In the late ’90s, my friends Kevin, Brandon, Keith and I banded together to form what we’d come to call the Saint Pete Single Ladies’ Card Club. Never mind that not all of us were single and none of us were ladies, the name stuck and became something of an institution in this neighborhood.
How it worked was pretty simple. On Tuesday nights, we’d alternate hosting duties and the four of us would settle down to share a meal and then play cards or board games until the wee hours. This went on for years and it supplemented the Sunday dinners we shared already. It’s no wonder I felt so bonded to St. Pete.
The first one to leave our merry band was Keith. He left for Las Vegas to pursue bigger dreams. We replaced him with Tod and John and we became five. It was never about the card or board games. It was always about sharing a meal every week. Though we had a blast rediscovering childhood gems like “Life” and “Clue,” what we’d embarked upon was about creating a community. No one was ever unwelcome at our table and most of the times we met we had more than our core group assembled. I remember cramming at least a dozen people around the table on my patio at one point. It was glorious to sit around a table and just talk. There was never a TV anywhere near our gatherings and I came to see that nothing builds a sense of community bonding as a shared meal.
Kevin’s rice and beans were legendary. Brandon’s desserts were beyond description. I hope those guys would agree that I know how to put together a Cuban pork dinner to make any actual Cuban envious.
Oh those nights were the stuff most people aspire to but never achieve. We’d laugh and laugh of course, but we’d also work through our respective trials and tribulations together. There weren’t any forbidden topics on our Tuesday nights. Nor our Sunday dinners for that matter. I’d never felt so connected to a place and time in my life.
Alas, life has a way of intervening and after four or five years, our Tuesday night game nights came to an end. Our Sunday dinners continued for some time after but ultimately, our core group scattered as we chased down new dreams and opportunities.
As I look back however, especially now as I begin the process of packing up my life in St. Pete, I see what it is we did. We made this place home and fellas, I’m indebted to all of you for life because of that. “People come and go so quickly here” to quote Lewis Carroll, and it’s true. But we changed that around and for a couple of years. We stuck together and worked through everything. St. Pete’s a lovely town but most people never really feel like they’re home here. We sure did. And then some.