It snowed for 58 straight days in Buffalo during the winter of 1993-94. I'd wake up in the morning, get out of bed, turn on the radio for the weather report and pray: Please, God, not the "S" word again.
At the end of April, I moved to South Florida.
It was warm and sunny. However, this soon turned to hot and humid. And wet! I was amazed at the amount of rain that fell in the self-proclaimed Sunshine State. Actually, the state of Florida averages more than 100 rainy days out of every 365 (approximately one-third of the year).
In fairness, it does not rain all day. It receives what would amount to a day's worth of normal showers in one huge sub-tropical deluge, which lasts from 5 to 25 minutes - just long enough to ruin your hair, your shoes and your disposition if you are caught without an oversized umbrella. (The average-size umbrella will blow inside out, proving to be worthless.)
Amazingly, an hour later the blazing sun has dried the pavement completely. I quickly adopted the South Florida look: wear sunglasses and carry a big umbrella. I was adjusting.
During my second year, I was introduced to what I believe is a uniquely Florida experience. It began with a seemingly innocuous sheet of white paper taped to my front door. Instinctively, I knew it was not good news. It read as follows: "The apartment complex will be tented one week from today."
Tented? I had never seen the word used as a verb. As a noun, it has always conjured up images of camping out. Or a three-ring circus. Then I read the fumigation schedule:
- Vacate building by 9 a.m. on scheduled day. You will not be permitted to return until 5 p.m. the following day.
- All living things (plants, pets, fish) must be removed from the premises.
- All food (except canned goods) must be removed from the premises.
- All tenant vehicles must be removed from parking lot for the fumigation trucks and equipment.
- Tenting will begin next Monday with Building A.
I spent the rest of the week carting my plants to a neighbor's house, arranging for the cat to stay at the vet and engaging in a cooking frenzy to empty my refrigerator.
Exhausted, I packed an overnight bag to stay with a friend for the next 24 hours. So far, tenting had required the skill of an acrobat and the balance of a tight-rope walker.
Thus began the actual tenting, or what I have come to refer to as Operation Send in the Clowns.
Monday: Everyone left Building A. Except for the three cats in Apartment 5 who, apparently, had not read the notice. And, of course, it took the Humane Society almost until noon to arrive and pick them up. This, in turn, caused the tenting crew to get a late start, which put them behind even before they began.
Tuesday: Rushing to make up the time lost on Monday, the tenting crew failed to properly secure the tarpaulins on Building B (my building). The tarps collapsed in a heap on the ground. Building B had to be retented. It was long after sundown before they finished.
Wednesday: Things went fairly well in Building C. Until one occupant returned home from a local bar in the early morning hours and crawled under the tent. He had to be forcibly removed, still insisting he wanted to sleep in his own bed. Later that day he seemed fine, not even suffering his usual hangover. He may be on to something.
I moved back into my apartment and washed everything in the kitchen. Every dish, glass, pan and utensil. Then I went grocery shopping.
When my lease expired, I moved to a new apartment building, hoping my luck would change.
However, life in South Florida is not all fun and games. I missed my family (two grown daughters and twin grandchildren who were only 3 when I left). And then a new little granddaughter was born and she was two months old before I was able to go home and hold her in my arms.
When I was choosing vacation time last year, both daughters said, "You haven't celebrated your birthday here since you moved to Florida." So I flew to Buffalo the last week in July.
The week turned out to be one long party. Lunch and dinner every day with old friends, one of whom I had not seen in nearly a decade. In a rare moment of Serendipity, our travel schedules were perfectly aligned and we were both home at the same time.
And Saturday night the family surprised me with a birthday party. When I blew out all the candles on the cake, my 9-year-old granddaughter squeezed my hand and whispered, "What did you wish for, Grandma? Did you wish you could move back to Buffalo?"
One Saturday, a wonderful ocean breeze enticed me to spend the afternoon on the porch with a new book. Later, the cat wandered out, meowing plaintively, and I glanced at my watch: 5:30. Dinner time. I headed for the kitchen and filled Daisy's dish.
When I returned to the porch and my book, there were a lot of people milling around in the backyard. Curious, I stood up and peeked over the railing.
"Hey, lady, you need to get out of the building." It was the voice of a fireman.
I picked up Daisy, clasping her tightly against my chest. By the time I reached the living room, smoke was drifting in over the top of the door.
I yanked the door open and pulled it shut behind me hard. The hall was black with thick smoke. Rushing blindly to the stairwell, I extended one hand to grab the door handle, and Daisy jumped from my arms. I could not see her anywhere.
I have no recollection of how I got down the stairs. Suddenly, I was outside in blinding sunlight. In front of the building stood seven fire engines and two police cars. We stood for three hours, nearly 100 of us, in silence, in shock. We were not allowed back into the building until noon the next day.
I stayed with friends for two weeks until the apartment was livable. But even after it was scrubbed clean again, a pervasive sadness clung to everything.
In the days and nights that followed, I realized that I had not adjusted. I had merely made an accommodation. My apartment had been a retreat, a refuge from the craziness of life down here. I could shut the door and shut out the world. Or, so I thought. Now, it was no longer a refuge. It was time, I decided, to go home.
I called both daughters. I said, I'm moving back to Buffalo at the end of February.