By the time you read this, Laura Lane Maia will be sightseeing in Lisbon, Portugal. And just to clear up any misconceptions, Maia is doing just fine and getting stronger every day.
Maia’s trip to Portugal is a long awaited vacation to visit her husband, Paul’s family.
"I will be back from Portugal on Sept. 7," Maia said. "Paul’s family is from Portugal, so we’ll visit family and tour where he grew up. We’re going to go everywhere in Portugal. We’ll hit Lisbon, the smaller cities and hope to find time to just relax.
"This is my first time ever to fly outside the country. I’ve never flown overseas so I’m really nervous. I just have to face my fears."
The seven-hour flight is from La Guardia Airport in New York to the European country.
"We’re going to tour Portugal and spend the last three days with Paul’s family. I’ve met his mom, dad and brothers but never any of his extended family."
Both Maia and her husband are both local business owners. He has a chiropractic practice on Ford Avenue and she owns a full service styling shop named "The Salon on Ford Avenue" nearby.
"I was born and reared in Savannah. My mother and father, and I, moved here in 1987 when I was 18 years old," she said.
Longtime Richmond Hill residents will likely recall Maia’s mother, Jo Ellen, who operated the full service hair styling salon "Jo Ellen’s," also on Ford Avenue. Jo Ellen passed away in 2006.
"My first impression of Richmond Hill when we moved here was I thought my parents had moved me to the ends of the Earth," she said with a hearty laugh.
"We were the first house down a dirt road on Belle Island. We opened "Jo Ellen’s Hair Salon" in Bob Massey’s shopping center. I had graduated from cosmetology school by then and got my license. When we opened the salon, my first styling job was working with my mom. It was kind of a mom-daughter operation," she said.
Maia worked with her mother from 1987 until 2003. She has since worked in a local salon, opened her first business on Edsel Drive which, she said, prepared her well for opening her current business, which she opened in 2009.
"When we first moved here, Richmond Hill was different. I moved from the Southside of Savannah so it was very different, but a good different. You got to know people. Mark Harrison was the first person I met when we moved here.
"Richmond Hill was small, but you were welcomed with open arms. Everyone knew each other. Dr. Gene Wallace was my dentist. I met some really good people when I got here. The Dariengs were nice to us. The Dubberly’s made us feel welcome. Those were some really good times. Everybody was just great," she said with a nostalgic twist.
"From a business perspective I’ve had a wonderful path to get to where I am today. I’m one of those blessed people. I love my job and my clientele have been really good to me. I’m very busy. I wish I had two of me. I’m lucky to have Kathleen Kifferly working with me," she said.
A normal work week — if there is such a thing — she said, could be 12-15 hours daily five days a week or fewer hours six days a week, said the woman who began working when she was 13.
"I’ve always been a hard worker."
Maia said she has little time for hobbies, although she loves taking care of her granddaughter, Addie. Her daughter, Caleigh, is expecting a son in September. He will be her second grandchild.
She and husband, Paul, enjoy eating out and trying different cuisines. They have been married for almost six years, and operate their businesses less than 100 yards from each other. So they have lunch together most every day.
"We like a lot of Asian food and like to experience neat little different, off the beaten path, places in Bryan County and the downtown Savannah area."
In an attempt to slow down a little and relax, Maia said she is going to learn how to travel, take time off, and try to enjoy Richmond Hill and the changes its undergone since she moved here almost 30 years ago.
"I liked Richmond Hill when it was smaller and the growth is great for businesses. But I think we’re overgrowing in some areas and we need a larger EMS... and so much more. So I think it’s possible we’ll be overgrown in some areas and not be able to handle the crises.
"But I love meeting new people. I do miss the friendliness. I was in El Potro’s the other night and knew, maybe, two familes. But I can also go into Fish Tales, and know a lot of people. So constant growth is a double-edged sword. I miss the small town but I’m thankful for the growth, I think.
"I like that some of the smaller businesses that have been here forever still provide the small-town atmosphere. Places like Richmond Hill Pharmacy provide that kind of welcoming atmosphere."
She said she hopes there is room for mom-and-pop businesses and the chain stores to co-exist.
"Anybody can open a business. It’s all about how you treat people. Richmond Hill will always be my home. That’s how much I love it. It’s where my heart is."
No discussion about Maia’s life can omit talking about her daughters, Cayleigh, the oldest, and Sydney, the youngest. Sydney committed suicide in 2011 and that dark period has affected every corner of Maia’s life.
"First of all, I was very blessed to have her as my daughter. What people don’t know is my children saved me. Sydney impacted my life the most. Her death, her life. Because of who she was. Her death changed me. Her death humbled me in many ways. It made me see a lot of things differently. She is a huge inspiration in my life and always will be.
"It changed me in many ways. I was this person who could take on the world. I had no fears. I lived my life and did what I needed to do, but I’m a different person now than I was then. It’s changed me about how she has affected so many lives. I want to continue her legacy and to help raise awareness and educate people about teen suicide and its prevention.
"Sydney would be 21 this year. I just wish the fears would go away. Once you’ve been through this, I don’t think you ever look at your life the same again. Part of me died that day. I have learned to live a new normal."
Her older daughter, Caleigh, 23, is the mother of her grandchild, Addie, 4, and will soon give Maia a grandson.
"Losing her sister has been difficult for Caleigh, but I think she has handled it well, in her own way," Maia said.
One part of her new normal is expanding her travel opportunities. "I’d love to go to Martha’s Vineyard. Someday I will."
Maia is looking forward to the rest of life. She thinks the concept of a new normal is exciting. Family remains the most important thing to her, but she wants to travel and experience new things. She also wants to share her life with Paul and be a "cool" grandmother to her grandchildren.
But next up is that trip to Portugal, one more step for Maia in creating that "new normal."