Farewell to Florida


Another chapter closed in The Book of Mom; The Florida Years.  After 25+ times warding off the wicked winter weather as a Northerner in the South, Mom was permanently grounded, her wings clipped in 2016.

I never could have predicted that “wintering” in Florida would be a part of my parents’ life story together. Ever. We’re hardy New Englanders… original settlers and all that. Almost Viking-like, we live for the cold.

Apparently not. 

Post Apocalypse (aka The Blizzard of ’78), my parents sojourned south to recon a piece of Florida swamp land they’d bought years earlier from my Uncle John. Happy to find other like minded northerners already building, they jumped in.

Come each November, it became their oasis from the wrath of Mother Nature... a place for them to do all the things they never did (for some reason…) back home; beach-bathe, mall-walk, and find new friends. With Pop retired, the Florida years were the best of their married lives.

Their love bubble burst in 2002 when Pop had a massive heart attack on a jetway in Taipei and died. In an instant, Mom was a widow with a world of wonder to figure out. It was unfathomable that she would continue wintering in the south without her husband - the bandleader… the director… the-one-who-made-it-all-happen. 

But, she did. In a Nano second, and with zero input from her children or anyone else, Mom sold her home, packed and moved 60 miles to Barefoot Bay, just down the street from her best friend, Joyce. Barefoot Bay was the pinnacle of perfection for active Golden Seniors. With a golf course, two pools, tennis, shuffleboard, a restaurant, and a post office, it was a self-contained sanctuary for active octogenarians. But Mom had little interest in sunbathing or sitting around sipping sangria with similar seniors. She and Joyce became regulars at the New England Democrats Club, the local lecture series, and the famous Friday fish-frys.

Sequestered in BB without a driver’s license, Mom seized the opportunity to purchase a golf cart, thereby expanding her world to include the local thrift stores and Winn-Dixie, accessible only by the breakdown lane of the local freeway. (When asked what she does when it rains, Mom quickly replied, “Oh, I just pull the plastic flaps down.”)

Joyce and Mom became the tenacious twosome, boarding their Boeing to Barefoot Bay each November for four months of carefree living. Despite being in their 80’s, both were now seasoned pros at this gig and I rarely had a moment of concern for their safety or sanity. My brother (already living in FL) would pick them up on the other end, deposit them at their doors, and all would be well with the world.

Back home, I’d feel faintly forlorn but free when Mom’s house went dark in November. Though she was still mostly self-reliant, her absence meant I could temporarily delete her from my to-do list… no dinner to prepare, no doctor appointments, no hair salon visits... I could take comfort knowing she was safe and secure, and I could enjoy a little extra me-time.

The Florida Years changed in 2013 when Joyce sold her double wide and made her way south for the last time. Stripped of her sojourning-sister, Mom’s days became dim and dull, and a single year of oneness left her lonely. Her calls home became more frequent and it was evident that a change was coming. For several post-Joyce years, Mom’s friends took turns traveling south with her and staying on for their own extended vacations. Soon, Husband and I were coordinating our winter getaways to coincide with Mom’s return to Boston in April. No longer visitors, we became her escorts.

Mom’s yearly exodus eventually ended when, sans Life Alert,  she took a tumble in the tub. Completely unable to right herself, she waited (and waited) for someone to come. Anyone. But no one did. Two days later, a nosy neighbor found Mom weary but awake, starving and naked in the tub.

During her two day, um, break, Mom said she had a lot of conversations with God. She describes it as a quiet time when her husband and other loved ones visited… a time when she never felt alone. She says she told God she was ready, but God clearly had other plans. Despite His obvious intervention, the tub tale solidified Mom’s understanding that it was time to come north – for good.   

In 2017, Mom fully surrendered her annual flight of fancy and passed her beloved double wide on to my sister. Mom smiles when retelling tales of Florida (particularly the tub incident), but misses her “little home” and the golf cart. Though she’s not thrilled to be grounded in the  Northeast Tundra, she’s quite content to share the mountain of memories she amassed during her Florida Years. At the end of the day (or a life), memories are really the only moments that matter, and thankfully, Mom has plenty of good ones.

Emily Gaffney6 Comments