Nichole Boyd's smile beamed as brightly as her white dress and matching hat and Mary Janes on Tuesday night.
Surrounded by well-wishers at the new Rattlefish Bar & Grill (it's on the water, south of the Gandy Bridge), she bounced up and down with all the excitement you would expect from a 5-year-old about to get a gift.
But when Nichole's mother, Anita, looked at her she saw something else. She saw her rock.
Three years ago, when Nichole was 17 months old, she was diagnosed with optic nerve glioma. Shortly after, she completely lost her sight. Every three weeks, she has to endure a week of chemotherapy. She has lost some of her hair, but none of her zest.
Doctors rave that she is better than some of their adult patients. When she receives radiation treatments, she is perfectly still, an uncommon feat among patients of all ages. She remains happy-go-lucky, even though she doesn't seem to have much luck.
"I get most of my strength from Nichole," said Anita Boyd, who has lost several jobs around Tampa tending to Nichole. "She could just lay there and be sick, but she just keeps going."
This is the kind of kids the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Sarasota/Tampa Bay has benefited since 1996. Mrs. Boyd first declined the foundation's help, but when Nichole was diagnosed with a brain tumor in October, she reconsidered.
So there was Nichole on Tuesday night, awash in applause as she became the recipient of the Make-A-Wish Foundation's 1,000th gift at a special fundraiser. Nichole asked for and received a voice-activated laptop computer with Braille accessories from Hatch, a North Carolina company.
Dr. Randy Feldman, president of the Make-A-Wish board, introduced Nichole and she promptly grabbed the microphone and said, "Hi. Hello. Hello computer."
When Feldman asked if she wanted to say something else, she shot back: "No, I just want my computer. Hurry up."
These are the most rewarding moments for the foundation, which granted 127 wishes last year at an average cost of $5,000. The fundraiser netted $8,000 from attendees.
Thanks to Nichole, I think they got a lot more than food and drink.
Mayor Pam Iorio gave one of her better speeches Wednesday at the annual breakfast for the Mayor's Beautification Program. Sure, it's difficult to go wrong when the topic is how to make the city look better, but Iorio was both passionate and inspiring as she spoke about bringing better landscaping to Tampa's medians and sprucing up the interstate corridor through downtown.
As I have approached this day, my 40th birthday, I have thought much about how the milestone results in a midlife crisis for many. Remember how Lester Burnham, Kevin Spacey's character in American Beauty, reassesses his life and ultimately quits his job to work at a fast-food joint and drive an old sports car? I'm taking the high road and celebrating the fact that I've made it this far with a wife, three children and an unbelievable job. After all, while Spacey's character went off the deep end, Spacey himself earned an Oscar in 2000, the same year he turned 40.
Perhaps a bumper sticker _ is there a better place to find inspiration? _ put it best: Today is a gift. That's why it's called the present.
That's all I'm saying.
_ Ernest Hooper can be reached at Hoopersptimes.com or 226-3406.