly how I feel about the place.
Give me a holler if you’re in Tampa so you can drop in for a visit.