My own sudden tears surprised me the other day. I was going through my digital photo albums and cleaning up when I came across pictures of my former town home in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. Pangs of lonesomeness and loss clutched my heart as reality sank in that I had left all behind to migrate to this new land in Southwest Florida, and my eyes watered as a lump formed in my throat. Fourteen years in that cozy, secluded and beautiful place had given me a sense of roots like I had never experienced before.
In my 60 years of life on this planet, I have never lived in one place for so long. We moved from house to house when I was growing up and after I left that nest, I continued to move from apartment to house, across the country to California, across the ocean to Hawaii, and back to Minnesota; from family’s homes to school to family’s homes again. It seems I have always lived a transient life. 2015 was no exception. But that Eden Prairie home represented my first attempt at owning a home. It represented success, independence, a safe place to raise my son, wonderful neighbors, and a place that I could actually decorate with my own taste and style.
I don’t regret the move to Florida. In more than one sense, I really had to do it. Life in Minnesota was becoming unaffordable and downsizing was the only choice. I had grown weary of interminably long winters so moving to another spot in the frozen north didn’t seem like a good option either. If I was going to live more cheaply and escape months of depression and isolation, heading to a place where the sun shines a lot was a no-brainer.
Still, those roots grew deep and as time passes, I notice the loss a little more, probably because I have a little more time to think. I am once again living in someone else’s home.
One of my favorite things to do is visit thrift, consignment, and second-hand stores hunting for that interesting piece of furniture, decor or wall art that will finish the “look” in each room of the house. I find a great deal of satisfaction in repurposing and recycling. Buying new is a last resort. Here in Naples, some of the most beautiful and interesting used furniture can be found around every corner but I cannot buy anything. My rented room here in Bridgewater Bay is already furnished and outside of the odd filing cabinet or work-related functional piece, I don’t need anything. My roommate insists I can change out any of the furniture or art that I want and decorate with my own, but the practical Swede in me says, “Why? And spend money I don’t need to spend? Besides, I have a car payment now for the first time in 13 years.” Her taste is gorgeous so it is aesthetically pleasing and very comfortable in my room and, in fact, in the entire house. But the nesting part of me feels a bit bereft. And…I have no idea how long I will be living here. One only “nests” when one feels fairly permanent.
I remember my older sister, Jane, whom I adore, was visiting with me from Texas for a week. We were repainting my bathroom and since I had never owned a home nor painted a wall in my life, I needed her expertise. She didn’t disappoint. We picked out a beautiful dark—and I mean dark—shade of green. The label said Ralph Lauren Brompton Grey. I’m guessing there was some grey in there somewhere but it sure looked like a rich, dark, moss-forest-clay green to me. I was skeptical but she assured me it would look good. We textured the walls with some spackling compound to give it a stucco look and painted the walls and ceiling with the dark green, then painted the vanity, trim and door white. She bought me a beautiful light fixture for above the vanity mirror with three sconces to really light up the room and when we were done I stood back and marveled. It DID look beautiful. It felt intimate and spa-like for “Sheryl’s Design-On-A-Budget” bathroom and I never repainted it for the rest of the time I lived there.
On one of the days when our work was done we were sitting in the living room together. Jane was reading the newspaper and gleaning the local sales flyers. She told me how one Sunday back in Texas, she had been sitting with her husband, Craig, in their home and she was leafing through the Sunday paper ads. When she was all done, she put the newspaper down in her lap, looked up and exclaimed, “Craig! This is terrible! I don’t need anything!” I laughed and laughed. Seems she has the same treasure hunting gene that I do. Now I know how she felt.
Bridgewater Bay is a gated community so I punch a code to drive in and drive up slowly to trigger the gate open to go out. I walk every morning and see many of the same faces of snowbirds out doing their morning walk. Each section of the community is built around a large pond with a fountain. Naturally, wildlife find their way in and my mornings are accompanied by waddling Muscovy ducks, White Ibis wandering through the grass like flocks of chickens, storks, the occasional pelican, cormorants and plenty of rabbits, squirrels and rats. Squirrels here are half the size of squirrels in Minnesota. They’re puny, scrawny little things with pathetic tails and carry on none of the usual bird feeder-stealing antics and tree-top alarm chattering that northern squirrels do. They are few and far between and usually run for their lives when you approach.
On the larger units in the community, there are decorative turrets which have vents in them but I don’t believe they serve any venting purpose. However, they are extremely attractive as perches to Fish Crows who call “a-ha, a-ha” to each other all morning long. I prefer Fish Crows to the raucous American Crows I used to hear all day in Eden Prairie. There were times back there when I would actually resort to praying the crows away because they were so noisy and annoying. Fish Crows, although plentiful, have a more laid back, sedate call. If you were sleeping, they probably wouldn’t wake you up.
