Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Snowbird Season

Yes, we do have seasons here in Florida. We have the usual: winter, spring, fall, summer. But we have other seasons, too. We previously mentioned hurricane season, but another one is Snowbird Season.

Snowbird Season is defined by the time the northerners come down here for the winter, and when they go back. Around here, it generally starts in October or November and ends no later than the beginning of May. The beginning date depends on how bad the cold weather gets wherever they come from and how soon. The ending...same thing. They aren't going home until the snow is gone.

We live in an honest to goodness resort. It says so on the sign out front that includes the words RV. Yep, an RV resort. We live in a stationary home - a small manufactured cottage that was built to fit onto an RV lot. It's called a Park Model. Everything is built in, as if it was an RV. But it's not. We added onto ours, giving us an extra room and a really nice big covered porch. Maybe fifteen percent of this place has houses similar to ours, and a lot of them are Snowbird-owned. Not us. We live here year round.

But we're in the minority here. Right now, in the summer, the park is fairly empty. Most of the place is taken up with spots for recreational vehicles, or RV's. These are mostly not the little trailers or pop-up campers you see people pulling along the interstate with cars or suv's, although we do get a few coming and going. No, these are the expensive Class A things that look like huge buses with slide-outs that make them even bigger inside.

Image result for class a motorhome pictures

The other RV's we get a lot of are called Fifth Wheels. They are those big things towed behind heavy duty trucks with special hitches resembling those of commercial trucks that take up their beds.

Image result for fifth wheels

These people are not campers in the traditional sense. They practically live in those things. Some have washers and dryers and even a second bathroom.

We love our Snowbirds. They come in lots of shapes and sizes and from all over the United States and Canada. They're fun people who just like to be where the weather is better.

I grew up in southwest Florida, where the annual influx of Snowbirds was extremely noticeable. Suddenly it was harder to get a table at a restaurant, especially if you wanted to eat at a reasonable time. It was more crowded at the grocery store. The roads were clogged with those huge cars that older people drove back then, and we had to endure their slow driving and failure to use turn signals. We always assumed they were lost and would turn or stop suddenly, which they did a lot.

Today's Snowbird is rather different. I think they look younger than they used to (maybe that's because I'm older?). Yeah, they still seem to like those early bird specials at the restaurants. But now they drive smaller cars and they drive faster. Ours seem to like karaoke and line dancing. In the winter months here at the RV park, there's a quilters club and several card clubs, but there's a bicycling group as well, not to mention the Disney annual pass owners (we aren't far from Orlando). Snowbirds are not what they used to be--at least not around here.

In other places, Snowbirds own or rent condos, mobile homes, or cottages on the beach, and I'm sure there are some in this area that do the same. But ours are special, especially to us. They are friends that only live here five or so months per year - and a lot of them bring their houses with them!

Right now, as I said, the few of us who live here year round pretty much have the place to ourselves except for the summer campers who come on vacation. In a few months, though, our Snowbirds will start flying south again and the place will fill up. The activities and group trips will be posted again outside the rec hall or on fliers in our mail boxes. Friday nights will mean concerts or karaoke in the rec hall, and there will be pot lucks and other gatherings. We'll welcome them back with open arms and hugs and enjoy them until it's time for them to fly away again.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Hurricane Season

Hurricane season is more than the title of my first book. The book was inspired by the annual hurricane season we have here in Florida which officially begins June 1 and goes through November 30. Yes, that's six months--half a year--under hurricane possibility.

I grew up mostly in Florida, Southwest Florida in particular and in a town called North Fort Myers which lies along the north bank of the mile-wide Caloosahatchee River. We lived in a mobile home on a lot my grandparents owned which was close enough to the river that you could easily see it, and if you were a major league pitcher, you could probably throw a baseball into it. My mom's dad and his siblings owned several lots at the end of a road that ended at that river. Every year my great aunts and uncles would come down to their little cracker-style houses for the winter and it was like a big family reunion. They came down right after Christmas and always left before Easter, so they were never in Florida for hurricanes while I lived there.

