A year is long enough to know –to try on a place to see if it fits.
My husband and I are back now from a 365-day house swap in southwestern Florida. We arrived in Fort Myers on May 13 and left the same day, one year later. Most people who knew about our temporary relocation to the Sunshine State thought we had hit the jackpot. In some ways, they were correct. In other ways, not so much.
I will admit to a feeling of relief at missing Buffalo’s snowstorm this past November, but I also mourned the absence of snow at Christmas, my first ever without it. The only saving grace to that situation was my family, who flew down en masse from Alaska to enjoy a first-ever Christmas without snow. They had no problem with Christmas under the palms.
It was surreal for us to wake up each day in the past year to sunshine and greenery. We missed the changing of the seasons. The tropics are constantly colorful and soon lost their “wow” factor.
Surviving a long, northern winter makes each spring magical – spotting snowdrops pushing through receding snow and knowing what is about to unfold. Down in Florida, it seemed that nature’s theater was missing lots of characters – the bright leaves of fall and spring tulips.
Month after month our wall calendar indicated “winter,” but we were in a state of perpetual “summer.” My husband and I looked at each other in the mornings and always noted: “Another sunny day?” There were no weather surprises.
What did surprise us was the shortage of friendly people; everyone mostly kept to himself.
It didn’t take long for us to coin our own acronym: UFN, which stood for unfriendly neighbors. There were quite a few of them in our temporary neighborhood. Across the street was a man who never acknowledged us, not once in the 12 months we lived there. To be fair, Jo, a very nice retired school teacher, and her sister, Joy, who lived in the house next door, showed us true Southern hospitality – they were native Floridians, though.
The time came for us to pack and head home. Yes, there are some things we will miss, like driving to the beach for the always amazing Florida sunsets and kayaking in warm ocean waters. Our dogs, however, will not miss the heat one little bit.
We pulled into our driveway in Depew on a Friday evening. Within 24 hours, several neighbors dropped by to welcome us home and to tell us how they had missed seeing us out tending our flower beds. Our first few dog walks were a stop-and-go affair as we ran into people who wanted to know how our time away had been.
We had to go to the store the other night, and an older lady was ahead of us in the customer service line. In no time at all, she was sharing about her recent back surgeries, chatting us up like we were long-lost friends. I’ve noticed a tendency of folks around here – maybe it’s just my husband’s family, but this lady did it, too. During the conversation, as a point of emphasis, she tapped my husband’s arm with the back of her hand. Not in an unfriendly way, more in a “now pay attention to what I’m about to say” way. It was familiar and endearing.
We are glad we had the chance to fully experience a year in the deep South, but are more grateful for what we returned to – not paradise, but home.
Eva K. Romanczak lived in Alaska until she moved to Depew in 2011.