At the nearby Seven Eleven and Shell gas station, flocks of Muscovys and White Ibis hang around, picking up scraps of french fries or convenience store leftovers tossed out by filler-uppers. It is not unusual to be standing on asphalt, filling your tank and watching four or five ducks waddling by. This morning I had to actually say “Excuse me. Please move,” to a persistent Muscovy duck who wanted to come in the door to the station with me.
In the evenings, as often as I can, I knock off work around 5:30 pm and head for the beach. Catching the sunset is the highlight of my day. It’s like watching a painter paint the sky differently every single day. There is nothing that compares to it. All the art galleries in the world could not contain the beauty of walking barefoot on white, soft, silken sand to set your beach chair down, get out your camera and your binoculars, watch the dolphins surfacing, stingrays jumping, shorebirds shuttling, and the sky changing hues every five minutes. I’ve observed a dedicated group of people at every beach, who either live here year round or visit in the winter, who head to the beach every night to take in the beauty, even at the Naples Pier. When the sun finally slips below the horizon, everyone applauds with clapping… like at the end of a really good movie in the theater. And then they head home or out to dinner or to whatever else the evening holds in store. It has religious aspects to it and I am fast becoming a devotee.
Friday was my son’s 26th birthday. 26!!! What??? How did that happen? I still hold him in my arms, dressed in his zip-up snuggly jammies, waking up to his chirps every morning and stumbling into the kitchen to get his bottle…then watching with the deepest sense of satisfaction as he sucked it down quietly. These are the moments you live for as a parent. Rocking in the rocking chair, reading a book while the mission oak rocking chair creaked and croaked with every forward/backward motion, reading “What Was That?” by Geda Bradley Matthews to him at night because he never got tired of the routine. That story made him stand up and fall headlong onto the bed at the end of of the climactic moments where each little spider and bug heard an unfamiliar noise and cried out, “WHAT WAS THAT?!!!”
One time, when we weren’t reading a book, he stood up on his bed and then fell down flat on the mattress and bounced a little bit before laying still. Then he got up and did the same thing again, and again. I asked him, “Punky, what are you doing?” He said, “I’m falling fast asleep!” The joys of having a literal son.
Sunday School lessons added a whole ‘nother dimension. We were at the neighborhood pool on a warm, sunny summer day. Garrett stood at the edge of the pool, put one foot out over the water, and stepped out. Sploosh! Down he went, under the water. Undeterred, he climbed back out, stood at the edge, put a foot forward and did the same thing. Sploosh! Again, under water. I finally asked him, “Buddy, what are you doing?” He said, “I’m trying to walk on water!” Garrett has been and alway will be the biggest joy of my life. He makes me laugh.
Today, I spent the day sorting through all my paperwork to prepare for the tax man. Uff. Sometimes I wish I could be Ernest Hemingway and escape to a far away island, live simply and forget all the numbers. I remain in that income tax bracket where you make too much to get any help (i.e. Obamacare), but you don’t make enough to get ahead. Peddling, peddling, peddling. Visions of the Wicked Witch of the West sail through my head, only now the WWotW has become the government. I can’t afford to pay for the poor. Not now, not yet. I would like to help the poor, but I would prefer it came through the church. Sadly, the church, the last bastion of help for the poor has become big business and bailed on its calling. And that’s all I have to say about that.
So, to minimize my stress and stay alive, I make sure I get up each morning, walk with the Muscovys, set down to my desk and tackle all the work sent my way, knock off at sunset to go decompress at the beach, come home and try to get a good night’s sleep. Life has settled into a routine for me here. I did see Madame Georgette at Vanderbilt Beach again and greeted her. And Madame Renee still calls me to say hello with her thick French accent and tells me what a nice person I am. I both love and admire these two french-speaking women in their senior years. They have a toughness that speaks of survival; both widows, both in their 90s, both European transplants, still fashionable and well kept, yet they need help now. I hope they both have supportive families to surround them.
In going through my paperwork, I found a letter from KQRS radio back in Minneapolis informing me that I had won the Workforce Payroll back in August. They had called out my name over the radio and several friends called me in Florida to tell me about it. I had called back in time and won a gift card. It’s been seven months and I still have yet to receive that gift card. I’ll call them on Monday and find out whassup. These days, $100 is $100! When and if I ever get out from under being buried by the IRS and debt, I’ll dance the streets of Bridgewater Bay, buy cokes for everyone, and sleep better than I’ve slept in years. Sigh.