That wasn't always so. Back in the "old days" before they bought all that land for the family compound, they came every year after harvest in Kentucky to Sanibel Island. The guys camped out all winter while the most of the women stayed in the one of the local boarding homes. The boys and men in the family all fished or worked locally to earn money during the winter. That's my granddaddy in the middle with two of my uncles.

One year when my mom was still quite young, they were on Sanibel as a family when a late-season hurricane struck. My mom told the story about how her dad tied her and her mom to palm trees to keep them from blowing away during the storm. The story goes that it was that storm that made my great-grandfather decide that they needed to move inland for safety. That's when the family bought that property on the north side of the Caloosahatchee. He was being extra careful so they could evacuate safely if they needed to.

The first year we were living in that mobile home on the North Fort Myers property, a hurricane struck. It wasn't fun. The winds rocked that trailer, even though it was tied down. Mom had all of us kids lying on the floor during the worst of it and we told stories and sang songs to keep our minds off the howling wind and heavy rain that was going on outside. Due to storm surge, river water was knee deep outside our house for quite a while after the storm was gone, so Dad had to put on rubber boots and carry us out to the car when we went anywhere. I particularly remember some guys in pickup trucks who came down our road hunting snakes. They had dead cottonmouths and rattlesnakes laid across the hood that they said they killed just up the road along the canal. To a kid (me), it was quite scary and the image has stuck with me all these years.

By the time I was a teenager, we were living in Estero, which was back then barely a wide spot in the road south of Fort Myers. My father had become an ordained minister and was pastor of the Estero First Baptist Church. Our church building was made of cement block and designated a hurricane shelter, so when another one was coming, we moved all our important papers and so forth from our house into Dad's office and we opened the church up for shelter. Mom emptied the contents of our fridge and freezer and she and some other ladies used the church kitchen to cook up every single thing we had so we could feed people who sheltered with us. The only luxury we had was taking turns napping on the sofa in Dad's office during the night. A radio ran constantly with updates on the location of the storm, and Dad put me in charge of charting the longitude and latitude they announced frequently on a chart the newspaper had published just days prior so everyone would know where the storm was.

The last major hurricane I went through was Hurricane Wilma in 2005 ( I lived in a ground floor apartment in Fort Myers with my little Yorkie, Mija. Mom would've been proud of me. I had frozen gallon jugs of water and cooked everything in my freezer, since I knew cooked items kept better than raw. I had bags of ice stowed in my freezer. I had things I could eat that didn't need cooking. I had a first aid kit, lots of dog food, and had refilled my meds, all kept in zipped up plastic bags. I had a full tool kit including heavy gloves (in case of broken glass), plastic sheeting to cover windows, and heavy duty tape to hold it on. I had battery powered fans and a little battery powered television, with tons of batteries. I had my laptop and cell phone all charged up, and left plugged in until the power went out. I even made sure I did all the laundry and took a nice warm shower and washed my hair and made myself as comfortable as I could. Yes, I knew I was ready. I wasn't scared, but I knew if that storm started getting worse than we thought it was going to be, I was going to have to make a run for it to my brother's house, which was on the other side of the river and made of cement blocks. He also had a generator for his wife's oxygen machine.

I didn't go to my brother's. By the time it worsened it was too late to chance driving across the river, so Mija and I rode it out alone in our apartment. I had pulled my car up as close as I could to my bedroom window to protect it both my car and that window. Halfway through the storm, everything calmed down as part of the eye passed over in the dark. Still had power and trees were still upright. Yes! But then the other side of the storm struck and the wind came from the opposite direction. That's when the real damage happened and we lost power. I was lucky my apartment didn't flood and my car was safe. But the tree right outside my front door fell right where my car would have been if I hadn't moved it. When the storm was over and daylight came, I could see a huge tree across the green belt had come down, its root feet sticking up and a huge hole gaped where it had lived for probably a hundred years. Some other residents weren't quite so lucky when that tree fell on their cars. If I remember correctly, only one local man died. The story was that he was in a shelter and was stupid enough to go outside for a cigarette during the storm.

By the time I went through Wilma, I was already a writer. I wrote emails to my friends and kept a hurricane diary on my laptop during the storm so I could remember what it was like. A little bit of that wound up in Hurricane Season.

As you can see, hurricanes are part of my family lore. We all survived them. Loss of power or other inconveniences were just that--inconveniences. Okay, they were very uncomfortable inconveniences. But as Mom and Dad always said, as long as all of us were safe, that's all that mattered.

Thanks Mom and Dad, you trained us well.

Hurricane Season Snowbird Season

Friday, July 14, 2017

Ah, Summer Living in Florida!

If you don't live in Florida, or don't live here year round, you've probably heard tales of what it's like to live here in the summer. Some of it's true. OK, a lot of it probably is.

What you hear: Summer starts in March. Uh, well, yeah, sort of. Like the rest of the northern hemisphere, summer actually does start officially in June. But to tell you the truth, it feels like summer much earlier--for sure by April. Snowbirds aren't fools. They're out of here by the beginning of May, if not sooner.

What you hear: Humidity in summer is legendary. Okay, that's true. When I was growing up here, and this is giving my age away, nobody we knew had air conditioning. It was mostly for stores and movie houses. Those places had signs out front that said "Come on in! We're Air Conditioned!" As teenage girls, we owned those bouffant hair dryer things with a cap hooked to an air hose and sat under them to get our hair (wrapped around plastic rollers) to dry. It would never air dry in summer.
Image result for 1960s hair dryers
Summer humidity is still high--that hasn't changed. Sometimes on an August afternoon there's so much moisture in the air I feel like I'm leaving a wake when I move, like a boat does through water. Florida makes up for this by having a beautiful dry season in winter and into spring.

What you hear: It rains a lot here in summer. Pretty much true, too. We can pretty much measure rain in feet. Statewide, we average about 54 inches a year. That's a fairly large amount. We are also the lightning capitol of the world. Just about every single day during the rainy season we have at least one thunderstorm, maybe more, but they usually happen in the afternoons. Mornings and early afternoons are great beach days. We welcome the storms because the air cools down very noticeably while it's raining. A rainstorm can start suddenly and go from zero to car wash heavy in seconds. One thing to remember, though: If you even think you hear thunder, get inside right away. Our parents and grandparents drilled that into us, and I still abide by it.

What you hear: Florida is famous for summer hurricanes. Yes we have them. Not every year and not all of them are destructive. Sometimes, they're little more than tropical storms. Most of the time they miss us entirely and fizzle out over the Gulf or the Atlantic, leaving us with something that resembles an afternoon rainstorm, but with some palm fronds down in the yard. One thing we do not take for granted is that we won't get one. If you live here year-round, you have a hurricane kit and restock it every spring with water, non-perishable food, batteries, and the like. We're like the Scouts: Prepared.

Don't let me scare you off from visiting our beautiful state in summer. Come to our beaches, where it's simply stunning white-sugar sand for miles. The breezes off the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic Ocean are wonderful, making Fort Myers, Sanibel/Captival Islands, and St. Petersburg beaches amazing. Tampa and Orlando have all those outstanding theme parks (everyone knows about Disney, but there are tons more, like Busch Gardens in Tampa). I didn't even get into Daytona or Miami. I'm sure they are great, but I'm from the west coast and more familiar with those.

We love tourists here. Come experience our Southern Hospitality. Just don't laugh too much when we say, 'y'all.' If you stick around long enough, it'll rub off on you!

You can leave a comment below, if you like. I'd love to hear from you, especially if you have a great Florida summer or vacation story.